Anoka, St. Cloud and Duluth police departments defend their decisions to not profile the DNA to confirm the identity of men accused of rape. These three police departments account for 40 percent of Minnesota’s 3,500 untested specimens given by pelvic examinations of recently traumatized women.
These officials rationalize storing rape kit specimens from woman who decline to press charges or if the suspect confesses to sexual assault. The Anoka County Sheriff says that this is not “haphazard or reckless” and proclaims that the number of untested kits “will never be at zero.” Another Anoka County Sheriff commander blithely says, “If that kit … has no value in the case, why send that down to the lab and waste that money in the case?” Lazy Anoka cops have kicked the can down the road by buying a third refrigerator to store untested rape kits.
Bad cop. Good cop.
St. Paul police are another story: zero untested rape kits. All kits are tested and DNA profiles of the assailants are sent to a national sex-offender database. Why? As their spokesperson succinctly puts it, “It can give us information about other cases.” Anoka does not have nicer rapists or more forgiving victims: It has lazy cops.
How tests are useful elsewhere
Consider these situations:
John rapes Mary in Duluth. Mary knows who John is. She declines to press charges. Maybe she is afraid because he is in a gang. Maybe she fears a trial will trash her reputation. Maybe she is afraid of a jury deadlocking on a he-said-she-consented, she-said-she-was-forced testimony. The Duluth police see no prosecution and shelve her specimen. The national sexual-assailant database does not have John’s DNA profile. John, in the past or future, rapes Joan in St. Paul. Joan did not know John’s identity. She would love to have him brought to justice and she goes through a painful pelvic examination hours after her assault to nail the bastard who invaded her home and raped her in front of her child. The DNA test from Mary’s case would identify John, but it sits unprocessed in a refrigerator in Duluth. No case. John is free to rape again and again.
Or, Dick rapes Betty in Anoka. Dick confesses to rape and after a plea bargain is allowed to plead guilty to assault. This saves money and he gets a short sentence. The deal also allows him to avoid surrendering the DNA sample that he would be required to give if convicted of rape. Dick has also raped Sylvia in Stillwater. After her assault, a friend took Sylvia to an emergency room where she submitted to an exam and gave evidence from her vagina to send the man to jail. Betty’s specimen sits in a nice new third refrigerator in Anoka. Dick is never tied to Sylvia’s case.
Farfetched? No. Minnesota has 3,500 untested kits. Detroit’s first 1,600 tests of 10,000 untested kits identified 100 serial rapists and 10 convicted rapists. One hundred men like Dick and John.
All victims deserve new requirement
Minnesota does not require that specimens that raped women give up at their most traumatized time be tested to identify the assailant. It allows rapists to roam free.
There is no justification for sloppy and incomplete police work. Minnesota ought to require all jurisdictions to do complete forensic DNA profiles of all rape kits and require all police departments to test every kit within 60 days of the specimen being obtained. All victims of sexual assault deserve this. They are our wives, our daughters, and even our sons.
Steven H. Miles, M.D., is a professor of medicine and bioethics at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics.
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