Image
Top
Navigation
2019 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium Newsroom finalist

Case Cleared: How Rape Goes Unpunished in America

About the Project

“Case Cleared” uncovered how dozens of police agencies in America are making rape cases look as if they are solved without actually arresting a suspected rapist. Reporters found that in dozens of cities a type of clearance intended to be the exception to the rule has become the rule for rape cases.

In 2016 in Austin, Texas, for example, police records show they cleared 51 percent of rape cases, but we found that suspects were arrested only 17 percent of the time. The rest were exceptionally cleared.

In Baltimore County, despite gathering a trove of evidence against a suspected child sex predator, police exceptionally cleared the case. The suspect, left free, traveled to another city, where he was arrested for similar crimes.

Within just weeks of our reports, the FBI moved to fast-track a fix to a major flaw we found in its next generation national uniform crime report, the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The FBI explained it was moving fast “Because of the importance..” of the issue we uncovered.

“You have found something that needs to be corrected,” said Col. Edwin C. Roessler Jr., chairman of the FBI’s NIBRS transition task force, and chief of police in Fairfax County, Virginia. “This is a crisis, an emergency.”

The Texas House of Representatives and Senate unanimously approved the creation of the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force inside the governor’s office, bringing money and support at the highest levels of state government to reform how rapes are tracked, investigated and prosecuted across Texas. The lead sponsor of the bipartisan measure said our reporting proved pivotal in convincing Texas lawmakers they needed to act.

In Austin, the series led to an audit by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which concluded nearly one-third of the cases Austin police exceptionally cleared were misclassified. Nearly 300 detectives were ordered to be retrained.

To help reporters in other local communities we made the data we collected public through ProPublica and the Stanford Big Local News data repository. We held webinars for dozens of local reporters who are using it now for their own investigations. Already, the Baltimore Sun, Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting & others have published significant local investigations using our data.

In New York City we found the NYPD only classifies a sex crime as a “rape” in reports on its website if there is vaginal penetration, undercounting rape by nearly 40 percent compared to a more expansive definition from the FBI. Forty-eight hours after our report and questions from city council, the general assembly and local media, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city will update how it counts “rape” on its website by the end of this year. Newsy’s parent company had to sue NYPD to gain access to the data used to uncover this problem. The Mayor said “in the name of making sure that everything is clearly reported, we are going to add those federal definitions later this year to the COMPSTAT reporting system.”