Sixty-nine percent of police departments surveyed in 2012 said that dispatchers…often with little training, are authorized to do the initial coding of sexual assault crimes…Yung used murder rates—the statistic with the most reliable measure of accuracy and one that is historically highly correlated with the incidence of rape—as a baseline for his analysis. After nearly two years of work, he estimates conservatively that between 796,213 and 1,145,309 sexual assault cases never made it into national FBI counts during the studied period…The estimates are conservative for two reasons. First, in order to consistently analyze the data over time, Yung looked only at cases defined by the FBI’s pre-2012 definition of rape (one established in 1927): “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” This definition did not include anal or oral rape, cases involving drugging or alcohol, or the rape of boys and men. The Federal Criminal Code was recently broadened to include these categories. Second, the FBI and crime experts estimate that anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of rapes are never reported to the police.
Yung’s analysis, which focused on cities with populations of more than 100,000, found that 22 percent of the 210 studied police departments demonstrated “substantial statistical irregularities in their rape data.”
Many of the jurisdictions showing consistent undercounting are also, unsurprisingly, those with rape kit backlogs (there are more than 400,000 untested kits in the United States). Many cities and states don’t even keep accurate track of the number of rape exams or of kits languishing, expired or in storerooms—but when they do, the numbers improve. The arrest rate for sex assault in New York City went from 40 percent to 70 percent after the city successfully processed an estimated 17,000 kits in the early 2000s. However, it is only in the past year, after embarrassing and critical news coverage, that most departments have begun to process backlogs. After being publicly shamed for having abandoned more than 11,000 rape kits, the Michigan State Police began testing them, identifying 100 serial rapists as a result….
While police departments are not immune from these legacies, change is possible. In 1999, the Philadelphia Police Department improperly handled 2,300 out of 2,500 rape cases. As late as 2003, the unit investigating sex crimes was jokingly referred to as “ the lying bitch unit.” In the wake of widespread criticism and protest, the department began a partnership with the Women’s Law Project to improve response to sex crimes, in an approach that subsequently became known as “the Philadelphia Model.” Both Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and WLP executive director Carol Tracy testified at a 2010 Senate hearing that reviewed police handling of sex crimes, and in 2011, Ramsey convened a Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) summit. The resulting 2012 report, Improving the Police Response to Sexual Assault, which included research and commentary from multiple jurisdictions and advocacy groups, concluded that while progress is being made, many of the problems that existed in Philadelphia persist in other police jurisdictions…Yung’s report, by the way, is titled “How to Lie with Rape Statistics: America’s Hidden Rape Crisis.”