Vol. LVIII No. 1

Rape Law Gatekeeping

Abstract: Police across the United States regularly act as hostile gatekeepers who prevent rape complaints from advancing through the criminal justice system by fervently policing the culturally disputed concept of “rape.” Victims are regularly disbelieved, rape kits are discarded without investigation, and, as a result, rapists remain free. The substantial empirical evidence and stories from victims across the United States demonstrate that any success in decreasing sexual violence hinges on removing the numerous police-imposed obstacles inhibiting investigation and adjudication in rape cases, beginning with substantial reform of police practices. An examination of modern cases and the historical record indicates that the widespread conventional wisdom among academics and activists that reforming evidentiary rules and consent standards would trickle down to police decisions has proven unwarranted. As long as rape victims do not have consistent access to the criminal justice system due to policing failures, tinkering with rules and statutes is likely to yield little progress. Consequently, reform efforts must prioritize fixing the most significant bottleneck in rape cases: police. Several such legal and policy changes are incorporated into a model statute designed to ameliorate the widespread, ongoing problems associated with police gatekeeping.

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