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SATI e-News: April 7, 2003

  

 
In This Issue:
      
    
 

  **Sexual Assault News**

 
     
  DOE Rules on Harvard Title IX Investigation After University Modifies Sexual Misconduct Policy
     
 

An eight-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) concluded late last week that Harvard College’s new policy of requiring students to provide “corroborating information” before it will investigate their complaints of sexual assault is not a violation of Title IX, the federal law that bars discrimination in education on the basis of gender.  However, the DOE’s ruling was based on Harvard’s current policy, which has been amended since it first went into effect in September of last year.
 
As reported in the September 2, 2002 issue of SATI e-News, Harvard raised the standard of proof in disciplinary procedures governing rape and sexual assault cases through a faculty vote in May of 2002.  Harvard wanted to avoid lengthy “he said-she said” disputes with minimal evidence and few prospects for resolution, according to the Boston Globe.
 
Indeed, a survey of Harvard students’ health attitudes and behavior conducted by University Health Services (UHS), in partnership with the American College Health Association (ACHA), did find a statistically significant rise in reported incidents of sexual assault at Harvard last year, according to the Harvard Crimson.  The percentage of students who were involved in sexual touching against their will increased to 9.7 in 2002, up from 7.6% in 2000.  Of the respondents, 0.9 percent reported actual sexual penetration against their will, while the national average was 1.8 percent in 2000.
 
In June, Attorney Wendy J. Murphy filed a complaint with the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of a Harvard student.  The original policy, which passed by faculty vote in May 2002, required eyewitness, physical evidence, and other “sufficient independent corroboration”.  The corroboration requirements have since changed.  Murphy believes that the DOE investigation helped prompt these and other policy revisions, although a Harvard spokesman declined to comment on Murphy’s assertion.
 
Instead of “sufficient independent corroboration,” Harvard now requires only a list of “supporting information.”  Murphy told SATI e-News that “the elimination of the word ‘independent’ is important because it means a student can ‘self-corroborate’.”  According to the Boston Globe, Harvard defines “supporting information” as diary entries or conversations with roommates—virtually anything that helps to corroborate a student’s account.
 
Murphy noted that other changes Harvard made to its policy since September are significant.  “The elimination of the word ‘sufficient’ means no person at Harvard has discretion to weigh or determine whether the ‘supporting information’ rises to a worthy level,” she explained.
 
An additional change to the policy requires Harvard to obtain a responsive statement from the accused student, whether or not the accuser meets the standards of corroboration.  Harvard has also created a committee focused on education and related uses around campus sexual assault policies.  The UHS/ACHA survey noted a significant increase in students’ perceived access to information about the issue, with 82% reporting that they received information on sexual assault and rape, more than any other health-related topic and a ten percent increase from 2000.
 
Murphy encourages students to build coalitions on campus and work together to ensure that campus disciplinary policies and procedures are fair and effective.  “At a minimum, students should create their own data-gathering services, conduct their own annual surveys and create their own “reports” of discrimination and harassment on campus,” Murphy suggested.
 
Sources: 
 
“Women:  Harvard is Violating Our Civil Rights" by Wendy Murphy.  [view article]
 
“US review finds no bias in Harvard’s revised policy on Sexual Assault,” Boston Globe, April 2, 2003.
 
Survey Finds Depression Pervasive in College,” Harvard Crimson, March 31, 2003.  [view article]
 

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  Central Park Jogger Goes Public With Release of Book
     
  Fourteen years after she was raped and beaten unconscious in New York City’s Central Park, 42 year-old Trisha Meili emerged last night in an interview broadcast on NBC.  Meili was a 28 year-old investment banker at the time of the attack.  She suffered brain damage and has no memory of it, but talks about the trial and about reliving the trauma this past year after Matias Reyes confessed to being the lone rapist.  The statute of limitations has expired on Meili’s case, but Reyes is still imprisoned for previous rape and murder convictions.  Five youth convicted of Meili’s assault were exonerated in December of last year after having served terms ranging from 7 to 13 years.  Meili revealed her identity for the first time in the interview and in a memoir of her ordeal and recovery, entitled  "I Am the Central Park Jogger: A Story of Hope and Possibility," scheduled to be released this week.
 
