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No Justice: How The Chicago Police Department Has Failed To Solve Thousands Of Rape Cases In Last Decade

By Brad Edwards, Samah Assad

(CBS) -- In a cramped room, four women – strangers to each other – talked about the worst thing that's ever happened to them.
Their stories are strikingly similar.

"I met somebody for the first time, for business purposes," one said. "And he had other plans."

"I had met somebody for the first time, and we were supposed to go out just for dinner," said another.

The third: "I went to a meet-up group, and at this meet-up, I met somebody."

"I went to have a relaxing day [at a massage]," the fourth said. "I was assaulted by an employee."

All said despite reporting to police they were raped or sexually assaulted, their cases have not been solved.

In this story, CBS 2 concealed their identities. They are each referred to, respectively, as numbers One, Two, Three and Four -- not because they are numbers or nameless, but because the people whom they accuse of raping or sexually assaulting them are still on the street and have not been charged with a crime.

Thousands of people reported being raped in Chicago in the last decade. The women we interviewed say, after first reporting to the Chicago Police Department (CPD) they were raped or sexually assaulted – some dating back to 2015 – that there have been no developments in their cases, and they are still waiting for justice.

A months-long investigation by the 2 Investigators found they are not alone. Police have failed to solve thousands of rape cases, even in incidents where a suspect is known and evidence exists. And the total number of arrests has reached a 10-year low.

Thousands of victims, few arrests

It's difficult to pinpoint national data on how often arrests are made in rape cases in specific cities across the country – police departments track or count it differently, and oftentimes designate cases as "cleared," even if a case isn't solved or someone wasn't actually charged.

But according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, 3 out of every 4 rape incidents go unreported. And out of 1,000 rape reports, only 46 lead to an arrest.

Here in Chicago, more than 15,000 people reported being raped in the last decade through April of early this year, according to a review of criminal sexual assaults, or rape, for both adults and children, reported to police. This data is provided on the city's public data portal and pulled from CPD's Citizen Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR) system – the same data the police department uses to map crimes.

While the total number of reported rapes each year has teetered up and down, it has increased by the hundreds since 2009.

But police only made arrests in a fraction of these cases. In the same timeframe, the total number of arrests has dropped 64 percent. Take one year: in 2017, more than 1,759 sexual assaults were reported. Police made arrests in only 114 of those cases – just over 6 percent.

Sarah Layden, victim advocate and director of Resilience, a Chicago-based, not-for-profit organization that supports survivors of sexual violence, acknowledged there could be thousands of victims of rape in the city.

"And the vast majority of them without having the person that harmed them held accountable," Layden said.

Our investigation also found an arrest counted by CPD could also mean a suspect was arrested but later released, like in the case of Number One.

She remembers the night vividly. It was 11 p.m., Oct. 23, 2016.

According to the police report, he had contacted her on Facebook. He knew she sang and asked her to come to his studio to record and write music.

She knew he was a friend of a family friend, so she felt safe to go.

At one point, she remembers them sitting down on the couch and taking a break. That's when he asked if "he can take it," the report said. She said no. But he didn't listen.

"He was a lot bigger than me, and I couldn't fight him off," she said.

The police report said she "curled up in a ball to protect herself." She later went to the hospital, submitted a rape kit and reported the incident to police. Miscellaneous clothing and a Facebook photo of the suspect were submitted into evidence, according to the report.

He was arrested five months later. He told police it was consensual, the report said.

When police arrest a suspect in a crime and believe they have sufficient evidence, they recommend charges to the Cook County State Attorney's office (SAO) for felony review. The SAO will review the case and determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to file felony charges.

In Number One's case, the assistant state's attorney "rejected charges," stating "insufficient evidence."

Her attacker may have been released, she said, but she continues to carry the trauma of what happened with her every day. She said she lost a job after the incident and now suffers serious medical issues.

"It's not fair," she said. "We don't get to say that we're going to move forward and we're done with this and it's over. It's not fair that there are no real consequences for changing someone's life like this."

Where do cases end up?

Case-level data maintained by CPD and the SAO are not tracked similarly. Case numbers differ across both agencies, and police do not track how often their recommended felony charges get rejected.

