By Justin Fenton and Alison Knezevich
Six years after Baltimore established a review team to oversee reforms to sexual assault investigations, the Department of Justice reported evidence of continuing bias and failure to look into cases properly.
Justice Department investigators wrote that the Baltimore police "persistently neglect" to test rape kits or gather forensic evidence, were quick to disregard claims from sex workers, and failed to follow up on indications of serial suspects.
In general, the investigators wrote, detectives made "minimal to no effort to locate, identify, interrogate, or investigate suspects."
"We found this to be true even in cases where the suspects had been identified or were easily identifiable on the basis of the victim's testimony," they wrote.
In one case, investigators reported, a woman said she was intoxicated when a taxi driver took her to his home and raped her. The taxi driver admitted taking the woman to his home, and a rape kit tested positive for semen. But police made no attempt to get a DNA sample from the driver, they wrote.
Investigators reported advocates and victims told them police had a dismissive attitude. They found an email exchange in which a city prosecutor wrote to a police officer that an alleged victim "seems like a conniving little whore."
"Lmao!" the officer responded, using an internet abbreviation for laughter. "I feel the same."
Jacqueline Robarge, founder of the anti-violence nonprofit Power Inside, called the exchange "particularly heartbreaking."
"Those are deeply troubling remarks that demonstrate an attitude about certain survivors of rape that those survivors have long known exist," she said, "and create a situation where they're re-traumatized again and again, even as they have the courage to step forward and identify an assailant."
A spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said officials do not know who the prosecutor is, or whether the prosecutor worked in Mosby's administration. The Justice Department investigation covers 2010 through 2015. Mosby took office in 2015.
"Unfortunately, we were not made aware of these assertions and we do not know the author of this email," spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said. "If we did, we would take appropriate action for such insensitivity. We denounce any survivor of sexual assault being referred to as a 'whore' or any other derogatory term."
Robarge, whose organization serves women and girls who are survivors of violence, said disparaging attitudes have far-reaching effects.
"It ensures that they won't report future assaults," she said. "And most importantly, it allows violent predators to continue to prey on women specifically for their vulnerabilities. Those women include black women who are already being treated poorly by the police, sex workers, homeless women and women who may have a health issue, like addiction or mental illness."
In 2010, The Baltimore Sun reported that city police were discarding rape complaints at the highest rate in the nation, five times the national average.
The city created a Sexual Assault Response Team composed of victim advocates, police and prosecutors to oversee how cases were being investigated and classified. In the years that followed, the rate of cases classified as "unfounded" plummeted.
But the Justice Department expressed concern that the lower rate masks a continuing problem. Investigators wrote that the unit might simply be letting cases linger as "open" rather than marking them "unfounded," to limit the number of cases it officially believes have no merit.
"BPD's failure to remedy its procedures for collecting and reviewing data about sexual assault represents a significant weakness in the department's handling of sexual assault," the investigators wrote.
(c)2016 The Baltimore Sun