Rebecca Campbell – Shelving Justice: The National Problem of Untested Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs)


All right, good evening everyone. Welcome to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. My name is Bruno Youn. I am one of the Athenaeum Fellows this year. I don’t normally give shout outs, but I’ll give one right now to Cyrus R. Vance Jr., he’s the Manhattan district attorney who has committed millions that he received in forfeitures from banks that violated international sanctions to clearing backlogs of untested sexual assault kits all over the country, Las Vegas, Memphis, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and so far this initiative has yielded 64 cases where the DNA evidence was strong enough to get a conviction, so talk about killing two crimes with one lawyer. So, some of these cases were actually in Michigan, where our speaker tonight comes from, and has worked for a very long time. So, you’re all probably wondering, what is taking them so long? And here tonight we have Rebecca Campbell to talk about that a bit. She’s a professor of psychology at Michigan State University. She’ll review the scope of this problem, why it’s so widespread, and what we might do about it. She’ll also present some empirical data from Detroit and other U.S. cities, and when she got her Ph.D in community psychology, she got a concentration in statistics, so all my fellow stats nerds, we can all put aside our differences, for example, on statistical software preferences, and pay special attention to this. Even though I continue to insist that R is far superior to SPSS. She was the lead researcher for the National Institute of Justice Funded Detroit Sexual Assault Kit Action Research Project. That was a four year study of Detroit’s untested rape kits. She conducts training for law enforcement and multidisciplinary practitioners in civilian, military, and campus community settings on the neurobiology of trauma, and in 2015, she received the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime Vision 21 Crime Victims Research Award. And now a couple of things, this talk is about taking justice, or rather, evidence leading to justice off of the shelf, and actually using it, but what you have to put on the shelf right now are your cell phones and anything you might use to record this talk. This talk will last about 45 minutes, we’ll have questions at the end for about 30 minutes or so. Now, without further ado, please join me in welcoming Rebecca Campbell. (audience applauding) Thank you very much. Audio check, are we good? All right. Thank you very much for that kind introduction, thanks for inviting me here. Your hospitality is positively Midwestern, so that warms my heart as an Illinois and Michigan girl. So, thank you for having me. So, tonight I’m going to tell you a story. And I’m gonna tell you a story about a violent crime, sexual assault and rape. And in respect for all survivors who and their allies are here tonight, I am not going to talk about this crime in any graphic detail. And I am not going to talk about any specific case in any graphic detail. What I am gonna tell you about, is a massive human rights violation committed against sexual assault survivors by the very systems they turn to for help, okay? So, it’s no one case, it is literally thousands of cases where sexual assault survivors were let down by the criminal justice system. ‘Cause we’re in an institution of higher learning, tonight’s story is also about science, it’s about psychology, and I know many of you are from a psychology and law class. This is it, this is psych and law in action. I’m gonna talk to you about community psychology and organizational psychology, how we study communities and organizations, and how we can do research in a way that informs and changes social life. How we can do research that matters, that doesn’t sit in a journal, but actually changes the social fabric of our society. And because of that, it’s also going to be a story about successes and failures, and the cycle of success and failure. Over the course of doing this work for many years, I’ve seen many highs and many lows, many good things and many bad things, and it reminds me of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, where he was cursed by the Greek gods to push this enormous boulder uphill everyday, and just when you get to the top, just when you think you have success, it rolls right back down, and sometimes it feels like it rolls right back over you, and then the next day, he had to push it back up. And that’s what this work sometimes feels like. It doesn’t feel like a curse, by any means, I think it’s an incredible privilege to do what I do, and I’m very honored to do what I do, but for every solution that we push uphill, sometimes it rolls right back down on us. And that’s not a part we talk about very much in social justice research. We do the work, we think it’s great, we publish it, we give a talk, we testify and everything’s great. I’ve been at this long enough to see that sometimes we have unintended consequences of what we do, and there’s success and failure, and success and failure, and that’s what social justice work means. So, without any more introduction, let’s begin. So, we’re gonna start off by talking about the problem, and I know your professors harp on you about this. What is the problem you’re trying to solve? And we harp on each other, what is the problem you’re trying to solve? ‘Cause if you don’t know what that is, you can get astray pretty quickly. So, the problem that I’m trying to solve in my research is a pretty old problem. It dates way back to the 1980s. I was alive then. Some of you were not, we’ll just leave it at that. But we discovered in the 1980s, this really pervasive problem with the way the criminal justice system was responding to sexual assault cases. We know that most victims of sexual assault never report to the criminal justice system. But for those who do, so, follow me on the path, I’m not talking about the ones who don’t report tonight, I’m talking entirely about the ones who do report. So, we know that the ones who do report to the criminal justice system, research in the 1980s was showing us that the police were not investigating these cases. So, a victim would go to the police, would make a report, the police literally did not investigate these cases, and very few reported sexual assaults were ever prosecuted. So, data from the 1980s was telling us that for every 100 cases that were reported to the police, at best two to five of them would have a conviction. That’s terrible math, terrible math. So, most are not even investigated, very few are ever going to be prosecuted. So, that’s the problem we’re trying to solve, it’s a problem we’re trying to solve tonight, it’s the problem we’ve been trying to solve since the 1980s when this first became apparent. So, what are some potential solutions to this problem? Again, many different ways we could try, many different solutions. We’re gonna go down one path tonight. When we get to Q and A we can back up to this choice point and talk about other roads that were not chosen, but I’m gonna talk about the road that was chosen, the chosen path that many practitioners and researchers around the United States felt really optimistic about. And the idea was this, maybe the reason why police aren’t investigating these, and maybe the reason why prosecutors don’t prosecute, is they don’t have a whole lot of evidence. It’s a private crime, it happens behind closed doors, often between two people who know each other. And even as far back in the ’80s, they were still calling this a he said she said thing, which I would now remind us that it could be he said he said, she said she said, they said they said, all of that, okay? But the idea was, is well, wait a minute, maybe there’s a way we could get more evidence, and there is evidence. In a sexual assault, the victim’s body is a crime scene, there’s evidence on it, there’s biological evidence. There’s semen, there’s saliva, there’s touch, there’s DNA everywhere. So, the idea was, eureka. We can go collect that evidence. We could have medical practitioners examine the victim’s body, collect swabs and samples. This would give us evidence to substantiate an allegation of sexual assault, we could document injuries, we could put together a whole medical forensic portfolio, if you will, that will help give evidence to the police and the prosecutors. And surely this will help move these cases through the criminal justice system if we have more evidence. So, we created what were called rape kits, a standardized rape kit, a procedure, a collection, of how we would go about doing this evidence collection. And here’s what one looks like. This is the Michigan kit, your California one actually looks very similar to this. So, the ideas is, is that a victim would be encouraged to go to a hospital emergency department, where an ER physician would take this box, open it up, follow the directions, and through a head to toe examination, swab, photograph, document injuries, and collect evidence that’s been left behind. So, if a victim scratched the assailant, you would go under the fingernails, try to get the cells underneath the fingernails. They would do a detailed genital exam to try to get swabs of the biological evidence that’s been left behind. So, you can sort of appreciate just looking at this, there’s a lot of steps, there’s a lot of swabs. An exam would generally take four to six hours to do completely, and to document thoroughly, and this is what we started in the 1980s telling victims of sexual assault, this is what you need to do. Go to the hospital emergency department, consent to a medical forensics exam, and have this rape kit collected so that we would have evidence, and this evidence can help move a case forward through investigation and prosecution. So, that’s the problem, this is the proposed solution, what was the impact? No, didn’t work. Police were still not investigating reported sexual assaults, the prosecutors were still not prosecuting, and we created a second problem. These are quotes from interviews I did with survivors for some research in the early 2000s. They described the exam process as feeling like they were being re-raped. They described the evidence collection as degrading and humiliating, that it was violating, and then this idea that this is awful, but if it’s what I need to do to put him away, I’ll do it. So, we created this incredible burden for sexual assault victims. Be victimized, go to the hospital, and have your body examined literally head to toe, orifice from orifice, to collect this evidence. So, yeah, we pushed this uphill. The rape kits are gonna fix this, the sucker rolled right back down on us and over us. It didn’t work. So then what happened? 