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Sex crimes against women shouldn’t be kept secret


An attorney for accused serial rapist Alvin Campbell Jr. said in court that Campbell should be released on bail because his client could well be found not guilty. He said that while sexual penetration may have occurred, penetration alone does not involve the use of force “as that term is defined in state law,” and that a man cannot be found guilty of rape unless the act is nonconsensual and involves force.

The public was rightly outraged by his comment, but he’s right — and it’s one of the reasons Massachusetts has a reputation as “sex offender friendly.” By requiring proof not only of penetration and nonconsent but also use of force, Massachusetts lawmakers have made rape legal so long as force is not used — which is an awful lot of rape. (Separate laws cover incapacitated victims and children where force is not required).

Most states have two types of rape laws — one that requires proof of force, and one that does not. This approach mirrors the way theft crimes are treated. If you take someone’s money without their consent, it’s larceny; if you also use force, it’s robbery. But if you take a woman’s bodily integrity without her consent, it’s not a crime — unless you also use force. And you thought people were more important than stuff.

Another sex-offender-friendly law in Massachusetts makes police reports about sex crimes confidential. If you steal your wife’s or girlfriend’s money and she files a police report, the report is a public record — but if you rape, beat or stalk her, the police report is considered confidential thanks to a change in the law in 2014 that many people — especially cops — tried to fight.

Research shows that men who abuse women worry about the public finding out. Research also shows that when such men are held publicly accountable, recidivism rates go down. This means that making police reports of such crimes confidential causes women to suffer more violence.

Police were worried about this when the law was first proposed. I talked to several chiefs who wanted to know who was behind the law and why women’s groups such as Jane Doe supported it. I told them universities supported the bill because if police reports were confidential there would be no way for advocates like me to hold them accountable when they lie about how many rapes happen on campus each year.

Universities are mandated by the Clery Act to issue annual reports showing how many crimes, and what types of crimes, occurred on campus the previous year. Most schools report falsely low numbers of sexual assaults, but it’s hard to prove they are lying unless you go to the local police department and get copies of police reports so you can compare what cops have to what a school claims in its Clery Act report.

Schools release their Clery Act reports every October, and the numbers of sexual assaults are usually falsely low, but without access to police reports the public has no way of knowing the truth. False Clery Act reports make colleges seem safe for women even when they aren’t, and they protect schools from legal trouble because if someone could show that a Clery Act report has false information, the school would face substantial fines.

In most states, police reports of violence against women are public records so long as there’s no ongoing investigation. Police routinely release their reports after redacting the victim’s name.

Making all police reports about violence against women confidential is obviously unconstitutional because the Supreme Court ruled years ago that it violates the First Amendment to make law enforcement records confidential based solely on the category of an offense, but nobody has challenged the law, yet. Someone should, because making violence against women invisible to the public is causing more violence.

Some advocates say keeping police reports confidential protects victims from shame, but victims don’t deserve shame — perpetrators do — and there’s no way to shame them if police reports detailing their violence remain secret. Only violent men benefit from these confidentiality laws. Pretending that secrecy is good for women is insulting and dangerous.

These barbaric laws need fixing, and someone has to take the lead. Maybe Ricardo Arroyo — thankfully not elected to serve as Suffolk County district attorney — can redeem himself by apologizing and then advocating for changes in the law that will make rape without force a crime and ensure that all police reports of violence against women are released under the same rules that apply to other crimes.

I won’t hold my breath.

Wendy Murphy is a lawyer and victims’ rights advocate.

FILE - This Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, sexual assault evidence collection kits are shown during committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. The backlog of untested rape kits is growing even after state lawmakers passed a law in 2017 to address the issue, in part because the legislature didn't provide enough money to hire the necessary technicians for the state crime lab, KUTV reports. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File )
Sexual assault evidence collection kits are shown during a government hearing. (AP file photo.)


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