Tell D.C. Police to Take Rape Seriously!


Marissa was raped in Washington, D.C., two years ago. The detective sent to investigate told her that bringing charges against the perpetrator would ruin the rapist’s life. He told her that her “words said no, but what about the other signals she was sending?” He said she did not need a sexual assault exam in a hospital (and police never ran tests on her rape kit). And he told her that because she knew the man who raped her, her case did not constitute a public safety issue.

This Thursday in Washington, D.C., a public hearing will be held on Bill 20-417—the Sexual Assault Victims’ Rights Amendment Act of 2013 [pdf]. SAAVRA, as it’s acronymed, is designed to implement recommendations made in a Human Rights Watch report on the D.C. police department’s management of sexual assault cases. Turns out that there are many Marissas in D.C.

Human Rights Watch reported that victims of sexual assault in the district do not receive an adequate response from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). It criticized police for  downgrading the severity of sex offenses, questioning victims’ credibility, actively discouraging victims from reporting offenses or undergoing forensic exams, and failing to document or investigate cases, among other shortcomings.

The SAAVRA bill would amend police policy in some significant ways, including:

–Allowing the local Police Complaints Board and Office of Police Complaints jurisdiction to deal with complaints about the handling of sexual assault cases of victims. At this time, the police department has been routinely ignoring disciplinary actions ordered by these external groups.

–Requiring the MPD to process rape kits within 90 days. That will ensure that the city will not develop a backlog, which has been a problem endemic to police jurisdictions throughout the country.

–Prohibiting hospitals from charging sexual assault victims for their rape kit exams. Yes, victims could be charged hundreds of dollars for this in D.C.!!

The bill is not nearly as strong as victim advocates would like, but at least it’s a much-needed start on changing the environment surrounding sexual crime prosecution in our nation’s capital. Shouldn’t D.C. be a model in this arena rather than lagging behind other cities who have upgraded their understanding and treatment of rape?

Marisa’s case was declined for prosecution twice. She was told by prosecutors that they do believe a crime occurred, but felt they couldn’t get past reasonable doubt with a jury. She was asked how she would feel if she had to testify in court only to see the assailant be acquitted, and she answered that she’d feel pretty good about telling her story and forcing the perpetrator to answer. But that still didn’t convince them to indict.

“I can’t tell my story of how I was victimized by the rapist to a criminal jury,” says Marissa (who speaks out in this Human Rights Watch video), “but I can tell my story of how I was victimized by MPD and treated by the legal system to the City Council, and I will.”

The public hearing on Bill 20-417 will take place at 11 a.m. EST on December 12 in Room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

If you can’t be there, you can still submit a written comment by Friday, December 27 at 5 p.m. EST, to Tawanna Shufard, Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, Room 109, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004. You can also send your comment by email to

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Women’s Enews via Creative Commons.



Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. magazine and editor of the Ms. Blog. She is the author of four books, including Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage and Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro.


  1. Annette Amarose says:

    Rape is rape. How can they not take this seriously. This can not continue. This woman deserves her day in court. He should have worried about ruining his life before he raped her.

  2. Sad that the people who are suppose to defend us against those who hurt us are on the wrong side of justice. If police offend women and make them feel guilty of being raped makes me wonder if they should still keep their jobs as an officer sworn to bring justice and defend the people. “Something to think about”

  3. The end results means they are as bad as the Indian police who are notorious for protecting the perpetrator, blaming the victim, and inaction. Not good enough in any country and I’d expect better from a country that prides itself on being more civilised than this!

  4. Yvonne Young says:

    What about how the rapist ruined HER life even if she lives to be 110!!!
    In 2013 I’m hearing too many stories like this. It’s as if ALL men have that Islamic belief that the woman asks for everything she gets most of all rape and unwanted marriage. The Catholic Church still believes women are born inherently evil and ask to be raped and shunned from the community. Men have not progressed one nanosecond from the Middle Ages.

  5. I sent a comment in to the email listed here because I DO care and I AM sorry for all the people that go through this, and because this is something we should ALL hear since it is happening and it should NEVER happen again.

  6. Charles Huckelbury says:

    Since when do prosecutors only bring cases that have a 100% certainty of conviction? Try the case and let the jury decide, which is what is supposed to happen. As for ruining the rapist’s life, I would argue that it SHOULD be ruined, his reputation destroyed, and the public alerted to the menace of a sexual predator in their midst. Yvonne remarked that men have not evolved past the Middle Ages. She is too generous; we still carry our Paleolithic baggage around with us.

  7. It’s sad to see an interesting blog like this one become a bashing board on other faiths.
    Yvonne Young is greatly misinformed about Islamic beliefs which hold women in the highest of esteem – “Heaven Lies at the Feet of thy Mother” Quran. There is severe punishment for Rape and other crimes against women, like all the Abrahamic faiths’ doctrines prescribe. Please do not confuse bad actions by people with the tenets of the faith – not Islam , nor any other faith. I can rationally say that no faith system allows the rape and mistreatment of women. It is and will always be an atrocity. As a son, a husband, and a father of a teenage girl, I say there should be full investigation and prosecution of those who commit these crimes.
    Thank you.

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