1990s and 2000s, we are still back with this same fundamental problem. Most of the reported rapes are not being investigated, and they are not being prosecuted, and, we’ve created a secondary problem, that the medical forensic exams are horrifically re-traumatizing. So, what are some solutions now that we could try to fix problem one and problem two that we created? Well, to fix the medical exam problem, we actually had a pretty good idea here, that we could change the way we do these. They don’t need to take four to six hours, they can be done in a much more humane way, and the profession of nursing stepped up and said, we got this, we got this, we can do this, this is what we do, we are here to help patients. We can do this. And that created a specialty of nursing, called forensic nursing. And there’s a certification called sexual assault nurse examiner, where they would go through a very extensive training program that really centered victim’s health and wellbeing, borrowed great stuff from psychology about trauma and how to prevent PTSD, they brought all of that into practice and really tried to create a patient-centered, or survivor-centered healthcare model so that survivors would get healthcare that they need. Yes, they would have the exam, the exam would be quicker, it would not be nearly as invasive. So, we’re like, okay, well surely this will help. And it did. (chuckling) I’m happy to say, that part, we were able to fix. So, research that my team has done that’s been replicated many times over by other research teams throughout the U.S., has found that when victims seek their care in a sexual assault nurse examiner program, they describe that as helpful and healing. They say it was one of the best things they ever did, was to come get that healthcare, and to have somebody really treat them as a person again after such a horrible crime. So, this worked, we got this taken care of, in terms of a much better way to collect these kits and to help survivors, and to prevent PTSD and some of the negative health effects. Now, another very exciting solution that happened in the 1990s and 2000s, was what we could do with the evidence that the nurses were collecting, because it was the mid 1990s when we really started having the availability of DNA technology. And I know it’s commonplace now to think about it, but it’s really not that long ago, it was about 1994 when we really kinda got the capacity to test these rape kits for DNA. Before that, it was sort of testing for ABO blood typing, not super high tech stuff. But in the 1990s, we’re like, whoa, we could test for DNA, and the FBI created what’s called CODIS, which is the combined DNA index. It is a database in Washington, D.C., actually, Quantico, FBI. I got to see it once, I got to touch it, I could to touch CODIS, so there’s a picture of me like this, touching CODIS. It’s a big ol’ mainframe, and it holds DNA samples. So, when somebody was convicted of a crime, they were legally required to give a little buccal swab, a cheek swab, to get their DNA. They would run a DNA analysis, and they would store it, the profile, in CODIS. And then they expanded it so that for people who are arrested for certain types of felonies are also legally required to give a little cheek swab, and it creates a master reference database of criminals and people suspected of criminal activity. And this database sits in D.C., and it became a way for us to take evidence from crime scenes, pull out the DNA profile, and try to match it. So, why was this so transformative? Had the potential to be so transformative? In the context of a sexual assault, DNA can be really powerful in a stranger-perpetrated sexual assault. So, this is a situation where the victim doesn’t know who sexually assaulted them. No idea who the offender is. Think about what DNA could do. You take the sample from the victim’s body, you can extract the DNA profile of the perpetrator, isolate the DNA, send it up to Quantico, see if there’s a match, and if there’s a match, they are literally handing you back the name of the person whose DNA matches this. It can solve the case. I’ve been told by the people at the FBI that I’m not supposed to say solve the case. The correct language is a promising investigational lead. I’m like, so, you solved the case? And they’re like, “No, it’s a promising “investigational lead.” Oh, for Pete sakes, if you don’t know who it is, and you put the DNA in the database, and the database hands you back a name, yes you have to do the investigation and prove it, but you can start to appreciate what this would do for stranger-perpetrated sexual assaults, and how DNA could help identify who the offender was. But we also know that most sexual assaults, though, are not perpetrated by strangers. Most of them happen between two people who know each other. So, the identity of the offender is not in question, I told you who it was, DNA evidence is still helpful to verify. You said it was this person, the DNA says, yep, it was that person. It can create a kind of a different legal context, then, of whether it was consent, but the very least, the DNA is still helpful in identifying, confirming, that the person the victim named is the DNA that was taken from the body. Perhaps one of the two most important things, though, that DNA could do are these last ones. In all types of sexual assaults, what DNA lets you do, is it allows you to find matches between cases, serial sexual assaults, through a match, to this, to this, to this. In trainings, we often call this the he said, she said, she said, she said, she said. So, in each individual case, the offender’s identity may not be in question. So, they’re like, oh well, we don’t need any DNA. And then you go to the next one, it’s like, oh well, she knows who the offender is, we don’t need to test the DNA. Oh, here’s another one, we don’t need to test the DNA here, ’cause she knows who it is, but when you test it, they might match. He said, she said, she said, she said. And again, we can work on understanding this through different types of abuse, to know it can be among females, among males, among gender non-conforming folks. So, it’s really critical what DNA can do and help us find serial perpetrators. And in the introduction, they were telling you about the program in New York City. A lot of what they found there were serial rapists, where the DNA matches across cases. So, that’s important, that’s a big contribution. And of course, it can exonerate people who didn’t do it. Okay, the DNA evidence is very very powerful in exonerating those who are falsely accused. And again, many wonderful, sad, powerful stories, of where someone was accused of sexual assault, and when they tested the DNA from a rape kit, it was not that person, and they were able to be released from incarceration. So, the DNA thing in the 1990s, it’s a potential game-changer, right? I mean, you look at this and you’re like, stranger, non stranger, serial, exoneration, this is awesome. Yeah, here we go. What was the impact? Nope, didn’t work. We’re back to the same fundamental problem. The police are still not investigating, and prosecutors are still not prosecuting, and you see that little and, and you’re like, oh crap, what’s the secondary problem? This. It was a review that came out in 2007 from the World Health Organization. It was this massive sweeping review, The Uses and Impacts of Medico-Legal Evidence in Sexual Assault Cases: A Global Review. Obviously a very academic report, ’cause you can see that it was the colon, it has the two part title, we have the fancy Medico legal evidence, all of that. You open this sucker up, you read the hundred pages, you know what it says? It says that rape kit evidence is never used in court. Not just in the U.S., a global review. So, in any country where they start collecting medical forensic evidence, they went to the court cases, psych and law at its finest. Said, what was the evidence that they used in these cases? They didn’t use it. The prosecutors weren’t presenting DNA evidence, injury evidence, there was no medical evidence generally that’s ever been used in the prosecution of sexual assault. Not just in the U.S., and in the rest of the world. So, yeah, we pushed this one way up, and it’s like, this is gonna solve, and it just rolled right back down again. And then as we stand at the bottom of the hill, crushed by the boulder, somebody said, “So, what happened to the rape kits?” If we created a model throughout the 1980s, and the 1990s, and into the 2000s, where we said to victims over and over and over again, if you’re sexually assaulted, go to a hospital emergency department, get this rape kit done, and then the World Health Organization says, guess what? None of that evidence is showing up in court, you ask, so, where the hell are the kits? What happened to them? So, here’s the answer of what happened to them. They weren’t tested. How did we figure this out? We started figuring this out in the late 1990s and early 2000s in two cities, New York, and your neighbors not too far