Under Prosecuted: What happens to rape victims waiting for justice?


by Melanie Kahn


Posted on February 10, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 11 at 1:06 AM

Nearly 90,000 women reported they were raped in the United States last year.

According to the FBI, another 75,000 rapes went unreported.

In a WHAS11 News investigation, Melanie Kahn raises questions about just how many rapists are actually being brought to justice.

Her smile could light up a room and on her 21st birthday, Valerie Neumann's smile was brighter than ever  celebrating with friends at a local bowling alley, playing, and, for the first time, drinking.

Valerie says she always knew turning 21 would be a milestone but she didn't know it was one that would dim her smile forever.

"I just kind like left the world," she said, that was the night she was raped.

Neumann told WHAS11, "I remember what happened that night, but standing here, it's more vivid, parking the car, needing help into the house, and going up the stairs into the bathroom."

For several hours Valerie says, she drifted in and out of consciousness laying on the bathroom floor of her friend's house.

The man who bought her drinks at the bowling alley downstairs with others.

"At some point he had come up in the bathroom and laid down behind me.  It started out like are you okay.  Then he started rubbing on me and he kept saying let’s go down on the couch.  And I kept telling him, no I don't feel good."

She explained, “I passed out later and at some point he had come back because the next morning when I woke up my pants and my underwear were down  around my ankles and my bra was unfastened.  So I knew something wasn't right."

"I could barely stand up.  I was confused, I was scared, just a million thoughts were running through my head."

"I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what or I didn't want to face reality yet.  So I went to take a shower and when I took off my clothes I found a huge mark on the back of my neck and finger indentations around each one of my wrists.  And that's when I knew something really wasn't right."

Collecting this evidence has become almost a daily routine for Melissa Edlin at the Center for Women and Families in Louisville.

As a sexual assault nurse examiner, her job is to give alleged victims a rape kit, a sometimes painful three to eight hour process.

Edlin said,  "It's a very comprehensive exam.  We're pulling head hairs, we pull public hairs, we are putting swabs and speculums into different parts of the body, so on top of already being assaulted this is a very comprehensive exam that they have to go through after such a traumatic incident."

Neumann described the exam as,  "almost just as bad as being raped.  We were at the hospital for probably 5, 6 hours." 

In the police report, Valerie's injuries are detailed; a suction injury on the back of her neck and according to the SANE nurse, "evidence of forced sexual contact."

Where rape kits are tested there is typically a six month backlog.

At any given time, 350 to 400 rape kits are sitting on the shelves waiting to be analyzed and some, never are.

Whitney Collins of the Kentucky State Crime Lab said, "Generally the rape kits will be tested unless there is some particular information provided by an agency or the person that might be prosecuting the case that the case is no longer going forward.  It could be that analysis is not needed at that time or may not be needed at all in the future."

That was Valerie's fate.

After more than a year, Valerie finally heard from the Kenton County Prosecutor's office.  They told her they weren't going to pursue her case, saying, “it just wasn't winnable."

A phone message was left for Valerie saying, “Hi Valerie, it is Stephanie Watson at the Commonwealth Attorney's Office... Umm the last time I talked to you I know Laura and I had a conversation with you regarding funds for the DNA. Umm and we weren't able to get those approved because of issues with the case and the last time we talked I told you that Laura said if she could find some loop hole or some way to ethically get that done that she would do that, but she has been unable! We just cannot process that DNA. We cannot get the funds for that because there are other issues with the case and we can't use that state money."

Neumann said when she heard that, "I cried.  I was really upset.  I didn't understand it."

Valerie's police report narrative states that the crime lab did find semen, but not enough to test at the state lab.  Results would have to come from an outsourced lab at a cost of $1970.

Kenton County Prosecutor, Rob Sanders declined an on-camera interview about this case.

But in a statement to WHAS11 he says, "Ms. Neumann's state of intoxication impaired her memory to the point that she cannot say with any certainty that the suspect engaged in any sex act with her. The microscopic amount semen that was discovered in the rape kit came from a piece of clothing and does not prove penetration."

Valerie Neumann said, "Drinking is not an invitation to be raped.  And if the justice system is going to say its not winnable we're not going to take your case to court then it just plays into the hands of the rapist."

Now, three years later, Valerie says she has accepted that her case will never go to court and that her life will never be the same.

This once bubbly, smiley, curly-haired girl, now wears her hair straight, never drinks and doesn't leave the house without pepper spray.

"It's something that is always in the back of your mind.  It is not something I will ever forget."

We asked the Kenton County Prosecutor's Office to tell us how many rape cases they get every year and how many they choose to prosecute.

They told us, they do not know how to access that information.

Across the country, the arrest rate in rape cases was 25% last year.

Compare that to murder at 79% and aggravated assault at 51%.

In New York City, all rape kits are tested so their arrest rate for rape is nearly triple the national average.

Nationally, a bill has been proposed in congress to require testing of all rape kits and Valerie Neumann is actually working with lawmakers on that bill.