This makes it difficult to follow one rape case from beginning to end – from the victim's initial hospital visit, to interaction with law enforcement, to SAO case disposition – and identify where systemic issues occur.

"To be able to see where they're dropping off, where interaction wasn't ideal, where maybe processes could be improved, would be phenomenal," Layden said. "The reality is these systems are not talking to one another. They're not even the same systems that are speaking the same language oftentimes."

However, data provided on the city's public portal makes it possible to analyze some information about rape cases under investigation by the police department.

Detectives assign cases to specific categories based on the status of their investigations. (You can read the full definitions for each category, as described to CBS2 by police. That data shows in the last decade:

• 10 percent of cases were "cleared closed," meaning they resulted in charges.
• When someone is arrested but no charges are ultimately filed or approved, those cases fall into the "exceptionally cleared closed" status. This makes up 17 percent of cases.
• There were no arrests made in nearly 14 percent of cases – those are called "unfounded."
• The majority of cases – or 53 percent – fall into the "suspended" category, where police believe there are no leads.

Then, there are hundreds of cases still open and assigned to detectives, like Number Two

It was June of 2017. She had just moved to the city a month before.

She was excited, she said, that she had just landed a new job right out of college.

"...and I didn't know anybody…so I downloaded an app, met somebody off it…" she said.

They made plans to go out to dinner. But something changed.

"My doorman let him up without calling me," she said. "So somebody knocked on my door. It was fine the first half hour, and then his intentions were very clear."

That's when Number Two said he attacked her.

"He assaulted me in every way, shape and form," she said. "He also gave me a concussion."

As she worked to heal from what she said were head injuries and multiple appointments with neurologists and pain management doctors, she began to hold a deep resentment toward the way she said police treated her – from her view, like the suspect, instead of a survivor.

"I remember in college, we learned so many cases go unreported. And now I know why," she said. "Because [police] make it such a hassle and almost like you're the problem. I remember the detective asking me, 'What were you wearing? Were you leading him on?'"

She also said she submitted a rape kit after the incident and that there was surveillance video of the suspect leaving her apartment after the incident.

But the police report narrative is completely redacted, and if that video does exist, it's unclear if police retrieved it. The suspect was arrested, police said, but later released due to lack of evidence and corroboration of the victim's allegations.

"In my mind, I thought there was so much evidence already," she said. "I just didn't understand why they let him go."

But Number Two continues to live in fear. She said she has even seen the man she accused of attacking her in public.

"I never thought this is what my life would be one month after I moved here, out of college," she said. "I was so excited. I hate it here now."

'We need a cultural shift'

There are multiple factors that could contribute to the dwindling number of arrests made in rape cases – not only in Chicago, but across the country.

Layden said turnaround time on rape evidence collection kits take, on average, a year and a half to be tested at the lab, which could leave cases open for long periods of time. The total number of dedicated detectives in the sex crimes unit and following up on leads, as well as their caseloads, could also be factors.

CPD said they do not have a sex crimes unit or division, nor do they have dedicated detectives working on sexual assault cases. Any of the approximately 1,200 detectives on the police force – with the exception of those who handle administrative duties – could be assigned a case that's reported in his or her district, in addition to other crime cases they are working. If there is a pattern of incidents in a specific area, it could be elevated to CPD's special investigations unit.

Inherently, Layden said, sexual assault cases are difficult to investigate and even harder to meet the threshold of beyond reasonable doubt. Oftentimes there are no witnesses, and "it tends to be this person's word against another," she said.

She added even in instances where there might be DNA evidence available through a rape kit, the challenges lay in how to prove or disprove consent.

"Because oftentimes, you are dealing with two people who knew one another," Layden said. "There isn't substantial physical evidence that might show force."

Layden said she frequently sees instances where law enforcement, due to the nature of their roles in regularly investigating crimes and suspects, interrogate survivors. But what should happen, she said, is a shift in the mindset from victim-focused to offender-focused investigations, and provide the trauma-informed response survivors need.

A change in how police treat victims could impact the outcome of the case and victim's willing to cooperate, as well as yield stronger evidence that leads to more solved cases, she said.

"We need a cultural shift -- we need to start believing survivors when they come forward," she said. "The unfortunate realities of a sexual assault survivor is they need that trauma-informed response in order to engage with the system, in order to trust the system."