Read recent SATI e-News articles about Matias Reyes and the exoneration of the five youth
 
Read more about the NBC interview
 
Read more/order Central Park Jogger book

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  Sexual Assault Awareness Month Recognized Throughout Country
      
  Hundreds of events and activities are being held this month in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) created a SAAM calendar, searchable by state, which lists over 150 of these events.  The NSVRC also has SAAM posters in both English and Spanish available on their website that can be downloaded, customized and printed.
  
Meanwhile at the national level, a bipartisan group of United States Senators and Representatives introduced joint resolutions in the House and Senate to recognize April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.  RAINN (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is heading up a write-in effort to encourage Congressmen to become cosponsors of the bill. 
 More information on the resolution and where to write at RAINN's website.  

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**Forensic News**

     
  Request for Assistance in Assessment on DNA and Convicted Felons  
     
  Smith, Alling, Lane, a Government Affairs Agency, is conducting an assessment for the Department of Justice. They are seeking examples in each state of crimes that could have been prevented if the state had required DNA from all felons.
 
The following excerpt from a story in Texas illustrates the point:

Christopher Ted Dye raped three Austin women in their homes before the police first arrested him in 1993 for burglarizing a house. Unaware they had apprehended a serial rapist, authorities released the 34-year-old former auto mechanic on bail.
 
Over the next six months, Dye raped four more women before being arrested a second time for burglarizing an apartment. He served two months in jail. For two more years, as the police searched for the MoPac rapist, nicknamed that because the attacks occurred near the expressway, Dye raped seven more women before finally being caught.

If you have information or a case you can submit, please contact Lisa Hurst at lhurst@smithallinglane.com or you can call her at (253) 627-1091 ext. 190

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  Reports of NY SANE Program’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated
     
  We were alerted to significant inaccuracies in two Syracuse Post Standard articles concerning New York SANE programs, which were summarized in last month’s issue of SATI e-News. While there is apparently a need for more funding in the Syracuse Rape Crisis program, it is not true that all programs in New York may be dismantled as the article implies, according to Kim Oppelt, Violence Against Women program specialist at the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
 
The Post Standard editorial also referred to the Cayuga program being dismantled. “Again not true,” says Oppelt. In fact, the Cayuga center was unaware of the article, and may seek a retraction from the Post Standard.
 
She concludes, “Hopefully, the articles at least alerted the community to the issue and money will be raised to help them further their goals. We have been funding this program for several years; we had to cut them due to the cuts we received in VAWA funds. Otherwise, we consider them one of our best.”

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  DNA News From Around the Country
     
  The following news summaries in this section are reprinted with permission from the DNA Legislation & News, published by Smith Alling Lane.
 
A man majoring in criminal justice at the University of North Dakota, who also served as the Vice President of the Criminal Justice Association, has been charged with four sexual assaults on campus. The man’s DNA has linked him to at least one of the assaults. The man is now a suspect in several other sexual assaults that occurred in the community over the last 18 months.
Source: “Sexual Assault Cases: Attorney: ‘Always room for error’ in DNA evidence,” Grand Forks Herald, March 16, 2003.
 
In Vermont, DNA test of semen taken from a murder victim exonerated the boyfriend, but the results told investigators it came from someone closely related to the boyfriend. Subsequent testing has linked the boyfriend’s father to the crime. The man was convicted in 1991 of sexual assault on a minor.
Source: “Arrest in death of 18 year-old girl,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire, March 12, 2003.
 
Maryland’s first cold hit on the DNA database has resulted in a 1988 rape conviction. The man submitted a DNA sample due to a 1989 rape conviction, and was only a few weeks away from being paroled when the match was made.
Source: “DNA match results in rape conviction,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire, March 22, 2003.
 
In Minnesota, a pet bird bit an attacker during a sexual assault on the victim, apparently drawing blood that authorities will try to use to convict him. Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office deputies found what appeared to be blood on the bird’s back feathers and recovered a sample that they hope contains the attacker’s DNA. A suspect is in police custody, and a DNA sample has been drawn from him for comparison.
Source: “”Blood on bird could tie man to sex assault,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), March 22, 2003.
 