from here, Los Angeles. So, in the late 1990s, the media were reporting in New York City that there were approximately 12,000 untested rape kits found in storage. Victim had a kit, turned it over to the police, the police did not send it to a forensic lab for testing, they literally put it on a shelf. And they opened up a police property room and found 12,000 kits. They’re like, oh, well surely this is just an isolated incident, it’s just New York City. Wrong. Couple years later, Los Angeles, city of Los Angeles and the L.A. Sheriff, 16,000 untested rape kits found in storage. They had one of the best crisis center and medical SANE programs in the country, the nurses are doing the exams, they’re handing the kits over, the police are like, yep, got it. Taking it into storage. As the media started breaking stories about these two cities, other jurisdictions, other cities started opening up the evidence locker rooms and saying, what do we have inside? Detroit and Houston were probably the next two cities that publicly disclosed that they had large numbers of untested kits, and then after that we picked up more. Cleveland, Milwaukee, Memphis had about 16,000, Salt Lake had about 6,000, Portland, on and on and on. And this is what the map looks like now. These are all the cities that have thus far disclosed that they have not been testing rape kits, including entire states. I was telling my colleagues at the head table that I was out at the state of Alaska not too long ago, where they didn’t test kits in Alaska, just didn’t. So, they just were all in storage. And I’m like, well, how long have you not been testing kits? They’re like, “Oh, ever since we got rape kits. “Well, we got the sexual assault nurse examiners.” And I’m like, what did you do with the kits? “Well, we put them in storage.” Okay. And I have been to all of these places, and have met with people in all of these jurisdictions, and it is the movie, Groundhogs Day, over and over and over again. But before I had a chance to visit all of these cities, I got to study one city in depth, and that’s Detroit, Michigan. So, Detroit, as you saw from the map, was one of the early cities that publicly disclosed this. And I had the opportunity to work with them very closely for about five years to understand what went wrong, and why. Couple things to know about Detroit. First of all, it’s not everything that you think it is, it is a beautiful, gorgeous city, rich in history, and culture, and food. Oh my god, the food. Go to Detroit, eat the food, it’s fantastic. But it is also some things that are pretty difficult. It does have a very high crime rate, it’s the second highest most violent city in the U.S., it is racially and ethnically unique among U.S. cities. 85% of the residents are African American. So, when I talk about what happened in Detroit, I am talking about sexual assaults committed against by and large African American women and girls, as well as men and boys. So, I’m not trying to make a case that what happened in Detroit will generalize to every city up here, it’s a unique city in terms of race, ethnicity, poverty, and crime. But I’ll also give you the punchline later that what I saw in Detroit, I actually have seen in every single city, same kinda dynamics, over and over again. Some things are a little different in Detroit and I’ll let you know what that is. So, let’s talk about what happened in Detroit, how they found out about this problem and what we did in our research. So, we discovered this in 2009, August of 2009, and it was a complete discovery by accident. So, there were representatives from the Wayne County Prosecutors Office, that’s the county seat for Detroit, and the Michigan State Police, or state folks, were invited to tour a Detroit Police Department property storage facility. There were concerns about how the Detroit Police Department was managing all of its crime scene evidence. And the state police said, “We need to step in, “We need to take a look at this,” and the prosecutor’s office was like, “We need to understand what’s going on.” So, the Detroit police said, “Okay, we’ll come show you “our property facility.” And this is the property facility. This is a parking lot. So, you see those bays? You roll those up, and you drive in. And in the parking spots is crime scene evidence. And you go up, you can see it’s a multistory building, winds back and forth. So, this was an abandoned parking structure that the Detroit Police Department appropriated and took over for their overflow storage. And there’s windows broken, and there’s literally birds flying in and out of this place. Section A-1 had a couch with blood on it, section A-2 had bins of ballistics, and you just walked through this building and it is crime scene evidence for decades and decades. And I asked one of the prosecutors on this tour to describe what he saw in this, and this is what he said. He said, “We’re walking through, “and I see these like, steel shelving units with boxes.” And I say, what are those? And they said, “Those are rape kits.” And I said, rape kits? What are all these rape kits doing here? I estimated 10,000 or more. And I asked, are they tested or untested? And the officer said, “I don’t know.” 10,000 back-of-the-envelope-computation rape kits sitting literally in a parking lot in inner city Detroit, and the police can’t answer a question about whether these are tested or not. So, the prosecutor goes back, tells the elected prosecutor, and this happens not too long after that. Detroit Free Press, prosecutor wants an independent investigation into what she says may be thousands of kits holding evidence of possible sexual assaults that were found in a Detroit Police Department evidence storage facility. Police Chief says, yeah yeah yeah, we’ll look into it, and this is what the police did about it. Nothing. Literally absolutely nothing. And then in what I can only describe as some type of cosmic intervention, the National Institute of Justice, which is the research and evaluation arm of the Department of Justice released grant funding to study untested rape kits, ’cause they knew about New York, they knew about Los Angeles, they were hearing murmurs that there were untested rape kits. So, the deputy director said, “You know what? “let’s put some funding out here “to have a research practitioner partnership.” So, all the researchers are like, yes, I can do research, I can create change, this is gonna be awesome. We’re gonna write a grant. So, they release this to fund two cities in the United States to have a researcher, someone like me, poke around for multiple years to understand the underlying factors that contributed to this, develop solutions, and evaluate those solutions. So, this was released, the Wayne County Prosecutor called a mutual friend and said, “Is Becky available?” And, I mean, what do you say? Of course I’m available, I’d love to do this. She’s like, “I need you to write a grant.” Absolutely, I can write a grant. So, I wrote a grant. We got it. Houston and Detroit were funded. So, we were funded to do four years of work to understand what this problem was. Very briefly, what were the goals of the project? Number one, to asses the scope of it. And for all my faculty colleagues here who’ve ever written a grant, you know that section of the grant where you have to describe the scope of the problem? And all you’ve got is that prosecutor saying my back-of-the-envelope computation is 10,000, that section of the grant’s pretty damn hard to write. So, I’m like, lemonade, lemons. The first goal of the project is to determine the scope of the problem, ’cause I didn’t know. I said, it’s roughly 10,000, we’re gonna count it, that’s goal number one, we’ll do that. Then we’re gonna study how and why this happened, which is really easy to write, and makes a nice bullet point, but think about what that means. That means me and my research team get to poke around in the police, the prosecutor, the hospitals, to understand how this happened. I don’t think they really thought that through, when they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do the grant.” Okay. We’re gonna develop a testing plan, we’re gonna see, should they test? Is the DNA still viable? We were talking about that over dinner. Will we get any results? Will there be any matches in this mystical magical CODIS database? Oh yeah, we’re gonna have to tell the survivors this. So, the psychologist in me was like, oh god. We’re gonna have to go back to people and say, you know that kit that you thought? It, yeah, didn’t. So, how do you do that in a trauma informed way? So, we had to come up with a solution for that. And then, the most exciting thing was, we were actually told by the government to create policy reform. It wasn’t an extra or an add on, they expected that in the terms of the grant. Fix this problem. Fix it here, fix it now in Detroit. We’re not trying to come up with solutions for every jurisdiction, but try to understand this jurisdiction, use social science to fix Detroit. I’m like, I’m all in, this is gonna be fine. So, I’ma give you a rundown of all of these different goals, with the exception of the victim notification plan. I’m happy to do that in our Q and A time, but that is a much more complicated story than what I can tackle in one presentation, otherwise we’d be here for a very long time. All right. So, the scope. Remember, all I have to go on is roughly 10,000. And I kept coming back to this. When they asked if they’re tested or untested, they said, “I don’t know.” And I’m like, how the hell can you not know? Because I’m like, you have a property database, right? Yes. Surely you have a testing database. It was an Excel spreadsheet that someone in the crime lab kept on her desktop, and they would enter in information, surely by a matching ID number, right? No. No. No, it was a different ID number. So, I have all the IT people back at MSU like, yeah, we’re gonna bang this out for you, Becky, this isn’t gonna be a problem, and I bring ’em back and they’re like, “I can’t fix this.” And that’s never what you wanna hear from your IT people, you want them to always look at this and go, I know how to fix this. And they’re like, “I can’t fix this. “This is incomplete, that doesn’t have matching numbers.” I’m like, well how the hell are we going to get a count? This is how. You pull every single one out of storage, and you count them manually, because the IT systems were so bad and so broken you have to count it manually. So, I’m a professor, university, really big one, Michigan State. I’m like, oh, okay, all right. I’m undeterred, this is not good news, but… Bring the bus, load the undergrads onto the bus, teach them how to do this on the drive, we bang this out in an afternoon, right? I mean, ’cause all we needed to do was basically count how many were in a box, and write down the basics. ID numbers, name, this that and the other. So, I kind of, timidly, thank goodness, suggested this to the prosecutor, and she looked at me like I’d lost my frickin’ mind. And she’s like, “I can’t have undergrads touching this.” I’m like, their SAT scores are good, (audience laughing)
