In the wake of Bill Cosby being accused of sexually assaulting more than 50 women over the past five decades, many skeptics have placed blame on the alleged victims for not reporting their crimes in a timely fashion.
Missing from this complicated conversation is the fact that though 66 percent of rape victims in the United States do not report their assaults — due to factors such as societal stigma, shame, and/or pressure from their attackers, or even family disapproval — there are many victims who do report who are effectively silenced and ignored by states across the country.
In July, a USA Today investigation found that there are over 70,000 untested rape kits throughout the country, 13,000 belonging to cases in Florida. The department of law enforcement in Florida has estimated that testing may cost the state anywhere from $9 million to $32 million.
According to The Guardian, police in Kentucky, Tenn., and Utah routinely destroy their untested kits, which span over 30 years, often with no specific reasoning or rationale provided.
In efforts to alleviate the rape kit backlog, Vice President Joe Biden and New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced a $79 million initiative to combat the problem.
“I’m saying today to all the women awaiting justice, you are not forgotten…we will prevent future rapes by taking rapists off the streets, but the grants will do more than test kits – they will provide closure for victims and families,” said Vance.
The Justice Department was also supposed to distribute $41 million in grants to help police departments develop procedures for preventing rape kit backlogs. As of July 2015, however, the DOJ had not distributed any funds.
A coalition of women business owners in Detroit were proactive about ensuring testing for the 11,341 kits that sat on the shelves of a Detroit Police Department storage facility. The Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit) initiative has helped to get nearly all of the backlogged tests processed.
According to The New York Times, “Enough SAID has raised a total of $1.3 million from private donors, including a $25,000 gift from Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook. It has also raised $7.6 million in public financing. Police have identified 652 people suspected of being serial sexual assault offenders and have secured 27 convictions. An additional 182 cases are being investigated and 1,598 more are awaiting investigation.”
Joanna Cline, co-founder of Enough SAID, shared her sentiments on the importance of the organization, “We probably have the resources to do something to show the victims that they matter, show the perpetrators they’re not going to get away with it and just keep working to make Detroit a safer city.”
While it’s a good thing that Cosby being charged has reinvigorated conversations about rape culture, it has also dangerously reignited the victim-blaming that shades these conversations. “Why didn’t they report?” “What took so long?” “Now I don’t believe them.” These are all questions and statements that can be heard whenever Cosby’s name is mentioned, along with a clear lack of understanding of the word, “consent.”
It is critical that we expand the conversation to encompass not just Bill Cosby, but the system of neglect and violence that makes those victims who do report feel that no one cares one way or the other, that no matter who they tell or what they say, they will never know justice.