Women Sue Police Over Failures in Sex Assault Cases

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Women in at least seven places — Austin; San Francisco; Memphis; Houston; Baltimore; Greenwich, Ct.; and Robbins, Il. — have filed lawsuits in an attempt to force the police and prosecutors to improve their practices in handling sexual assault cases. The charges include evidence so neglected it grew mold, calls to police that went unanswered, and witnesses and victims who were never interviewed, the New York Times reports. The unconnected lawsuits are making novel legal arguments during the #MeToo movement, which exposed failures to pursue sex offenders. The lawsuits argue that sex assault victims do not get equal treatment compared with victims of other violent crimes, and that failure to test evidence collected from their bodies amounts to unreasonable search and seizure.

In these lawsuits, plaintiffs say they faced disbelief or indifference when they reported being attacked by strangers. In Austin, the plaintiffs include a woman who said that police collected no evidence from the scene after a rapist broke into her apartment; a University of Texas student whose screams for help were recorded but whose case was dropped when her attacker, a stranger, claimed the sex was consensual; and another student who said she was forcibly taken to a motel and raped by three men, one of whom was not arrested even when his DNA was found in her sexual assault kit. The lawsuits face an uphill battle, with hurdles ranging from exceeding the statute of limitations to a ruling in Houston that there is no requirement that police investigations be timely. In the Illinois case, a commander said he believed that half of the reported sexual assault cases in his precinct were false (researchers say the actual incidence of false reports is between 4 and 7 percent).

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