they’re not great, but they’re good at Michigan State. I’m like, what’s the problem? And she’s like, “Becky, this is evidence.” I’m like, yeah, they’re trustworthy, we’ll get the psych and law people. No, any person who touches this is in what’s called a chain of custody. You can’t have random people like me, like you, touching this. Do you know who those poor people are? Those are the lowest ranking prosecutors in the prosecutors office, who everyday after work had to go over and manually count these things, ’cause there’s only two people who could touch it, police or a prosecutor. So, there you go, there they are, memorialized, And you can’t touch it, you can’t open it. This particular picture doesn’t really do justice, some of them are dusty, they had to wear masks, they had to wear gloves to touch some of these, and they had to manually count each and every one, and write information down. You see all those pieces of paper? I’m like, surely we could have laptops. Nope, Detroit’s broke, there’ll be no laptops. I go to Michigan state, can we have laptops? “Sure, you can have laptops.” I go to the prosecutor, we have laptops. No, it could be a data breach. I’m like son of a. So, manual. I mean, as manual in every sense of the word. Took us three months to count this under these conditions. They counted 11,303 sexual assault kits. They spanned 30 years, going back to 1980 to 2009 when they discovered. It included pediatric victims, the youngest victim was one month old, the oldest victim was 90 years old. It included adolescent victims, it included adult victims. It included males, it included females. It included, we believe, transgender folks, though they didn’t do a great job of being able to mark that clearly over all of those years. 11,303 kits. It is a sight to see, I will never forget what it felt like standing in that room and looking at all of them. As best we could tell from the crappy databases, and just looking to see if the seal was still intact, at least 8,700 never went to the lab. The other ones might have gone to the lab, we weren’t 100% sure, ’cause the database was kinda cruddy. So, we’re like, okay, as a scientist I’m like, there’s my sample, I know this many absolutely didn’t go to the lab, let me focus here and try to understand what happened. So, this became the hardest part of the study, honestly. It was actually worse than the victim notification, because I’m being asked to explain how and why you get 8,700 kits never sent to the lab, how you get 11,000 kits literally sitting in boxes and shelves. And I approach this as a systemic problem. I don’t think you get that many kits sitting on a shelf because one person or one organization didn’t do its job. This was a massive systemic breakdown, and it was rooted in very longstanding problematic practices within these organizations and between these organizations. That’s the organizational and the community psychology coming in. It’s about how they work together as a system. So, the police, the crime lab, and the prosecution are the three parts of the criminal justice system. I needed to understand dating all the way back to 1980 what was happening in these three systems. How did they make decisions, which kits got submitted for testing, which kits went on the shelf? And I needed to back up and understand, what was happening in the medical system? ‘Cause you remember, we don’t have this kit unless there’s an ER doc that collects the kit, or a nurse that collects this kit. So, I needed to broaden out, not just look at the legal, but understand the medical. I wanted to understand what the survivor experience was in all of this when they sought the exam, and when they reported the assault. I wanted to know if they had a victim advocate. Did they have somebody there to support the survivor? And advocates are also supposed to be advocates for social change, so what were they doing to kinda rattle the chains a bit and say, hey, system, what are you doing to help victims? So, this is the system I need to understand. I need to understand this over 30 years. Go. So, how would you do this? This is kinda like the worst exam on a research methods class. It’s like, how would you do this? What method are you gonna pick? It’s like, survey? No. Experiment? No. So, I go all in, and it’s like, we’re gonna do ethnography. I’m gonna go into Detroit, I’m gonna hang out, I’m gonna look at all kinds of different data from lots of different modalities. Archival records. So, very early on, everybody kept saying, “We’re broke, “we couldn’t test them because we didn’t have the staff.” And I said, bring me the receipts. They’re like, “What?” I said, let me see your staffing plan, let me see your budgets. They’re like, “Oh, you weren’t kidding.” I’m like, no, I’m not kidding. So, I looked at 140 documents across all of these organizations, budgets, ledgers, meeting minutes, staffing plans, training, you name it, all across all these organizations, 30 years worth of ugly documents. I pulled a sample of roughly 1,300 police reports that were associated with the untested rape kits, I’m gonna show some of those to you momentarily. We did really detailed quantitative and qualitative coding of what the police said, how they treated the victim, what were the assault characteristics? What happened in the case? Really detailed coding of 1,300 police reports. And that’s not time you get back on your deathbed, reading 1,300 police reports of rape, but if I wanna understand how this is happening, I have to get their perspective on this. I did a ton of qualitative interviewing. I did over a hundred interviews with key stakeholders, most of these are longitudinal. Talking to people over and over again. They’re very reticent to tell me anything, it takes some time, it takes some patience to build up their trust to where they will tell me really what was happening. And I did a crap ton of ethnographic observations. 186 hours on site, detailed field notes, they have to be written within 72 hours of every observation. So, I’m dictating them on the drive back to East Lansing, I had an apartment in Detroit that I would sometimes have to crash at to do my field notes. It’s a lot of different kinds of data. I used what’s called analytic induction, this is where I wave the magic wand and say findings happened, and I’ll tell you about that in Q and A if you’re interested, but let’s get on with the rest of the story. So, I look at a whole bunch of data, I’m comparing, I’m contrasting, I’m trying to see, why did this happen? The first thing that we found about why this happened, was there was no policy on rape kit testing, none. None, I pursued this issue literally the entire time of the grant, ’cause they said, “Oh, yeah, we have a policy.” Great, let me see it. “No.” And finally, someone’s like, “We don’t have a policy.” And I’m like, I know.
(audience laughing) I figured that out. So, the question was, is, well, who decides? It was completely discretionary. Completely discretionary. It was entirely up to the police whether they wanted to submit a kit. It was entirely up to them whether they wanted to decide. So, in the absence of any formal policy, it’s up to them to decide, so then obviously you know the next question is gonna be, coming down the pike, well, how did they make that decision? We’ll get to that in a second. But a couple of other context things that we learned too. All of these three organizations had massive reduction in staffing over the time that these kits were accumulating. So, the police had a 50% reduction in the number of detectives they had in sex crimes, not once but twice. So, Detroit at the time had roughly 900,000 people, it’s the second highest crime rate in the U.S., guess how many people they had in their sex crimes unit? And you’re like, I don’t know, what’s the benchmark? What should it be? 20, 30? They had four. They had four detectives when I showed up. Yeah. So, I’m like, well, that’s kind of a drop the mic moment there, I don’t know how much further I need to analyze the data, but I kept going. So, there’s literally no way they’re going to be able to investigate all these cases, I know that right now. I also know the crime lab’s in deep trouble, because they had two DNA scientists. So, to help put that into context, at the time these kits were collected, Detroit had a population similar at that time to Dallas. Not true anymore, Dallas got much bigger, Detroit got much smaller. But Dallas was similar for the bulk of the time. So, I call up Dallas, I’m like, hi, I’m Becky, I’m social scientist. How many DNA scientists do you have? And they’re like, “Well, in our first lab we have 30, “and in our second lab we have 35.” And I’m like, shut the front door, you guys have two labs. We got two people.
