Rape Audit

Amanda Kemp, the YWCA senior director of prevention, sexual assault and forensic programs, puts supplies back into a case after explaining the contents of a rape test kit in Oklahoma City. ANYA MAGNUSON/Oklahoman file

A troubling Oklahoma Watch report finds that police are clearing rape cases at possibly record low rates. At the same time, rape reports have reached a 20-year high. That’s not acceptable.

Advocates have puzzled over whether increases in rape reports are due to more violent crime occurring or more victims willing to come forward. Regardless of the answer, Oklahoma has experienced seven straight years of rising rape reports.

The victims, and society in general, deserve justice and safety. Those crimes need to be cleared.

But, reporter Whitney Bryen found the trend going the opposite way. During the past two decades, statewide police clearance of rape cases dropped from 62% to 22%. The same trend is seen in national statistics, which makes the news even more disturbing.

Some law enforcement officers question the accuracy of the clearance rate figures, arguing that improved investigative practices and policies are causing the decline.

Another reason could be a lack of resources for the rising sexual assault reports. Oklahoma faced a crisis in untested rape kits in recent years, prompting interventions from the governor and state Legislature.

It’s important for policymakers to be aware of these changes and adequately fund essential resources.

Experts also have suggested that the numbers may be affected by police choosing to hold cases open for new evidence to surface. We can’t criticize that choice, which reflects a desire to solve cases and a contemporary understanding of how trauma works; but, if that’s the case, police need to rethink how crime data is analyzed to reflect that new reality.

To some degree, we have to take the statistics at face value and insist that things must change. The gap between rape reports and clearance rates is too big to ignore.

Local agencies need to evaluate what is needed to find closure for victims and communicate that to the public.

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