In the wake of the “NYPD Tapes” article, yesterday the Voice wrote about the case of Debbie Nathan, who was the victim of an attempted rape that was initially classified as a misdemeanor. In the Voice piece, the director of an umbrella group of rape crisis advocacy organizations said downgrading of rape complaints has become a growing problem over the past 18 months around the city.
Today, the Voice spoke with Carole Sher, director of the Beth Israel Hospital Rape Crisis/Domestic Violence Intervention Program, who said that the emergency room social workers who she oversees have seen a similar trend.
“The police will come to the ER and rather than taking basic information, they ask questions that are in a way disbelieving, or almost trying to prove that it didn’t happen,” she says. “It’s a more acute problem now. It used to be more of an exception.”
In one case, a detective interviewing a 19-year-old victim made her cry by saying she was changing her story, Sher says. “He was badgering her, and not believing her story. And then a detective walked into the examining room in the middle of the exam to take pictures of her bruises.”
There also was the recent case of the woman who fled Suffolk County to get away from an abusive husband. She came to the hospital to get treatment. A doctor called the local precinct to get them to take a report, but officers there refused because the crime did not take place in Manhattan.
“In a situation like that, they are supposed to take the report and then fax it to the jurisdiction where it happened,” Sher says. “We hear that a lot. A woman will come in and say she’s was assaulted in Brooklyn. The police will say she has to go to Brooklyn to file the report. Then, the other precinct will say the same thing, that’s out of our jurisdiction. But, you shouldn’t make the victim go back and forth.”
And there was the instance, where a detective either in person or on the phone told a victim, ‘This can’t be a rape because her rape kit showed no semen,’ Sher says. “That should be handled by the crime lab or the Medical Examiner’s office,” she says. “And it’s not uncommon for there to be no semen. That doesn’t mean a rape didn’t occur. What they are doing is being the judge and jury in the ER.”
Sher says police officers should be more sensitive in the ER. “It’s easy for the victim to forget details, to be crying, confused, in a highly emotional state, and so it’s not unusual for someone to hesitate, and it becomes even more intimidating when they [police] are not accepting what she’s saying,” Sher says. “We’ve had situations where they give her such a hard time, she doesn’t want to go through reporting it. She just drops it.”
Sher was present for a recent meeting on the topic with Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “He listened to everything and acknowledged it,” Sher says. “He really seemed to validate our concerns, and he seemed committed to dealing with them.”