This is what each woman we interviewed for this story said happened to them.

Number Four said she didn't expect to be re-traumatized when she went to the agency she hoped would help.

She reported to police that, on Jan. 12, 2018, she was sexually assaulted in the midst of a massage.

But quickly, she found the detective's line of questioning was directed at her instead of the suspect.

"They kept asking me, 'Why didn't you scream? Why didn't you fight?" she said. "Why didn't I fight them off? And I just didn't feel like they were taking it [seriously] at all."

She identified the suspect and police questioned him. He denied the assault.

According to the police report, there was "insufficient evidence for probable cause to arrest" and he was released without charging.

"These people are predators and they're back on the streets within hours," she said.

She was shocked when, according to the report, police told her to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation to file a formal complaint against the massage therapist.

The process took a toll – "I couldn't get answers," she noted – and she felt emotionally and physically drained. There were times where she said she called police to ask for updates on her case, but did not hear back.

She said she's been scared to speak up about what happened – until now.

"I was afraid to talk," she said. "But I just feel like people have to know…something has to be done. I couldn't just let it go. I couldn't let it just blow away in the wind."

Layden said historically, up until recent years, she doesn't believe there has been a "high prioritization" of sexual assault cases compared to other serious crimes within CPD.

She cited the passing of a state law in 2016, the Sexual Assault Incident Procedure Act, that could have contributed in adding more cases to CPD's caseload – cases that may have been previously discredited. The legislation required law enforcement to take written reports of sexual assaults that were reported to police.

"We did see cases that fell through the cracks that, on their face, law enforcement was thinking this isn't sexual assault, or maybe they weren't believing somebody," she said. "…If we're seeing increases in the amount of cases that are being reported, it's because now we're seeing law enforcement is actually taking reports [that] maybe in the past they wouldn't have."

But because the cases are difficult to investigate, Layden said police and prosecutors must identify cutting edge investigative techniques and pursue extensive, ongoing training on trauma-informed responses.

"Otherwise, we're never going to get past the hurdle of them just being difficult cases to investigation," she said.

In 2015, CPD said hundreds of detectives underwent a 40-hour in service class that covered interviews, interrogations and DNA, among other topics, related to working sexual assault cases. In addition, newly promoted detectives are required to take a separate, 10-week training.

But the arrest rate continues to fall each year. Layden believes the issue needs to rise to the level of Supt. Eddie Johnson.

"Absolutely it does. Why wouldn't it? Sexual assault is one of the most heinous crimes historically committed against another," she said. "Why wouldn't sexual assault be right up there with homicides and shootings, and the prioritizations given to those crimes at the very top level of the Chicago Police Department?"
Lack of transparency

CBS 2 made multiple efforts to include CPD in this story and underscored that solely a statement from the department would be insufficient to the public we serve for a story about sexual assault.
As part of our efforts to determine why police are failing to make arrests in rape cases at a higher rate, we reached out to CPD to share our findings and ask about the cases of the four women interviewed for this story.

We also asked about the 6 percent arrest rate in 2017, discrepancies we found in the data portal and specifics about the thousands of cases in suspended status.

CPD denied three requests for interviews with Supt. Eddie Johnson or anyone in the sex crimes unit for this story, citing Johnson's "extremely limited" schedule due to inauguration week. In addition, some of our specific data and informational requests for information were not answered.

CPD said since they "do not maintain the city portal" they "can't speak for its authenticity," despite the data being pulled from the police department's CLEAR system. Instead, CPD directed us to file a FOIA request, which have not yet been fulfilled.

CBS 2 isn't the only organization fighting for information and data from CPD.

The Chicago Justice Project an independent non-profit that analyzes criminal justice data to achieve reforms, sued CPD in 2018 for crime data, including information on sexual assault.

Specifically, the non-profit is seeking demographics of people filing crime reports and those who are arrested, as well as when and how CPD changes the classification of cases. The goal is to get a grasp on the scope of crime and identify disparities. In turn, the organization's executive director Tracy Siska said, the community can work to create solutions.

According to the lawsuit, the Chicago Justice Project filed multiple FOIAs for data that CPD either denied or did not produce responsive records for. Siska said CPD has provided some – but not all – data requested in response to the lawsuit.

