Serial Rapists Are More Common Than We Knew

by Megan Grant

After testing nearly 5,000 rape kits in Ohio that had previously gone untested, we've learned yet another unsettling truth: Serial rapists are more common than we think. It's a problem perpetuated by the fact that we tend to look at rapes as single instances, instead of more closely examining the rapist and their behavior and history. And it is long past time something was done about it.

The initiative to test these thousands of kits, the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Pilot Research Project carried out by Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), has made for more than 250 convictions; furthermore, out of the 243 kits that were studied, 51 percent of them were connected to serial offenders, according to several press releases from CWRU. What's more, there's a noticeable pattern of behavior in these repeat rapists: They have more violent histories; more than a quarter of them had been arrested for sexual assault before; and well over half of them were arrested for sexual assault later on. Additionally, serial offenders more often commit acts of kidnapping, verbal and physical threats, and the use or threat of use of weapons.

The takeaway here is a scary one: These numbers indicate that a sexual offender has likely committed an assault in the past, or likely will in the future.

The silver lining (or whatever you'd want to call it in this case) is that looking at an individual sexual assault as committed by a possible repeat offender could potentially help us to prevent sexual assaults in the future.

But there are other hurdles to jump that make it difficult to take full advantage of rape kit results. For starters, rape kits themselves are time-consuming and invasive to administer. It can take as long as four hours to administer one and includes swabbing, internal examinations, and photographs of the injuries, among other procedures. It is understandably a traumatizing experience for someone who has already been through rape or assault.

Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of rape kits still go untested. The National Institute of Justice found that in 2011 alone, 18 percent of unsolved rape cases from 2002 to 2007 had kits and evidence that had never even been processed. (Just think how much that number of unsolved cases could have been reduced if those kits and that evidence had just been properly tested.) Many individual cities and counties have no procedures for tracking and organizing rape kits, leaving thousands untested. In 2009, 11,000 kits were found in a police warehouse in Detroit, and they're not alone: Phoenix, Dallas, and Memphis have also been found to have thousands of untested rape kits, and they are likely more cities also lagging.

Essentially, we have thousands upon thousands of victims going through the upsetting experience of completing a rape kit, only for it to be completely forgotten about.

The first answer, of course, is that not a single rape kit should go untested. Additionally, based on the earlier results that sexual offenders are likely repeat offenders, we should consider their broader history, as the one-time offenders seem to be outnumbered.

Images: Women's eNews, David Shankbone, Devon Buchanan/Flickr