The balancing Act

A new federal mandate compensates for the mutually exclusive needs of sex crime investigations and sexual assault victims


     The requirement does not address from where states should take money to support the exams. OVW confirms that states could directly funnel STOP funds to pay for exams, however, this could mean other training and programs previously utilizing STOP money may suffer. Should the mandate fulfill its goal — to encourage victims to seek medical help and collect DNA evidence immediately — it is possible the number of reporting victims could climb, as would rape kit costs. Dyer states there are too many unknowns to predict a financial outcome at this time.

'Unlocking the silence'

     Now 34, Lipkin works as a freelance writer and volunteers with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center in Massachusetts as a survivor speaker; telling the story of the rape, how she survived and, in her words, "unlocking the silence" about rape.

     But for hours and days, she says she was not able to talk about the attack. Yet she was strong enough to sit in a hospital holding a rapist's DNA inside her, where he savagely put it. Twelve years later, she was able to revisit the area where she was kidnapped and raped and it no longer haunted her, she wrote. "He had me then," she says. "But he doesn't have me now."

     With the SAFE kit mandate in place to balance the mutually exclusive needs of victims and the justice system, victims can recover and keep the avenue to justice open, should they choose to pursue it. In that case, the silence after rape should become a frightening sound to sex crime offenders, instead of the thud of the door to justice slamming shut.

A thumbnail of sexual violence

     Shira Lipkin was seen in the hospital within hours of the attack, was interviewed by Las Vegas police and underwent a long, invasive forensic exam to collect the physical evidence of the rape. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), Lipkin represents the minority of victims when it comes to reporting. DOJ statistics estimate that two out of every five victims of sexual assault or rape ever report the incident to police. Other authorities studying and documenting sexual assaults and rapes find:

  • 1.2 of every 1,000 people in urban areas were the survivors of a rape or sexual assault in 2006, a reduction from 1.4 reported for 2005. For suburban areas, the rate of victimization was one person per 1,000, an increase from .7 per 1,000 in 2005. (Department of Justice Statistics Bureau)
  • Of 9,684 adults: 10.6 percent of women reported experiencing forced sex at some time in their lives, while 2.1 percent of men reported experiencing the same. Two-and-a-half percent of the population surveyed of women and 0.9 percent of men said they had experienced unwanted sexual activity in the previous 12 months. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008)
  • Forcible rape reports in 2007 fell by 4.3 percent. This number was two times the previous decrease between 2005 and 2006, which was called "tremendous progress." (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, June 2008)
  • A total of 191,670 sexual assaults or rapes were committed against victims 12 or older in 2005. (The National Center for Victims of Crime)
  • Shira Lipkin was assaulted by a stranger, which currently represents 26 percent of sexual assaults and rapes; the majority of these crimes — 73 percent — are perpetrated by someone the victim knew; (28 percent were intimate partners, and 38 percent were friends or acquaintances).
  • NCVC states that in 2005, the overwhelming majority of rape or sexual assault victims were women, with 8 percent of these crimes victimizing men.

     If the DOJ's frequency of reporting estimate is applied, the numbers from Statistics Bureau, NCVC and RAINN can be more than doubled to better reflect the contemporary rate and pervasive presence of rape and sexual assault in the nation.

VAWA and STOP Program details

     In 1994, Las Vegas was already offering rape and sexual assault survivors a free forensic exam, where Lipkin was raped and had a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) kit. However, not all cities or states were so mindful of sexual violence and victims' needs at the time, prompting Congress to establish a national act — the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — with the mission of reducing violence against women and has established remedial federal mandates that are meant to combat legacy laws, social norms and practices that have worked against the VAWA agenda. The Act came up for reauthorization in 2005, and Congress saw fit to incorporate a mandate that would federally require all states to provide free access to forensic examinations and rape kit evidence collection to victims, leveraging federal funds for states that choose not to conform.

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