No Justice: How The Chicago Police Department Has Failed To Solve Thousands Of Rape Cases In Last Decade

(CBS) — In a cramped room, four women – strangers to each other – talked about the worst thing that’s ever happened to them.

Their stories are strikingly similar.

“I met somebody for the first time, for business purposes,” one said. “And he had other plans.”

“I had met somebody for the first time, and we were supposed to go out just for dinner,” said another.

The third: “I went to a meet-up group, and at this meet-up, I met somebody.”

“I went to have a relaxing day [at a massage],” the fourth said. “I was assaulted by an employee.”

Despite reporting to police they were raped or sexually assaulted, they all said their cases have not been solved.

(CBS)

In this story, CBS 2 concealed their identities. They are each referred to, respectively, as numbers One, Two, Three and Four — not because they are numbers or nameless, but because the people they accuse of raping or sexually assaulting them are still on the street and have not been charged with a crime.

These four women say police have no new developments, and they are still waiting for justice, despite some of their cases dating back years ago.

A months-long investigation by the CBS 2 Investigators found they are not alone. Police have failed to solve thousands of rape cases, even in incidents where a suspect is known and evidence exists. And the total number of arrests has reached a 10-year low.

Thousands of victims, few arrests

It’s difficult to pinpoint national data on how often arrests are made in rape cases in specific cities across the country. Police departments track or count it differently, and often designate cases as “cleared,” even if it isn’t solved or an individual wasn’t actually charged.

But according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, three out of every four rape incidents go unreported. And out of 1,000 rape reports, only 46 lead to an arrest.

In Chicago, more than 15,000 people reported being raped in the last decade through April, 2019,  according to a CBS 2 review of criminal sexual assaults, for both adults and children, reported to police. This data is provided on the city’s public data portal and pulled from CPD’s Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR) system – the same data the police department uses to map crimes.

While the total number of reported rapes each year has fluctuated, it has increased by the hundreds since 2009.

Police only made arrests in a fraction of these cases. In the same timeframe, the total number of arrests has dropped 64 percent. In 2017, more than 1,759 sexual assaults were reported. Police made arrests in only 114 of those cases – just over 6 percent. The conviction rate could be even less, although the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office does not track this data for Chicago cases alone.

Sarah Layden, victim advocate and director of Resilience, a Chicago-based, not-for-profit organization that supports survivors of sexual violence, acknowledged there could be thousands of victims of rape in the city.

“And the vast majority of them without having the person that harmed them held accountable,” Layden said.

CBS 2’s investigation also found an arrest counted by CPD could also mean a suspect was arrested but later released, like in the case of the woman identified as Number One.

She remembers the night vividly. It was 11 p.m., Oct. 23, 2016.

According to the police report, he had contacted her on Facebook. He knew she sang and asked her to come to his studio to record and write music.

She knew he was a friend of a family friend, so she felt safe to go.

At one point, she remembers them sitting down on the couch and taking a break. That’s when he asked if “he can take it,” the report said. She said no. But he didn’t listen.

“He was a lot bigger than me, and I couldn’t fight him off,” she said.

The police report said she “curled up in a ball to protect herself.” She later went to the hospital, submitted a rape kit and reported the incident to police. Miscellaneous clothing and a Facebook photo of the suspect were submitted into evidence, according to the report.

He was arrested five months later. He told police it was consensual, the report said.

When police arrest a suspect in a crime and believe they have sufficient evidence, they recommend charges to the State’S Attorney’s office for felony review. Prosecutors will review the case and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to file felony charges.

In Number One’s case, the assistant state’s attorney “rejected charges,” stating “insufficient evidence.”

She continues to carry the trauma of what happened with her every day. She said she lost a job after the incident and now suffers serious medical issues.

“It’s not fair. We don’t get to say that we’re going to move forward and we’re done with this and it’s over. It’s not fair that there are no real consequences for changing someone’s life like this.” — Woman No. 1

Where do cases end up?

Case-level data maintained by Chicago Police and the state’s attorney are not tracked similarly. Case numbers differ across both agencies. Police do not track how often their recommended felony charges get rejected or whether or not cases result in convictions, CPD said.

