Making life tougher on rapists

The FBI estimates that only one of every 10 rapes is actually reported. Even more disconcerting is that of those reported, only half result in an arrest and only 3 percent in a conviction.

Here in Atlanta, those numbers might improve with the formation of Sexual Assault Response Teams — teams comprised of rape investigators, doctors, victims’ advocates and prosecutors. The idea is simple. When a rape occurs, all parties will converge at the hospital with the victim.

“Right now, the victim is being re-victimized,” says Claire Pearson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, because the victim has to tell her story over and over again. Sometimes the victim will even drop the case instead of replaying the trauma, Pearson says.

The pilot program will create a single point of contact, allowing prosecutors to tell police what they need for a conviction and ensuring more efficient work by law enforcement, Pearson says.

The program’s $24,000 in seed money comes from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Inc. and the Atlanta Women’s Foundation. The $24,000 will pay for a staff person to go county to county and set up teams. Five metro counties will be eligible for the program.

The Georgia Network expects that by this time next year, counties using the response teams will see a 20 percent increase in reports of rape to law enforcement. Prosecutions and convictions should also increase. Results will be tracked over a two-year period.

If the program includes Fulton County, it should aid Atlanta’s effort to track down rapists. Much has been made of the Atlanta Police Department’s controversy reporting rape cases. It was discovered that in 1999, investigators had created a secret file for rapes that the APD thought were suspicious — a practice that continued until January 2001. If investigators had reason to doubt the alleged victim, the police report went into the special file, and it didn’t show up in end-of-year statistics. And, of course, it made a wildly underreported crime that much more of a dark secret.??

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