Continuing the fight against sexual assault in our community, the Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney’s Office have received a $1 million grant to help process a backlog of 1,200 previously untested rape kits. The grant has already enabled TPD to test 400 kits, allowing officials to connect 61 of those to a DNA profile in a national database. The first sexual assault case that has grown out of the grant program is the prosecution of Nathan Loebe, who was arrested in Kentucky and is now waiting to be extradited back to Tucson. Evidence from some of the rape kits recently tested with money from the new grant connects Mr. Loebe to nearly a dozen counts of sexual assault in Tucson dating back to 2002.
Struggling to prioritize sexual assault prosecutions
Sexual assault is a major problem in our community and at the national level. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Making it to adulthood is no guarantee of safety, though, as the NSVRC also estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
Despite the severity of the problem of sexual violence, it remains a crime that is notoriously under-reported, under-prosecuted, and under-punished. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network reports that only 11 out of every 1000 rapists will be referred for prosecution, versus 37 out of 1000 robbers and 105 out of 1000 non-sexual assailants.
Here in Pima County, the disparity between rates of prosecution for sexual crimes and other types of offenses is particularly problematic. For far too long, we have refused to prioritize the prosecution of sexual assault and instead focused on prosecuting non-violent drug offenses. For 11 out of the last 15 fiscal years, the highest percentage of criminal cases the Pima County Attorney filed in Pima County Superior Court were drug cases.
The Arizona Department of Corrections’ own data shows that, as of February 2017, the highest percentage of prisoners in the state – 22.1% – are behind bars for drug offenses. Only 1.3% of prisoners are being held for rape/sexual assault.
New $1 million grant helps process TPD’s rape kit backlog
TPD’s crime lab is constantly busy processing evidence from thousands and thousands of criminal cases. According to Police Chief Chris Magnus, the new grant allows TPD to outsource the testing of 1,200 previously untested rape kits, which will help make the detection and prosecution of sexual assault in our community more effective.
It goes without saying that the prosecution of sex crimes should be a top priority of the criminal justice system. The trauma associated with sexual assault can last a lifetime, and lead to a host of difficulties.
Additionally, there is a powerful correlation between surviving sexual assault and later involvement in the criminal justice system. Nearly 50% of imprisoned women that researchers spoke to in one study reported they were abused as children, and 70 – 80% of sexual abuse survivors reported excessive drug and alcohol use later in life.
Not only will testing old rape kits help bring justice to people who have already been sexually assaulted, it will also help prevent future assaults. Many sexual assailants are repeat offenders. In one study undertaken by researchers from the University of Massachusetts and Brown University School of Medicine, most undetected rapists researchers examined were repeat offenders; almost two-thirds of them raped more than once, and a majority also committed other acts of interpersonal violence, such as battery, child physical abuse, and child sexual abuse. Repeat rapists each committed an average of 6 rapes and/or attempted rapes, and an average of 14 interpersonally violent acts.
The Tucson Police Department and the Pima County Attorney Office’s cooperation in securing the new grant is the kind of law enforcement that should be applauded and encouraged. The more our community steps away from imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, and the more we focus on investigating and prosecuting violent crimes and sex crimes, the safer and more just Pima County will become.
– Joel Feinman