This makes it difficult to follow one rape case from beginning to end – from the victim’s initial hospital visit, to interaction with law enforcement, to a prosecutor’s case disposition – and identify where systemic issues occur.

“To be able to see where they’re dropping off, where interaction wasn’t ideal, where maybe processes could be improved, would be phenomenal,” Layden said. “The reality is these systems are not talking to one another. They’re not even the same systems that are speaking the same language oftentimes.”

It’s an issue not specific to Chicago — CBS 2’s research shows many law enforcement agencies across the country are not only struggling to make arrests in rape cases but also track them from start to finish.

However, data provided on the city’s public portal makes it possible to analyze some information about rape cases under investigation by the police department.

Detectives assign cases to specific categories based on the status of their investigations. (You can read the full definitions for each category, as described to CBS 2 by police, here.) That data shows in the last decade:

Then, there are hundreds of cases still open and assigned to detectives, like the case of woman identified as Number Two.

It was June of 2017. She had just moved to the city a month before.

She was excited, she said, that she had just landed a new job right out of college.

“…and I didn’t know anybody…so I downloaded an app, met somebody off it…” she said.

They made plans to go out to dinner. But something changed.

“My doorman let him up without calling me,” she said. “So somebody knocked on my door. It was fine the first half hour, and then his intentions were very clear.”

That’s when Number Two said he attacked her.

“He assaulted me in every way, shape and form,” she said. “He also gave me a concussion.”

As she worked to heal from what she said were head injuries and multiple appointments with neurologists and pain management doctors, she began to hold a deep resentment toward the way she said police treated her. She said she felt like the suspect, instead of a survivor.

“I remember in college, we learned so many cases go unreported. And now I know why. Because [police] make it such a hassle and almost like you’re the problem. I remember the detective asking me, ‘What were you wearing? Were you leading him on?’” – Woman No. 2

She also said she submitted a rape kit after the incident and that there was surveillance video of the suspect leaving her apartment after the incident.

But the police report narrative is completely redacted, and if that video does exist, it’s unclear if police retrieved it. The suspect was arrested, police said, but later released due to lack of evidence and corroboration of the victim’s allegations.

“In my mind, I thought there was so much evidence already,” she said. “I just didn’t understand why they let him go.”

But Number Two continues to live in fear. She said she has even seen the man in public.

“I never thought this is what my life would be one month after I moved here, out of college,” she said. “I was so excited. I hate it here now.”

 ‘We need a cultural shift’

There are multiple factors that could contribute to the dwindling number of arrests made in rape cases – not only in Chicago, but across the country.

Layden said turnaround time on rape evidence collection kits take, on average, a year and a half to be tested at the lab, which could leave cases open for long periods of time. The total number of dedicated detectives in the sex crimes unit and following up on leads, as well as their caseloads, could also be factors.

Chicago Police said they do not have a sex crimes unit or division, nor do they have dedicated detectives working on sexual assault cases. Any of the approximately 1,200 detectives on the police force – with the exception of those who handle administrative duties – could be assigned a case that’s reported in his or her district, in addition to other crime cases they are working. If there is a pattern of incidents in a specific area, it could be elevated to CPD’s special investigations unit.

Inherently, Layden said, sexual assault cases are difficult to investigate and even harder to prosecute. Oftentimes there are no witnesses, and “it tends to be this person’s word against another,” she said.

She added even in instances where there might be DNA evidence available through a rape kit, the challenges lay in how to prove or disprove consent.

“Because oftentimes, you are dealing with two people who knew one another,” Layden said. “There isn’t substantial physical evidence that might show force.”

Layden said she frequently sees instances where law enforcement, due to the nature of their roles in regularly investigating crimes and suspects, interrogate survivors. But what should happen, she said, is a shift in the mindset from victim-focused to offender-focused investigations, and provide the trauma-informed response survivors need.

A change in how police treat victims could impact the outcome of the case and victim’s willingness to cooperate, as well as yield stronger evidence that leads to more solved cases, she said.

“We need a cultural shift — we need to start believing survivors when they come forward,” she said.  “The unfortunate realities of a sexual assault survivor is they need that trauma-informed response in order to engage with the system, in order to trust the system.”

This is what each woman CBS 2 interviewed for this story said they needed but did not receive.