(audience laughing) Two people. Do you know how many the FBI requires, minimum? Two people. One to do it, one to check. Okay, not a good system, but that’s the minimum, and that’s what they had. They had two DNA scientists for the entire city of Detroit to handle all types of forensic evidence, including homicide, two people. All right, again, kinda dropped the mic, you know this is not gonna get any better. There’s no way they can do this. The prosecutor’s office had no specialized unit for sexual assault prosecution, there’s literally the prosecutor sits at the desk on warrant day, the police come and they bring cases, and a prosecutor makes a decision, do I wanna do this, do I not wanna do this? There’s no in depth anything, it’s just literally a line of people coming up to present cases. So, right now we know that the Detroit criminal justice system can’t keep pace, there’s just no way, they don’t have the people power. It’s absolutely impossible. But that’s not the full story, right? It’s a system. The kit comes to them from the medical system, so I go and I find the ER docs who collected these kits, and then I’m like, well, who were the nurses? ‘Cause surely you have a, no. No, Detroit didn’t have a SANE program, they didn’t have the forensic nurses, not until 2006. Rewind, when did I say those programs came on board? 1990s, Detroit didn’t get one ’til 2006. So, up until 2006, it’s whoever was in the ER doing the exam. What kinda training did they get? Whatever was the instructions in the kit itself. So, I find these ER docs, I get them to agree to interview, they don’t wanna interview, ’cause you know, they didn’t like what they were gonna have to tell me. And I said, so, tell me about your training? It’s like, “Oh, it was the instructions.” So, tell me about how you would do the kit? “Well, I would just kinda.” And they would often make gestures like this, like a lift, and then a swipe. I’m like, the hell’s this? Lift and swab, I’m like, what were you doing? And they’re like, “Well, we would just take a swab.” And remember the picture I showed you of all the different envelopes? They’re like, grabbing a swab and going. ‘Cause they’re in a Detroit emergency department. There are gunshot wounds here, there’s stabbings here, there’s drug overdoses, they’re not doing the whole kit. They’re grabbing a swab, putting it in a box, and calling it good. Legally, they have to be the one to hand it off to the police. And I said, so, what would you tell them? What would you tell the police when you passed the kit? And they said, “I would tell them the truth.” I’m like, well, that’s good. What did you tell them? And they said, “I told them that I didn’t find anything.” So, think about this. We have police who don’t have enough people, a lab with not enough people, and they hear from a doctor, like, big prestige in our society, the doctor said there’s nothing there. So, how did they hear that? Doctor said there’s nothing there, put it on the shelf. And I’m like… Really? And they’re like, “Yeah, I didn’t see anything.” I’m like, did you know what to look for? “No.” So, why did you tell them you didn’t see anything? “‘Cause I didn’t see anything.” You know, and you feel like sometimes you’re going in circles. So, the medical system very much was a contributing factor here. Over and over again they’re telling ’em, “I didn’t see anything. “I took a swab, didn’t see anything.” So, they’re like, okay, we’ll shelve it. So, surely the advocacy is going to save the day. The rape crisis advocates, the victim advocates, surely this is going to save the day. No, there’s no rape crisis center in Detroit. There still isn’t a rape crisis center in Detroit. There was a domestic violence program that had, wait for it, one advocate. One. One FTE. And that one person’s job was to try to hold back the system. So, it ain’t gonna work. So, where did this leave survivors? Completely on their own. I mean, the legal system couldn’t do it, the medical system wasn’t happening, and there was no victim advocacy to speak of. One of the people I interviewed said, “The kits that weren’t tested were the cases “that we couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about.” I just showed you couldn’t, they literally couldn’t do it. There was a complete lack of resources, there’s no way that they could’ve done it. Read the second part of the quote. Couldn’t or wouldn’t. So, I’m like, ah. Let’s take a look at that. You wouldn’t test, you wouldn’t help. Remember, whose decision is it? It’s the police’s decision not to do this. So, what we found, was the reason why the police didn’t submit the kits, above and beyond whatever resource problems they were having, is they fundamentally didn’t believe victims. So, here are some quick quotes from interviews we did with the police. They said, “I didn’t test it, “’cause she wasn’t acting like a real victim.” “This is a he said she said thing.” “Why was she there in the first place?” “This is not a rape, it’s a deal gone bad,” implying that it’s prostitution. “What did she expect being with him? “He’s a known felon. “If you hang with that, that’s what’s gonna happen.” And particularly for the younger, the adolescents, they would say, “She’s lying to cover something up.” They said this very freely, very openly in all of their interviews. “I didn’t test the kits because they’re lying.” And then we pulled the reports. This is an actual police report. “This heffer’s trippin’, “she comes in here hollin’ at people. “She claim she was abducted five minutes from her house “by two Black man,” duh-duh duh-duh duh-duh. Yeah. That abbreviation in the bottom that you can’t see very clearly in the back is the abbreviation that means unable to establish elements of the crime. This is a two page police report. I respectfully submit that they did not try to establish the elements of the crime. I’m often asked when I show this, is like, is this typical? Is this how they wrote about victims? And I can tell you that the specific word, heifer, was not commonly used. They preferred bitch, ho, whore, prostitute, I even saw a fair number of lady of the evenings, that was the polite way they did it. But they didn’t believe ’em, they didn’t care, they didn’t investigate. I’m gonna fast forward and tell you, this kit got a CODIS hit, and it matched to four other rape kits. This is a serial offender that they just shelved. It goes on and on. “The lie has already been uncovered and confirmed, “it appears to be a false report. “Story’s not been checking out as claimant states.” The claimant was off by 30 minutes in when she said something happened. 30 minutes. You can grab a whole bunch of psych literature on memory and trauma, 30 minutes is not a big deal. They literally closed the case and shelved the kit because of it. “Complainant is in deep. “She tells this story, no tears, none.” They’re expecting her to act in a certain way, and she didn’t do it, “The times are off. “I talked to the doctor and all he found “was a little discharge, no trauma. “Who can figure it?” In case you can’t see it, that’s a smiley face that then says, “Good luck.” Yes, I got an opportunity to present these back to the chief of police, it was a very interesting moment in my career, and he said, “These are not our best investigations.” I’m like… (audience laughing) Yes, sir, that’s correct. It was also clear they had a fundamental misunderstanding of trauma, and that created sort of, my side job in training on the neurobiology of trauma. Why victims don’t cry, why the times might be off. But if this was not a perfect victim in a perfect case, they just shelved it. So, here we are again, same problem. Police are not investigating, the prosecutors are not prosecuting. What’s our solution this time? I have an idea, let’s test the rape kits and see what happens. So, we developed a testing plan. Now, we did not have money in Detroit to test all 8,700, not even close. What we had money for was 1,595, and every time I publish this and I get a reviewer that says, “What was your power analysis?” My power analysis was a budget, this is what we had money for, that’s the sample size. That’s all we had. So, we tested that many kits. Turns out it was enough statistical power to do what we needed to do. So, we selected stranger, non-stranger, old, new, I can talk about the details of the sampling design later if you’re interested. We box ’em up, we ship ’em to a credible outside independent laboratory. It comes back, 49% of those had a DNA profile that was eligible to go into CODIS. This is a freakin’ miracle. Think about how they were collected, and think about where they were stored. The fact that 49% actually still had recovery was kind of amazing, the forensic scientists were like, “I did not expect this.” So, about half of the kits had a DNA profile that met the stringent requirements of the FBI, it’s literally loaded up into CODIS, it goes to the DNA profile, goes to Quantico. What does Quantico answer? 