In Oregon, a total of 85 out of 135 state lab positions were originally cut by the Legislature, and only about half of those jobs have been restored . . . County District Attorneys say they’re stunned by the lack of resources for homicides, rapes and other major crimes. In a recent murder, the body was found at 2:30 in the afternoon, but the Portland lab’s forensics team couldn’t make it until the next day. Instead, a laid-off state trooper was deputized as a county sheriff for the day to collect evidence around the teen’s body. 30 hours had passed before police were able to remove the victim and clear the scene.
Source: Crime lab too broke to respond to some crimes,” The Associated Press State & Local Wire, March 20, 2003.
 
New Jersey and Texas introduced legislation to require ASCLD (American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors) accreditation of crime labs (AB3451 and HB 2703, respectively).

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  Promising Practices: Message From the Desk of the SATI Training Director: Why a DNA Backlog Exists By Joanne Archambault, Founder and Training Director, Sexual Assault Training & Investigations, with contributions
by Brian Burrit, DNA Criminalist, San Diego Police Department Forensic Science Unit
   
  Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) have significantly improved evidence collection and medical care of the sexual assault victim. But collection of evidence is only the first step. A rape kit that follows all the appropriate protocols and contains the proper specimens is useless if the kit remains unanalyzed. The latest survey by the National Institute of Justice estimates that evidence kits from 350,000 rapes and other violent crimes have gone unprocessed. The reality is this is only the tip of the iceberg since many law enforcement officers have not been trained to identify sources of biological evidence using today’s DNA technology. In many instances, victims and law enforcement will still only seek a forensic sexual assault examination if there is penile/vaginal penetration and possible ejaculation. As training and awareness of DNA continues, the need for additional DNA resources and funding will continue to grow exponentially. Last month, the Bush administration announced a commitment of $1 billion in funding over five years to eliminate the DNA backlog.
 
In a show which aired last year, Oprah called this backlog “law enforcement’s dirty little secret,” noting that if the Baltimore Police Department had simply paid $500 to have a rape kit processed, a l987 sexual homicide would have been solved years ago. This assertion makes for an easy sound bite, but it is a gross oversimplification of the problem, which is much more complex. It ignores the struggles of police investigators and criminalists who were forced to navigate the complexities of developments in DNA science, which though valuable, temporarily limited the capabilities of the National DNA Databank (CODIS) due to the inability to compare data analyzed using different DNA technologies that evolved over the last two decades. Oversimplifying the issue also ignores the valuable contributions of leaders such as California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who dedicated $50 million in funding to address his State’s DNA backlog three years ago. Lockyer will be honored by SATI and STOPDV at its annual conference in San Diego later this month.
 
In addition to the dissemination of inaccurate information, the fact that a “surprise” of this magnitude is possible is a strong indicator that we—meaning SART teams— are not collaborating as well as some might believe. The fact that nurse examiners, physicians, advocates and survivors could believe that evidence had been looked at by crime laboratories but that law enforcement simply kept the results to themselves is surprising to me, and yet I’ve heard this thought expressed by a number of experts in the field. Few people have questioned or analyzed the root of the problem, which helps explain why so few sexual assault cases have moved forward through the criminal justice system. It pains me to believe that one would believe this is law enforcement’s “dirty little secret.”
 
The fact is many law enforcement officials have struggled to solve this problem globally, and in their own back yards. Detectives and prosecutors often pour their hearts and souls into their cases. In a perfect world we would have unlimited resources with which to investigate and hold offenders accountable. Unfortunately, the daily reality is a case of dwindling budgets and a continuing shortage of resources. The fact that we would encourage sexual assault survivors to undergo a forensic exam and then often have to discard the evidence after the statute of limitations expired knowing the evidence had never been analyzed was a painful reality for many investigators and supervisors. As professionals working in the field of sexual assault, it is critical we understand the history of the DNA revolution and its impact on the sexual assault investigation.
 
The science of DNA testing underwent a major transition in the mid to late 1990s. The standard for testing changed from RFLP (restriction fragment length polymorphism) analysis and first generation PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing (e.g. DQA1/PM) to the more sophisticated and accurate second generation PCR tests called STRs (short tandem repeats). Prior to the implementation of STR testing, many laboratories, including both casework and databank, performed different tests, thus often preventing the results of one laboratory being comparable to the results of another laboratory. As nearly every DNA laboratory has now adopted the superior STR testing, the results from a laboratory using STR testing can now be compared to results generated throughout the country.
 
