Police Make Amends for Fining Rape Victim $500

Last month, Ms. reported on a woman who had been fined $500 for “false rape reporting.” Police said the details of her story were “inconsistent.” Three years later, among an accused serial rapist’s snapshots of assaults in progress, her photo was found. Her account fit the M.O. of the other attacks.

The Lynnwood, Wa., police department reopened her case and returned the fee, but Ms. didn’t think that was good enough. So we started a Change.org petition demanding a public apology and assurances that the department would better handle rape cases in the future.

We received this response from the Lynnwood Commander of Police right away:

I appreciate you taking an interest in the welfare of our victim in this case, as well as future rape victims that may need our assistance. We were wrong in this case and every officer involved in the investigation of it feels terrible. We have apologized to the victim both privately and publicly. We are currently reviewing our policies and procedures to determine what we may need to modify. Additionally, we have dedicated a vast amount of resources to bring this investigation to the appropriate conclusion and to assist our victim in the recovery process through victim’s compensation, expungement of her case and access to advocacy and counseling services.

Our officers and detectives take the investigation of sexual assaults very seriously. We provide a great deal of training and have a variety of advocacy resources available for victims. These cases are prosecuted by a special unit within our county who also provides advocacy services to rape victims. Over the past six years we have investigated 46 rape cases within our jurisdiction. Of those 46 cases, 39 of them resulted in the arrest of a suspect or the case referred for charging. This particular case is a horrible anomaly.

Again, I appreciate your concern and want to stress we are doing everything we can to ensure this never happens again. I would also urge any victim of rape to report the crime to local authorities. Despite the errors made in this case in 2008, this victim will still see justice because she reported it. Her attacker is now charged for what he did to her and she can, hopefully, start the healing process.

Steve Rider
Commander of Police
Bureau of Field Operations
Lynnwood Police Department

His response seemed heartfelt. But we wanted to be sure that the department’s rape procedures matched that spirit, so we asked for details. Here’s what he told us:

  • When Lynnwood police get sexual assault calls, victims are taken to a local sexual assault center, where they are treated by specially trained nurses and immediately provided advocacy services.
  • Because of the mistakes made in this case, the department has reiterated to its investigations staff “the importance of conducting these types of cases professionally, thoroughly and with a great deal of sensitivity for the victims. We are all trained to do this anyway, but reality reminders are always important.”
  • A training for all officers and detectives by the county Special Assault Unit is planned; the department will let Ms. know when it’s completed.

Ms. will keep an eye on the department to see if it follows through. Hopefully this will serve as an example of how police departments can prioritize and properly handle rape cases–especially after public pressure. To put that pressure on departments nationwide, you can join the Ms. No More Excuses campaign.

Update, July 5: We are pleased to learn from Commander Rider that sexual assault training for detectives and patrol squads has been completed!

Update, June 6: Commander Rider contacted Ms. to let us know that trainings for officers and detectives by a local sexual assault center have been scheduled for the month of June and the criminal investigations training manual has been updated with details on sexual assault procedure.

Above: Photo of Marc O’Leary from Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.




Jessica Stites is the former associate editor at Ms. magazine. Today she's the editorial director of In These Times, where she runs the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and edits stories on labor, neoliberalism, Wall Street, immigration, mass incarceration and racial justice, among other topics.