"The police department is fighting tooth and nail to keep that data hidden," said Siska who has spent two decades researching criminal justice systems. "We need a wholesale change in the structure and administration of the department – one that is based on transparency."

He also called for increased transparency within the department and said it's critical in strengthening police relationships with the community.

"The lack of transparency is hurting the police and the relationships with communities for no other reasons than there's probably political interest in the department to withhold data," Siska said. "They're not willing to change it, even when the transparency will help them, and that's really sad because it's hurting the police-community relationships."

The struggle to move forward without justice
We asked each of the women interviewed for this story if they'd report what happened to police again. Each struggled with her own answer.
Number Three felt her allegations were dismissed by the detectives assigned to her case.

The man she accused of attacking her on Valentine's Day in 2015 was one whom she trusted – they met at a social event a month prior and began dating, she said.

After several dates, in the midst of a consensual sexual encounter, she told him to stop.

"And he replied that he would not stop," she said. "And he continued to assault me."

Four days later, she reported it to police after she said she was in a state of shock at what happened.

Police contacted the suspect who, according to the police report, stated it was a consensual encounter but it "seemed to be a breakdown of communication."

Police deemed the case "unfounded." The detective wrote in the report that when Number Three asked the suspect to stop, "he did so in a reasonable amount of time (30 seconds) and did not ejaculate (no sexual gratification). There is also delayed reporting and no physical evidence."

Number Three said she doesn't believe police did their due diligence with their investigation and questioned whether they conducted an in-depth interview with the suspect.

"Unfortunately, after meeting with the detectives, I was dismissed very quickly," she said.

"It has completely changed my perspective on humanity," she added. "It has been the biggest struggle of my life. The only silver lining is my empathy has become much deeper because I can understand sexual violence and I am not alone. I can help others through similar things I have been through."

Victim advocates and experts told CBS 2 they frequently see interactions with law enforcement re-traumatizing rape and sexual assault survivors.

"At the end of the day your cause is, we serve and protect, and I can say I don't feel safe here at all. God forbid something happened to me in another way, I would avoid police by any means," Number Two said, adding she believes police failed her.

"This is a situation that impacts the rest of your life. It's not just a one and done deal. And you're failing women here locally, and it's just not acceptable."

Number Four cried when she said she struggles to cope with the trauma of the incident itself – and the aftermath, when she sought justice by reporting it to police. But she said it was justice she never received.

"It's really sad that the one person or the people we're supposed to go to for help, our cries are unheard," she said. "It's very serious. And this is something that us, and so many women have to deal with for the rest of our lives. And if you haven't been through it, you have no idea how hard it is."

About this CBS 2 Investigation

"No Justice" is the culmination of a months-long investigation by CBS 2 that began with a tip from a police source about how rape cases are handled by the Chicago Police Department.

The team began digging into publicly available data on the City of Chicago's online data portal. The data is pulled from CPD's LEADS system and is regularly referenced by the police department and the public alike.

We were curious to see how often people reported being raped in the city and what happens to these cases in the midst of police investigations.

So we filtered the city's database of all crimes reported to the police department in the last decade for criminal sexual assaults, including those against children, to capture all reports of rape.

This database also included whether or not an arrest was made in each case as of early April. We analyzed the data for trends over time.

We also analyzed another database available on the city's online data portal for the same timeframe to get an idea of how many cases are open, closed, suspended, etc.

We chose the timeframe of 2009 to present so we could capture a broad and fair look at the scope of the issue, and because some cases could take long periods of time before – and if – an arrest is made.

As part of this story, four women came forward and shared with us the worst thing that has ever happened to them, with hopes that they can stop this from happening to someone else. We were connected to them through an advocate and they agreed to speak with anonymity. We filed FOIAs for their case files and were able to corroborate many of their accounts.

We wanted to ask police about their cases and the allegations made against detectives but were not granted an interview.

CPD offered to provide solely a statement to include in our story. But after hearing the women's stories and uncovering concerning findings, we informed CPD that a statement alone for something as important as sexual assault would be insufficient, though we would still include in our story their answers in writing to our questions. Police have not provided answers to all of our questions at this time.

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