Besides the fact that it is less accurate and incompatible with PCR/STR testing, RFLP testing requires a relatively large amount of high quality DNA. Therefore, many samples of biological evidence were either too small or too old for RFLP testing. Since RFLP testing did not guarantee a result, police sometimes faced the prospect of losing valuable evidence if they went forward with testing a limited quantity of biological evidence.
 
Although most of the recent attention has focused on rape kits, many sexual assault victims do not report to law enforcement within the 72-96 hour time frame that would generally warrant a rape exam. However, many times clothing and other crime scene evidence may be available. Screening the volume of evidence that may be available in a sexual assault case is a labor-intensive process that also competes for limited resources. $500 might be a minimum estimate for what it costs to process a rape exam, but it is hardly the average. Depending on the extensiveness of the evidence and the amount of screening involved, it can cost $800, $2,000, $5,000 or more.
 
RFLP was also a labor-intensive process, which means that it is much more expensive than PCR analysis. As a result, detectives, and supervisors were forced to make tough and strategic decisions on individual cases every day, allocating limited resources among competing investigative units such as Homicide and Child Abuse in addition to addressing the ongoing needs of the prosecutor’s office. To assist with this decision making process, Dr. Patrick O’Donnell, the supervisor of the San Diego Police Department’s DNA laboratory worked with the SDPD Sex Crimes Unit to develop several forms to help detectives focus the investigation and the Criminalist on evidence that would most likely produce the best forensic results based on the victim’s history of the assault. The objective is to effectively manage limited resources by working most efficiently to identify and analyze evidence. If this is accomplished, the crime lab findings can be used to build an investigation while reducing property and evidence storage problems at the same time. Those forms can be downloaded from the San Diego Police Department’s web site at http://www.ci.san-diego.ca.us/police/about/forms.shtml
 
During this transition, states throughout the country were also attempting to analyze their offender samples and enter them into a database for comparison with profiles obtained from crime scene evidence. Most states had large offender sample backlogs and the databases were extremely limited. Thus, cases in which police had a suspect became the priority, in order to either eliminate a suspect or proceed with prosecution.
 
To complicate matters even further, some police crime laboratories, like the San Diego Police Department applied DQA1/PM techniques until the implementation of STR analysis. The DQA1/PM tests, however, provided six markers that are not as discriminating as RFLP or STR markers and the results could not be entered into the national DNA database. At that time, the SDPD Sex Crimes Unit generally used the results to confirm or exclude a suspect. Cases with no leads or possible suspects were sometimes, although rarely, sent to private laboratories for RFLP testing when the case met the criteria for sending it on. These decisions were often based on the type of case and the value of the DNA evidence.
 
As many casework and databank laboratories converted to the superior STR testing, a vast amount of untouched evidence was now suitable for analysis. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer was among the first to realize that an influx of new funding was needed to utilize STR technology in analyzing evidence in the non-suspect cases that had never been examined. Lockyer dedicated $50 million in funding which was allocated among California law enforcement agencies to process thousands of non-suspect rape kits dating back to January 1, 1995 (those cases still within the statute of limitations in California at that time). Besides California’s effort, the National Institute of Justice has been distributing millions in grants to crime labs to alleviate the backlog of convicted felon profiles and crime scene evidence.
 
While dialogue and action on the DNA backlog has proceeded at a national level and in some states and jurisdictions, there has been a breakdown among community-level SARTs about what has been happening with rape kits. We need to do a better job of communicating our knowledge and expertise among team members. In fact, crime labs have been largely absent from SARTs. Few forensic examiners have received feedback from the criminalist who may process a kit and other evidence that might be associated with a sexual assault. This feedback is critical to our understanding and ongoing evaluation of our policies and procedures to effectively respond to sexual assault in our communities. Consider inviting a criminalist from the crime lab to your next local SART, regional or state meeting to educate your group about what is going on locally and at the state level with regard to protocols, prioritization and their own backlog. In turn, advocates and law enforcement can help put a human face to the evidence processed by forensic scientists. Be creative in finding ways to bridge the gaps between each SART members’ expertise. Perhaps eventually it will lead to crime lab personnel being recognized as an integral part of the Sexual Assault Response Team.

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