455 CODIS hits. So, 28% of the overall, 58% of the cases. So, all of the math people just went, oh, conditional and unconditional probabilities, yes. So, the conditional probability’s 58%. So, of the kits that went into CODIS, nearly 60% came back with a hit. Stranger and non-stranger, the same hit rate. So, it wasn’t just that this was stranger, this is non-stranger. We dug deeper to say, wait a minute, wait a minute, what did it hit to? Remember, ’cause you get into CODIS if you’ve been convicted or arrested of a crime, and I, FBI, what were they in CODIS for? 127 of those 455 hits, the reason that person was in CODIS was from another rape. So, 28% serial two sexual assaults linked by DNA. What was the impact of this? One of the police officers in our project called it a game changer. This was not what they were expecting. He said, “Remember, these were the ones, “these were the kits not tested, “because whatever, they didn’t matter, “the victims were lying, the victims were this, “they were that.” But then every month, the forensic science team brings in that chart that I just showed you. “We’ve got this many hits, this many serials. “The proof was in that chart every month, “showing the numbers, showing that the way “we’ve been thinking about this was wrong, “was flat out wrong.” So, what do we do? Time to move to some policy. The way we’ve been thinking about this is wrong, what do we do differently? So, many changes happened in Michigan as a result of this project. Number one, rebuilding all of the personnel levels, literally going to the governor to say, you need to invest in Detroit. So, they’re now up to about eight to 10 sex crimes investigators in the Detroit Police Department now. They created a new policy, actually wrote the policy for the first time, to test all of the kits. So, any new kits coming into Detroit had to be tested. We secured money from our state attorney general to go back and test all of the old kits in Detroit, all 11,303 have now been tested for DNA. We created new legislation, my data got to be presented for legislation, woo, it’s very exciting. Michigan Public Act 227 now says, all kits in Michigan have to be submitted for DNA. If the victim releases it for testing it’s not discretionary anymore, off it goes. It must be tested for DNA. Then we started thinking more systemically, and I kept going back to that IT problem. How did they not know this? And I remember in one of our team meetings, a prosecutor blurted out, she’s like, “How is it that I can order something “from Amazon and know exactly where my,” blank blank blank, “Package.” Fill in the profanity. “And I don’t know where a rape kit is. “I’m gonna call UPS.” She did. UPS is like, yeah, we know how to do this. So, UPS dispatched a team to Detroit, and developed a pilot tracking project. In the end they bowed out, but they gave us a ton of help in thinking through, what does a tracking system look like? ‘Cause we’re all like, oh my god, this is so hard, they’re like, “No it’s not, this is what we do.” So, we now have a statewide tracking system, where every kit, we know exactly where it is, and every survivor’s given a portal login. You know where your kit is now, every single step of the way. That’s now what we have instituted. And you saw those police reports, you saw that they were bad. I was asked to work with the state to create a whole new training program for how we train police in Michigan to do sexual assault investigations. Not a bad day’s work at the local level. This helped create national change, too. The results out of Detroit, results out of Houston, 32 states now have passed some type of rape kit legislation reform. Sometimes it’s pretty simple, you just need to audit, you need to test, but we have 32 states trying to do something about this. 20 now mandate testing of all new kits, eight so far have said, you have to go back and test what’s called the backlog, you have to go get all of the old ones and test it. The Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance now funds what’s called the SAKI Program, Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. That was that map I showed you of the U.S. So, now I travel all throughout the U.S., 41 cities, states, going to each and every one of ’em, and I told you I would tell you what was unique about Detroit. The financial depravation of Detroit was unique. That same victim blaming stuff, I see it over and over and over again. They don’t believe victims, they don’t think there’s a public safety risk, and they don’t test the kits. We’re chipping away at it bit by bit. This also got a ton of national media attention. You heard about a New York Times piece. If you really wanna have a really sad Friday night, HBO Documentary’s I Am Evidence. This is a movie that was produced by Mariska Hargitay, from Law and Order. Her foundation, The Joyful Heart, has been a national leader in addressing the problem of untested rape kits. I’m actually in this, that was kind of a cool thing. Though, my daughter, who’s now 13, but was younger when this came out, I let her watch just a little bit of it, ’cause she’s young, and she said, “Mommy, I am so proud of you for being in that film,” and, you know what’s coming, “Your highlights needed to be touched up before filming.” (audience laughing) So, just when I think I’ve pushed it uphill… (audience laughing) The kid’s gonna let you know that your highlights needed a little bit of touch up before you were interviewed for a national documentary. I’m like, it’s okay, that’s all right, baby, I’m good with that. So, what’s gonna be the impact of all of this? I don’t know. I really don’t know yet. I am thoughtful and mindful of the fact that this project has put a lot of DNA in the hands of the criminal justice system, and it’s DNA of African American men. Our criminal justice system is racist, and I just gave them, we are giving them, a very powerful tool. And that is something we all need to pause and think about, ’cause if we think that they’re gonna meter out justice in a fair and equitable way, they will not. At the same time, though, “These were poor Black women,” this is a quote from one of the survivors I interviewed. “Who wanted justice. “They reported in spite of what the police “does to use as poor Black women. “the crimes committed against us must be recognized, “and the police must be held accountable. “Rapists must be held accountable.” Both are true. We’ve given the criminal justice system a very powerful tool, and at the same time, we have poor Black women who got no justice, who now finally are starting to get justice. So, our problem at the beginning, where are we at now here at the end? They weren’t being investigated, they weren’t being prosecuted, they are being prosecuted in Detroit. 300 convictions and climbing. They are prosecuting these cases slowly but surely. We’ve been at this since 2009, it’s 2019. 10 years, that’s how long it took to get that many convictions, but they’re still going. There’s all kinds of legal hoops you have to jump with old kits, it’s statute of limitations, all that kinda stuff, but we’re getting there. In the end, will this roll back down on us? I don’t know. I’m not sure. My experience of the success and the failure and the success and the failure makes me a little skeptical, but I do think that we were able to accomplish something important in Detroit, and I think we’re accomplishing something important throughout the U.S. Whether this is the ticket, the thing that will help, I don’t know, we’ll have to see. Invite me back in a couple years and I’ll tell you what happened next. Thank you.
(audience applauding) All right, we have about 15 or so minutes for questions. Please raise your hand if you wanna ask a question. Please stand up when you ask your question. Do try to keep them reasonably brief, especially because we only have 15 minutes, priority goes to students. Hello, thank you for your talk. Yeah. Just real quick. How ridiculously unfeasible would it be to just have a federal policy that says, all new kits must be tested, period. It’s very feasible, you’d just need someone in the current U.S. Department of Justice to do that. (audience laughing) Right, insert thoughts there. The other thing is, is it would actually only apply to federal crimes, so the ones that cross state lines, it would apply in many but not all tribal jurisdictions. Many advocates see this as a state by state fight, and that we can get better traction that way, at least in the current federal climate around these issues, so I think that will come, it’s not gonna happen in this administration. So, we go state by state. Hi, I wanna thank you so much for your talk.
