Several months ago, the Los Angeles Times published a deeply reported, multi-part series on the Golden State Killer, who terrorized California in the 1970s and who was arrested last year thanks to DNA breakthroughs.
On top of the terrible crimes he committed, the story had another horrific aspect: Law enforcement at that time failed rape victims at every conceivable turn:
Rape drew a sentence as short as a year, and the statute of limitations was so brief that evidence was thrown out even as serial attackers claimed new victims. Even law enforcement struggled against the social taboos of rape, dwelling sometimes more on how the attacker entered the locked house than on what he did to the woman. More than once, an officer or criminal profiler described the East Area Rapist as “gentlemanly.” And a television newscaster told viewers the East Area Rapist’s victims were unharmed — except for being repeatedly raped.
Fast-forward several decades and attitudes and police practices have changed, but we’re still failing victims all the time.
The new Netflix series “Unbelievable,” based on the extraordinary Marshall Project/ProPublica reporting from 2015 (seriously, this remains the best piece of journalism I have ever consumed), shows how a young woman who was violently raped was victimized again by a system that undercut and re-traumatized her at every turn, until she was coerced into recanting her statement. She was criminally charged for filing a false report. In the meantime, her attacker went on to rape more women.
According to the reporters who wrote the original story, this same thing has happened to more women since the story came out.
Which brings us to Andrew Keatts’ investigation this week, which revealed another way the system is failing sexual assault victims here in San Diego.
SDPD’s crime lab officials took it upon themselves to cut massive corners when it came to how it tested certain kits, and for dozens of them, tested only a single swab instead of the usual six. What’s worse, they tested a specific swab each time – an external genital swab – even if they were dealing a case where the crime involved a wholly different part of the body.
Some of the kits tested in this way involved rape victims as young as 6 years old.
Most telling from Keatts’ reporting is the fact that SDPD immediately reversed course and stopped doing this when we confronted them with evidence that we knew it was happening. You don’t tend to make massive policy changes overnight when everything’s totally above board.
We’ve come a long way from the days when rape was barely considered a crime. But not far enough. Not nearly far enough.
What VOSD Learned This Week
The case of a Guatemalan woman who was granted asylum this week highlights the chaos and confusion of the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico policy. Even after winning her case, immigration officials kept her in custody for days – and no one could figure out why.
In this week’s Culture Report, Julia Dixon Evans spoke with photojournalist Guillermo Arias, who just received the prestigious Visa Pour L’Image Paris Match Award for his coverage of the migrant caravan. Bonus: Their conversation includes some of his stunning shots.
And over in the Border Report, Maya Srikrishnan describes how patients in Mexico are clamoring for access to medical marijuana.
Will Huntsberry compiled and analyzed lots of data from student surveys to show where kids in San Diego Unified feel safe at school, and where they don’t. When Huntsberry tried to speak with Superintendent Cindy Marten about the survey results this week, he got a heaping serving of word salad.
The multibillion-dollar PureWater project has had lots of ups and downs just in the last few weeks alone. Ry Rivard pulled back the lens and put those challenges into context with a fascinating history of the project.
It turns out, living in the congressional district you’re running for isn’t really a thing San Diego pols do anymore.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez isn’t running for Congress, but she told us on this week’s podcast she supports Georgette Gómez’s decision to jump in the race for the 53rd District.
What I’m Reading
- Some doctors are specially trained to spot signs of child abuse. But when they’re wrong, the results can be devastating. (NBC News/Houston Chronicle)
- President Trump urged the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son. (Wall Street Journal)
- Three veterans died within three days under strange circumstances in the same West Virginia hospital wing – deaths that should raise huge red flags. (USA Today)
- Young people made clear this week that if anyone takes climate change seriously, it’s them. But they also might be the generation to save us from office life. (New York Times)
- This is an intense but necessary read on the grim and relentless efforts to find Hurricane Dorian victims. (Buzzfeed News)
Line of the Week
“Fun is what I do to you. You can tell because I am laughing. (I have noticed that you are not laughing.)” – These lines, and this entire piece, are so simple yet so searing. The whole thing is brilliant.