It seems like not a week goes by anymore without an outcry for change in one area or another. Always followed inevitably with a catchy hashtag going viral throughout social media, giving off the impression that something will finally be done to right these obvious injustices.
This week’s centered around the news of Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein’s despicable history of sexual assaults against aspiring actresses, as well as other female colleagues. Quickly, the tag “#Metoo” circulated the internet, symbolizing solidarity amongst those who posted it as also being victims of either sexual harassment or sexual assault. Unlike most of these trends, which burn brightly and quickly, and often leave no trace of ever existing, the shocking popularity and severity of the “#Metoo” fad (over 12 million posts in 24 hours) left many people stunned, asking who shoulders the blame for this callous treatment of rampant sexual misconduct in society. The answer, however, comes from a prominent, but rarely discussed practice.
In the United States, sex crimes still represent a serious portion of crime. On average, one person falls victim to a sexual assault every 98 seconds. And while the total amount of these types of crimes has been declining in recent years, there’s much more that can be done to combat this epidemic, all of which begin by examining the procedures of the police officers entrusted to enforce these laws.
When someone is a victim of a sexual assault, the protocol today is to use a rape kit to collect DNA evidence of their attacker in hopes of turning it over to police, resulting in the arrest and ultimately, the conviction of their assailant. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. Currently, police departments across the country are bogged down with backlogs of rape kits, just waiting to be tested. Estimates put the total number of untested rape kits over 100,000. When questioned, however, most departments report being woefully without the man-power required to handle such a backlog. Is that really the case though?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2010, the total number of arrests for sex-related crimes was just over 72,000. Now, that may seem like a lot, until you consider that arrests for drug offenses came in at a massive 1.6 million, exceeding the number of arrests for sex crimes, burglaries and every type of theft combined. Which begs the question, how do police manage to handle the vast amount of drug arrests each year while simultaneously leaving hundreds of thousands of rape kits untested due to a lack of man-power? Unfortunately, the answer to that lies in the incentives.
When it comes to how police prioritize the importance of crimes, follow the money.
Last week, I reported on our federal prison populations, 46% of which are made up of non-violent drug offenders. The reason for this bias is closely tied to why sex crimes are such a low priority for most police departments; federal grants, one in particular. According to the National Criminal Justice Association, “The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants Program (Byrne JAG) is the cornerstone federal crime-fighting program, enabling communities to target resources to their most pressing local needs.” In other words, the federal government grants money to departments that show the best performance in certain areas of crime prevention. Now, the highest prioritized performance measures, taken from the JAG reports directly are – you guessed it – the number of drug offenders arrested, number of drug offenders prosecuted, and the number of drugs seized.
What they’ve done, whether directly or indirectly, is give police an incentive to maximize their number of petty drug arrests in order to secure federal tax dollars for their departments each year. Which, thanks to lax laws regarding how the money is spent, often go towards thousands of overtime hours classified under such vague classifications as “drug enforcement.” And this favoritism has had a considerable effect on the way sex crimes are handled. On average, only 57 of every 310 reported cases of rape lead to an arrest, and of that, only 7 will see any kind of conviction, according to the Department of Justice.
When you couple this with the ease with which police can seize cash and other valuables through civil asset forfeiture laws linked to accusations of illegal drug activity, nearly $4 billion in 2015 alone, and the fact they are nearly guaranteed they won’t have to return it, it’s no wonder why the amount of arrests for drugs compared to sexual assaults are so one-sided.
We should not have to point out the obvious, nefarious nature of prioritizing victimless crimes over violent ones, nor should we apologize for demanding that law enforcement forgo a taxpayer funded payday to better fight these crimes. While social media can do well to gain attention, organization and action can get results. Let’s make sure this isn’t just another fad, but rather the moment we decided to organize against this corrupt practice so that future victims may receive proper justice. Otherwise, we may find ourselves sharing in the guilt when the next scandal hits our headlines.
Thomas J. Eckert
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