Editorials

Refusal to test rape kit in KU ‘false’ report case sends chilling message to victims

Douglas County prosecutors say they see no reason to test the rape kit of a KU student charged with falsely reporting a rape.
Douglas County prosecutors say they see no reason to test the rape kit of a KU student charged with falsely reporting a rape. Associated Press file photo

Douglas County prosecutors can’t properly investigate the University of Kansas student they’ve charged with falsely reporting a rape without also fully investigating the underlying rape allegation.

Yet they say they see no reason to have her rape kit tested.

The results wouldn’t prove consent, they say.

But if that were the full story, why ever test rape kits in cases where the suspect doesn’t dispute that there was sexual contact?

Answer: Because testing can tell us a lot, including the extent of any injuries, whether a suspect and victim’s testimony match the evidence, and whether the suspect’s DNA turns up in any other rape kits, now or years from now. That Douglas County authorities don’t have a sample to test it against just shows they didn’t do much of an investigation.

Their well-worn theory is that this was a woman scorned, having revenge sex with a friend of her former boyfriend and then reporting him to police to avoid embarrassment. (Note: This is not a known effect of reporting a rape to police.)

The “proof” is text messages she sent immediately after the alleged rape that minimized and made light of what happened. These messages aren’t in keeping with investigators’ idea of how a real rape victim would behave.

But minimizing and normalizing and trying to tell yourself, “That did not just happen” is very much what rape victims do; it’s the brain’s way of responding to trauma. If authorities in Lawrence don’t know that, they need to get some remedial training, and soon.

If this young woman really is making one of the tiny percentage of false rape claims, that will come out, she will be harshly punished, and victims and their advocates will decry all of the damage she’s done.

But there’s no way to prove that’s the case without looking a lot further into her allegations than authorities seem to be willing to do. Their lack of interest in testing the rape kit is not just the wrong call, but one that sends a clear, and clearly callous, message to all victims.

“We don’t care if the thing is tested,” said District Attorney Charles Branson, since such “kits in cases of consensual sexual encounters usually do nothing for prosecution or defense. Any type of bruising or hemorrhage or anything like that in a sexual assault exam, those artifacts, bruising and hemorrhaging, can be there with normal consensual intercourse.”

“Usually” isn’t the same as “always,” and Branson’s indifference to learning all of the facts in this case can’t fill any victim at KU or in Douglas County with confidence.

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