Thursday, April 30, 2009

A week or so ago, St. Mary's College of Maryland hosted an annual event called "Take Back the Night." Students of all genders were encouraged to gather together to raise awareness of sexual assault and domestic abuse. The name of the event is indicative of its intent: for females to reclaim the night as theirs, instead of a time when they are supposed to fear for their safety and stay indoors.

I sat in the rec room of the Lewis Quad suites and had my mind blown by incredible speakers, dancers, and poets. What struck me most was the invitation for victims to stand up and tell their stories. I was floored and entranced by the five women, students at my college, students who I have taken classes with, eaten meals with, waved to on The Path, who got up and bravely told their stories of abuse, heartbreak, and injustice. Sexual assault is something that, unfortunately, never rings loudest until it hits home. Until you can put a familiar face onto it.

Just today, my partner Sarah sent me a NY Times article that her roommate sent to her. Just from reading the headline, "Is Rape Serious?" I knew I was going to read something that would boil my blood.

I was not wrong. I have never been more angry, appalled, and disappointed with my country than I was after reading this article (and this is including the Swine Flu pandemic which just makes me want to take a baseball bat to my own face).

Did you know that it takes up to one full year to process the evidence presented when a rape is reported?

Did you know that this is only when the "rape kit" (the evidence gathered from the victim's body) is actually used as evidence.

"... in Los Angeles County, there were at last count 12,669 rape kits sitting in police storage facilities. More than 450 of these kits had sat around for more than 10 years, and in many cases, the statute of limitations had expired."

This is unacceptable. How in the hell does our criminal justice system find it appropriate that DNA evidence--evidence that can definitively prove the identity of a rapist--presented in a rape case is not considered to be a top priority? How and when did rape become the least of our worries, and who decided this because I've got one hell of a bone to pick with them.

"Solomon Moore, a colleague of [the author] at The Times, last year wrote about a 43-year-old legal secretary who was raped repeatedly in her home in Los Angeles as her son slept in another room. The attacker forced the woman to clean herself in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

Tim Marcia, the detective on the case, thought this meant that the perpetrator was a habitual offender who would strike again. Mr. Marcia rushed the rape kit to the crime lab but was told to expect a delay of more than one year.

So Mr. Marcia personally drove the kit 350 miles to deliver it to the state lab in Sacramento. Even there, the backlog resulted in a four-month delay — but then it produced a “cold hit,” a match in a database of the DNA of previous offenders.

Yet in the months while the rape kit sat on a shelf, the suspect had allegedly struck twice more. Police said he broke into the homes of a pregnant woman and a 17-year-old girl, sexually assaulting each of them."

This is not okay.

What disturbs me the most about this is that this article was published yesterday. Yesterday. Maybe I'm not as informed as I think I am, but why has it taken until April 2009 for somebody to stand up and say, "Something's fishy here." Why have bigger precautions not been taken? Hell, where is the federal mandate that requires rape kits to be tested within a week of being obtained? Where the fuck are our priorities?

Speak up. Speak out. Forward this article to all your friends, get in contact with your government, and let them know that this is not okay.