Thank you. So, I was wondering, so, here on CMC, I’m part of Amnesty International, and one of the issues that we’re talking about this month is the amount of rapes that Native women face, and how much likely they are than non-Native women in America. So, one of our ways to change this was to hold the Indian Health Service accountable, ’cause the lack of basic rape kits. However, do you find this an effective solution to give Native women access to basic rape kits? Or do you think that these rape kits will fall unto the system of being untested, and therefore create longer systemic problems? That’s a tough question. When I was in Alaska speaking with many of the tribal folks there, they felt very strongly that they needed to continue to offer rape kits, largely for the healthcare reasons. And that’s, I think, a really important thing that I glossed over, given the context of this talk, that I think is important to kind of, rewind a little bit to say, wait a minute, why are we doing this? Crisis intervention, psychological intervention, prevention of PTSD, oh, by the way, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, risk of pregnancy for some female patients, that piece, I think is really important. And the International Association of Forensic Nurses is trying to sorta get the conversation a little bit more balanced, now that there’s a healthcare piece, not just a forensic piece. But in Alaska, a lot of those kits were going into Anchorage, they were rapes of Native and Alaskan women, they weren’t being tested. Neither were the ones in Detroit, or in Mobile, Alabama, which was predominately African American, or Houston, where it was predominately Latinas. On and on and on, it is happening to women across a lot of different races, ethnicities, and folks of lots of different genders. Males not quite as much, but transgender folks are incredibly high risk for being sexually assaulted, and maybe not even wanting to come get an exam, because of being transgender. I don’t know that this is the solution. You can tell from my talk about pushing something hill and rolling back down. I do think it’s important for victims to get healthcare. There’s a lot of healthcare needs that they need to have attended to. I do think that the DNA can help us find serial perpetrators, ’cause I think one of the most important things to keep in mind, is most men don’t rape. Epidemiological data is incredibly clear on this. It is a small group that do it over and over again. So, we need to sort of, find those folks, and if you believe in a criminal justice approach they need to be punished, or as I was talking about with our table colleagues, restorative justice, transformative justice, some type of model outside of an incredibly racist, classist criminal justice system. We need something there, too. So, I think that there’s a couple of different ways to go, and I don’t wanna shut down any option, particularly any option that can give survivors healthcare. But I’m not convinced this is going to be the thing, hence the metaphor. Hi, thank you so much for your talk. I was wondering, what did you do about rape kits where the survivor, she may have passed away, because you’re working over decades, or where the assaulter may have also passed away? If the assailant had died, nothing. Nothing, there’s nothing you can do. Comma, but… I told you I didn’t have time to get into the victim notification piece, this is where I get to add a little insert. You could still notify a survivor and let her or him know this. So many survivors are wondering what happened, is he still out there? Is my assailant still out there? There’s psychological closure that comes from this. So, even if we can’t do anything, and I was constantly, sometimes literally yelling at my colleagues, stop saying do something means legal. Sometimes talking to people, letting them know, and giving them the psychological closure is very very critical. So, even if the assailant had passed, they would still do notifications to let survivors know, and they would often burst into tears and say, “I’ve been carrying this for 30 years, “10 years, 15 years, I’m free, I’m free now.” If the survivor has passed, we decided not to notify the family, because… Family may not know. A lot of victims don’t tell family and significant others. We do have some cases though, in serial, where another victim was sexually assaulted and you can enter the evidence from the case where the victim’s deceased as evidence, it’s called 404B evidence, prior bad acts, to show that pattern even though the victim is deceased. So, yes, I’ve learned a lot about the law and ways around this. The sticky issue is the statute of limitations. In Michigan we do have a statute of limitations, which means you can’t go back indefinitely to prosecute. So, even though they sat there for 30 years, some of them literally timed out, and they can’t be prosecuted. The clock has run out. So, there’s a lot of movement and advocacy circles to get rid of statute of limitations to say, this isn’t fair, they were sitting on a shelf, they had no idea that they were sitting on the shelf, please can we move forward? And depending upon what state you live in, you might be able to get through with the statute of limitations exemption, but it’s hard. Letting the mic people do this. Thank you for your talk, and thank you for all the work that you’ve done. Oh, thank you. I’ve been very impacted by what you spoke about, and what you’ve done over your career. By the time in college that I needed to ever go to one of these centers in 2006 it was a wonderful experience, given the situation, and it was very much almost spa-like and gentle and wonderful. Definitely under an hour, so it was fine. What I’m confused about, is that I was told that my kit would never be tested, because I needed to first agree to prosecute the person, and having been drugged and roofied, I didn’t know enough about what had happened to me to then go forward and go after someone. And so, I was sort of caught in a catch-22 of, well, what do I do? I guess I just give it up. And so, that is something, I loved your talk, but I kinda wanted to highlight that as another thing and hear if you had anything to saw about that or not, and I’m also glad that you brought up the statute of limitations, because here in California, we just got rid of it, I believe, a couple years ago. Caroline Heldman and some others worked to do that, so hopefully that will also help others. Yeah. Thank you for sharing so much of what you’ve experienced. It is, as they say, it is complicated. So, when the federal Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2005, what should’ve happened, but turns out didn’t, was when it was reauthorized in 2005, all survivors were supposed to be able to get the exam, the kits would be tested without having to agree to prosecution. ‘Cause it’s a horrific ask to say, okay, so, do you wanna prosecute? You’re like, oh my god, I don’t know what I wanna do, I was just sexually assaulted. We don’t make major life decisions in a moment of trauma. But they were. So, the federal Violence Against Women Act when it was reauthorized in 2005 was supposed to disentangle that, to say to survivors, you don’t have to decide this. We can still test your kit, and it’s really important in drug facilitated sexual assaults. So, when the Urban Institute did a national evaluation of the VAWA 2005 implementation, they found you. They found all of yous. That it was not being implemented correctly, and in jurisdictions all throughout the United States, they were telling survivors, “You have to do this, “you have to make this decision.” And for drug facilitated sexual assault, if you can’t do this, it was crazy. It was crazy. So, a lot of federal training right now is trying to remind that the law says, if a survivor releases it for testing it’s supposed to be tested, and by the way, it’s not the victim’s decision about whether to prosecute. Guess what? It’s the state’s. So, it’s not the victim’s choice, per se, although, comma, I do want it to be survivor’s voice and empowerment, but so many jurisdictions, they shift the blame to victims. So, if a victim doesn’t say in that moment of trauma that they’re not ready to prosecute, they shelve the kit, and that’s what’s happening over and over again. So, what’s happening to you, what has happened to so many survivors is kind of a new problem we’re trying to tackle. And the new Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, which is going through the current congress, the current senate, and the current administration. Hi, thank you so much for your talk, and for everything that you are doing. I was wondering if the victim was treated significantly differently if the police officer was a female rather than a male. Usually worse. Usually worse. Insert psychology here. So, why would that be? It’s like, surely sister to sister, we would know. What it activates is a fear response of, this could be me, so how am I different from you? So, often, the female officers were far more victim blaming than what we saw from the male officers. A lot of the male officers would say, I can see my daughter here, I can see my wife here, and I’m like, oh god, let’s get you into a gender studies class to sorta think about that, but at least I could work with that. But the female ones, at least in Detroit, and we have see this in other jurisdictions were often much harder on the victims. “Why did you do this? “Why did you do that? “Didn’t you know that?” And that sort of policing, not in a legal sense, but that policing in a social way of, don’t you know you weren’t supposed to do this? And it was crushing to them. It was crushing to them. To where at the time we were doing most of the studies, the sex crimes unit was entirely male, and survivors would be like, “Where’s my female?” And we’re like. Not until we fix this with training. Here’s what you have. So, it was heartbreaking. It was heartbreaking. Hi, thank you for your talk. So, you kind of just answered that on the tail end, but going along with that, are there steps to make better training for police officers? Yeah. And when you were investigating these places, I know some places do have a special victims unit, obviously Detroit’s wasn’t very extensive. Was that just people designated for those crimes? Did they have any training? What’s the state of that, basically? So, interestingly, a lot of special victims units for sexual assault are the stepping stone to the real prize in law enforcement agencies, which is to work homicide. So, okay, we’ll just kinda have a moment about that, that that’s the goal, is to work on homicides. I’m like, wow, that’s grim. But it was something they did along the way. Did they receive any special training? No, not in Detroit, and not in most jurisdictions. This is