The woman identified as Number Four said she didn’t expect to be re-traumatized when she went to the agency she hoped would help.

She reported to police that, on Jan. 12, 2018, she was sexually assaulted in the midst of a massage.

But quickly, she found the detective’s line of questioning was directed at her instead of the suspect.

“They kept asking me, ‘Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t I fight them off? And I just didn’t feel like they were taking it [seriously] at all.” –Woman No. 4

She identified the suspect and police questioned him. He denied the assault.

According to the police report, there was “insufficient evidence for probable cause to arrest” and he was released without charging.

“These people are predators and they’re back on the streets within hours,” she said.

She was shocked that, when police called to inform her the suspect was released without charging, they also told her she could file a formal complaint with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation against the massage therapist.

The process took a toll – “I couldn’t get answers,” she noted – and she felt emotionally and physically drained. There were times where she said she called police to ask for updates on her case, but did not hear back.

She said she’s been scared to speak about what happened – until now.

“I was afraid to talk,” she said. “But I just feel like people have to know … something has to be done. I couldn’t just let it go. I couldn’t let it just blow away in the wind.”

Layden said historically, up until recent years, she doesn’t believe there has been a “high prioritization” of sexual assault cases compared to other serious crimes within CPD.

She cited the passing of a state law in 2016, the Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act, that could have contributed in adding more cases to CPD’s caseload – cases that may have been previously discredited. The legislation required law enforcement to take written reports of sexual assaults that were reported to police.

“We did see cases that fell through the cracks that, on their face, law enforcement was thinking this isn’t sexual assault, or maybe they weren’t believing somebody,” she said. “…If we’re seeing increases in the amount of cases that are being reported, it’s because now we’re seeing law enforcement is actually taking reports [that] maybe in the past they wouldn’t have.”

But because the cases are difficult to investigate, Layden said police and prosecutors must identify cutting edge investigative techniques and pursue extensive, ongoing training on trauma-informed responses.

“Otherwise, we’re never going to get past the hurdle of them just being difficult cases to investigate,” she said.

In 2015, CPD said hundreds of detectives underwent a 40-hour in service class that covered interviews, interrogations and DNA, among other topics, related to working sexual assault cases. In addition, newly promoted detectives are required to take a separate, 10-week training.

But the arrest rate continues to fall each year. Layden believes the issue needs to rise to the level of Supt. Eddie Johnson.

“Absolutely it does. Why wouldn’t it? Sexual assault is one of the most heinous crimes historically committed against another,” she said. “Why wouldn’t sexual assault be right up there with homicides and shootings, and the prioritizations given to those crimes at the very top level of the Chicago Police Department?”

Lack of transparency

CBS 2 Investigators reached out to CPD to share the findings of this report, ask about the low arrest rate and discuss the cases of the four women interviewed.

CBS 2 also asked about discrepancies the investigative team found in the city’s online data portal and specifics about the thousands of cases in suspended status.

CPD denied three requests for interviews with Supt. Eddie Johnson or anyone else available who could speak on sex crimes cases, citing Johnson’s “extremely limited” schedule due to Lori Lightfoot’s inauguration week. In addition, some of our specific data and informational requests for information were not answered.

Police said since they “do not maintain the city portal” they “can’t speak for its authenticity.” But the portal clearly indicates the data is pulled from the CLEAR system maintained by CPD. Instead, police directed CBS 2 to file a FOIA request, which has not yet been fulfilled.

CBS 2 Investigators aren’t the only ones fighting for information and data from the police department.

The Chicago Justice Project, an independent non-profit that analyzes criminal justice data to achieve reforms, sued CPD in 2018 for crime data, including information on sexual assault.

Specifically, the non-profit is seeking demographics of people filing crime reports and those who are arrested, as well as when and how CPD changes the classification of cases. The goal is to get a grasp on the scope of crime and identify disparities. In turn, the organization’s executive director Tracy Siska said, the community can work to create solutions.

According to the lawsuit, the Chicago Justice Project filed multiple FOIAs for data that CPD either denied or did not produce responsive records. Siska, who has spent two decades researching criminal justice systems, said CPD has provided some – but not all – data requested in response to the lawsuit.