changing, so again, Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU, she’s actually an incredible activist around this, what we’re starting to see is more special victims units do have a very different philosophy in training, and it’s training I get to do, training other psychologists do all around the country to sort of, walk this all the way back, to what is trauma? What does trauma look like? What does research tell us about how trauma affects behavior? Why people cry, why they don’t cry. What does it teach us about memory? How many of you saw the Kavanaugh hearings? Yes, okay. So, we’re all like, screaming in the background, I know the answer, I know the answer. And I got to brief some of the senators who were doing the questioning about what kinds of things were reasonable to ask. That is happening, it is slow. So, the International Chiefs of Police, International Association Chiefs of Police, IACP, is the primary law enforcement agency training. They received a grant under the Obama administration to do what they call trauma informed investigation training, and it is a pilot project that’s slowly but surely spreading throughout the country to teach police about trauma, their own trauma of what they experience and what they see as police officers, and teaching them a completely different way to do an investigation. And this is the primary thing they teach, and it’s sort of like, earth-shattering. They teach that you investigate the offender. And you’re like, what were they doing before? (laughing) They were investigating the victim. So, they would run reports on her, her history, drug use, and prior criminal convictions. In colleges they would interview roommates, they were lookin’ for dirt on victims. So, this new model of police training is, investigate the suspect. And there’s a certain level of like, are we really doing this? We’re really doing this. This is the new model, we’re going to investigate the suspect, and we’re going to treat victims in trauma informed ways. It is happening, it is slow, it does seem to be making a difference, though, in terms of increasing prosecutions, and survivors saying that the experience is not nearly as traumatizing as it once was. So again, sometimes it really is kinda simple solutions. Right, I just wanted to announce that we are actually gonna get our full 30 minutes or so of Q and A after all, don’t let us keep you, but we are going to extend this Q and A session by a little bit. Hi, thank you for your talk. I was wondering if the parking garage that they were storing evidence in played a part in potentially deteriorating the evidence in the kits, and if so, were there any protocols in place in how they should be stored in a different way? Yeah, I interviewed the forensic scientists and the Michigan State Police about the storage facilities, and they were almost hyperventilating. They’re like, “This is less than ideal.” I’m like, I guessed that. They’re like, “It should be at a constant temperature, “ideally it should be refrigerated.” I’m like, ideally there won’t be birds flying around, they’re like, “Yes, ideally there’s not bird flying around.” I did learn this, though, and I was talking also with my colleagues at the head table about this. DNA is remarkably resilient stuff. Pretty much you have to flamethrow it, or boil it before it will degrade. So, thankfully there were no flamethrowers, and they didn’t boil. So, it wasn’t ideal, the temperature fluctuations might have affected some of the samples, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought. The better guess about why we only had, only 50% had recoverable DNA was the way the doctors did the collection. That was a bigger problem than the storage. The storage, obviously not ideal, of course any defense attorney worth his or her salt was like, “So, tell me about how this evidence was stored. “How was it secured? “Oh, there were birds flying around.” Sips tea, you know? ‘Cause they have to create the doubt, right? Well, how do you know you have the right evidence? ‘Cause the DNA matches. But you know, it was less than ideal to say the very least. Now they’re in a climate controlled facility, they’re very carefully inventoried and tagged, and the evidence retrieval process is much better from the nurses. But less than ideal, but it’s pretty hardy stuff, our DNA. This on? Mm-hmm. Oh yeah. Thank you for your talk.
Yeah. So, I was curious, obviously the policy proposals that you had for Michigan, I mean, I’m not very familiar with this sort of thing, but seemed very comprehensive. I’m curious what recommendations you had for the medical side of things, and how to better that situation with such severe under-staffing, and something that isn’t entirely in the control of the hospital to begin with? So, the primary work on the medical side has been to get this out of an emergency department. An emergency department is an awesome place to go when you have chest pain, when the side of your face is drooping, when you have a broken limb, and you have an emergent health threat. The overwhelming majority of sexual assaults are not any of those. If there’s strangulation, yes, you need to go to an emergency room because you need a CAT scan. But, short of a strangulation, this doesn’t need to be in a hospital emergency department. So, there’s a real shift with these forensic nurse examiner programs to have them in Planned Parenthoods, to have them in student health clinics, we’re creating one in our Student Health and Wellness division at MSU. To create them in different kinds of community health clinics, ’cause it’s not an emergency. And that also gives you the more sorta, spa-like, calm environment. And to have the people doing this have really extensive training. An ER doc’s great if you’re having a heart attack, they get lots of training on that, they do not get training on how to do this. So, a real shift there. We do have a national shortage, though, of sexual assault nurse examiners. There’s not enough nurses anywhere close to going around. Pretty good in urban areas, terrible in rural areas, and awful in tribal lands, except for Alaska. Alaska has a pretty good movement there, but a lot of places, they haven’t really been able to do that, so that’s kind of another sort of, wave of this, is trying to train up more nurses. It has a very high burnout rate for nurses who do this work. It’s really re-traumatizing to do this day in and day out, so they’re trying to think through, again, insert psychology here, how we can take what we know about trauma to help people be able to do this longer and better, and separate what’s an emergency and what is non-emergent healthcare. Hi, thank you for all the work you’ve done that you’re sharing with us. I was wondering how and what you told the 11,000 survivors about what had happened to their sexual assault kits. Haven’t told all 11,000. That’s the short answer. So, this is, and thank you for taking the layup on, I really wanted to talk about victim notification, thank you for giving me the opportunity to do it. This was without a doubt the hardest for the broader team. The hardest part for me was the underlying causes. For the broader team, it was trying to figure out the notification, ’cause they kept sorta saying, “I don’t know how to do this, I don’t know how to do this.” And I’m like, I’ve got a great answer for you straight from psychology. It’s really simple. Two words, one of them is a contraction. I’m sorry. Start with that. And they’re like, “We can’t apologize.” I’m like… Why can’t you apologize? “‘Cause that admits blame and culpability, “and then we could be sued.” And I’m like, oh my goodness gracious. So, we brought in a legal ethicist who has also had a Ph.D in divinity, so we could approach it from a couple of different disciplines to say, legally, your chances of being sued over this are very low, ’cause you can’t sue municipal police departments for something like this. But you can’t. So, why not apologize? They’re like, “I can’t apologize, “because it wasn’t my fault.” And it’s like. “I didn’t do it personally.” You are part of a system, you are an agent of oppression, you’re the one that wearing the uniform, you need to make an apology. And it was really fascinating for all of us of watching just how hard it was for them to get those words out of their mouth, I’m sorry. And we had to practice, we had roleplays. (laughing) I’m like, I can’t believe I’m doing this. Let’s have a roleplay, how do you say I’m sorry? And I’m kinda glibbing and irritable about it because it was like, I can’t believe this so damn hard, but it was so damn hard. So, that’s the protocol. The protocol led with I’m sorry. I’m sorry that your kit wasn’t tested, I’m sorry that when you came to us we didn’t help you. We have now tested your kit, and we’re here to talk to you about the results. Pause. Do you want to know? Gotta give that choice, ’cause there were some survivors that are like, “You can leave now, “I don’t wanna talk to you.” Not many, but some said that. Most of them said, “Yes, I wanna know.” And they could say, we found no DNA, I’m sorry. We found DNA, and we don’t yet have a CODIS hit, but we might, so… Welcome to limbo. We tested it, we have a CODIS hit, it’s a serial rapist, and can you come to court in a couple of months? Survivors by and large reacted pretty positively to the notifications. They were glad that they were finally getting an answer. A lot of them cried, a lot of the people who did the notifications cried, ’cause how can you not? We found that it was really not a great idea to tell somebody that their kit had been tested and a profile was in CODIS but it didn’t have a match. That limbo space, they were like, “I didn’t wanna know that.” So, right now, we’re not doing outreach to those. But if there’s a hit, we let them know, if there’s never gonna be a hit, ’cause there’s no DNA, we let them know. And again, the psychological closure is important. But you have to lead with the I’m sorry, and that was the hardest words for them to say. Hi, thank you so much for the work that you’ve done, and for coming to speak with us tonight. I’m very involved in our advocates group on campus, as many of the people in here are, and I was wondering, you mentioned a lot of jurisdictions did not have advocacy programs in place. I was wondering what you believe the role of advocates in this process is, and how you think we might best fulfill that role? An advocate is an advocate for the survivor. They’re not there to be a mediator, they’re not there to be a diplomat, they’re not there to try to help smooth things over. You have one job and one job only, and that is to advocate for your client, whatever he, she, or they wants. Period, drop the mic, it’s that simple. If the survivor is unsure about what he, she, or they want to do, you create the space.