“The police department is fighting tooth and nail to keep that data hidden. We need a wholesale change in the structure and administration of the department – one that is based on transparency.” — Tracy Siska

He also called for increased transparency within the department and said it’s critical in strengthening police relationships with the community.

“The lack of transparency is hurting the police and the relationships with communities for no other reasons than there’s probably political interest in the department to withhold data,” Siska said. “They’re not willing to change it, even when the transparency will help them, and that’s really sad because it’s hurting the police-community relationships.”

The struggle to move forward without justice

CBS 2 asked each of the women interviewed for this story if they’d report what happened to them again. They struggled with their answers.

(CBS)

 

Number Three felt her allegations were dismissed by the detectives assigned to her case.

The man she accused of attacking her on Valentine’s Day in 2015 was someone she trusted – they met at a social event a month prior and began dating, she said.

After several dates, in the midst of a consensual sexual encounter, she told him to stop.

“And he replied that he would not stop,” she said. “And he continued to assault me.”

Four days later, she reported it to police after she said she was in a state of shock at what happened.

Police contacted the suspect who, according to the police report, stated it was a consensual encounter but it “seemed to be a breakdown of communication.”

Police deemed the case “unfounded.” The detective wrote in the report that when Number Three asked the suspect to stop, “he did so in a reasonable amount of time (30 seconds) and did not ejaculate (no sexual gratification). There is also delayed reporting and no physical evidence.”

Number Three said she doesn’t believe police did their due diligence with their investigation and questioned whether they conducted an in-depth interview with the suspect.

“Unfortunately, after meeting with the detectives, I was dismissed very quickly,” she said.

“It has completely changed my perspective on humanity,” she added. “It has been the biggest struggle of my life. The only silver lining is my empathy has become much deeper because I can understand sexual violence and I am not alone. I can help others through similar things I have been through.”

Victim advocates and experts told CBS 2 they frequently see interactions with law enforcement that re-traumatize rape and sexual assault survivors.

“At the end of the day your cause is, we serve and protect, and I can say I don’t feel safe here at all. God forbid something happened to me in another way, I would avoid police by any means,” Number Two said, adding she believes police failed her.

“This is a situation that impacts the rest of your life. It’s not just a one and done deal. And you’re failing women here locally, and it’s just not acceptable.”

Number Four cried when she said she struggles to cope with the trauma of the incident itself – and the aftermath, when she sought justice by reporting it to police. But she said it was justice she never received.

“It’s really sad that the one person or the people we’re supposed to go to for help, our cries are unheard,” she said. “It’s very serious. And this is something that us, and so many women have to deal with for the rest of our lives. And if you haven’t been through it, you have no idea how hard it is.”

About this CBS 2 Investigation

 “No Justice” is the culmination of a months-long investigation by CBS 2 that began with a tip from a police source about how rape cases are handled by the Chicago Police Department.

The CBS 2 Investigators began digging into publicly available data on the City of Chicago’s online data portal. The data is pulled from CPD’s LEADS system and is regularly referenced by the police department and the public alike.

 

CBS 2’s investigative team was curious to see how often people reported being raped in the city and what happens to these cases in the midst of police investigations.

So the team filtered the city’s database of all crimes reported to the police department in the last decade for criminal sexual assaults, including those against children, to capture all reports of rape.

This database also included whether or not an arrest was made in each case as of early April. CBS 2 analyzed the data for trends over time.

CBS 2 also analyzed another database available on the city’s online data portal for the same timeframe to get an idea of how many cases are open, closed, suspended, etc.

Our analysis focused on the timeframe of 2009 to present to could capture a broad and fair look at the scope of the issue, and because some cases could take long periods of time before – and if – an arrest is made.

As part of this story, four women came forward and shared with us the worst thing that has ever happened to them, with hopes that they can stop this from happening to someone else. CBS 2 Investigators were connected to them through an advocate and they agreed to speak with anonymity. The team filed FOIAs for their case files and were able to corroborate many of their accounts.

CBS 2 wanted to ask police about the cases involving the four women interviewed for this story and the allegations made against detectives, but was not granted an interview. Police offered to provide the investigative team with a statement, but when CBS 2 told police it thought the story required more than just a statement, police did not provide one. Police gave some answers to questions, which were included in this story.

 

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