Cosby might have changed way police investigate rape

Bill Cosby, 78, was arrested and charged in December with drugging and violating a woman at his Philadelphia mansion in 2004.


New York Police Commissioner William Bratton made an unprecedented announcement early in January: The city had experienced a sharp increase in reported rapes, driven in part by victims bringing forward yearsold assaults.

One fifth of the assaults reported in 2015 happened at least a year before the police complaint, dating back as far as 1975.

Bratton called this "the Cosby Effect."

Data from police departments, using the FBI's latest definition, show the so-called Cosby Effect hasn't struck only New York.

Since the entertainer's highly public downfall, people in America's biggest cities began reporting more rapes, especially rapes from the past.

Last year, the District of Columbia saw an 11 percent increase in reported sexual assaults. The number of delayed reports — attacks that happened before the year in which they were reported — increased from 20 to 28.

Philadelphia saw a 9 percent increase, with delayed reports rising from 110 to 121. Houston's reported sexual assaults jumped 19 percent, with delayed reports climbing from 76 to 125.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an advocacy organization for victims of sexual violence, also saw a 10 percent increase of calls to its hotline last year.

The number of sexual assaults reported in each city most likely doesn't reflect how many rapes actually happen there. An estimated 32 percent of rapes lead to a police report , according to figures from the Justice Department, and a mere 2 percent lead to a conviction.

That's why the recent reporting surge is a good thing, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the National Women's Law Center, a Philadelphia advocacy organization that leads research on police response to sex crimes. Higher numbers mean more victims feel empowered to speak up, and more authorities are listening.

But the furor around Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, didn't alone spark the trend.

Some say what Bratton dubbed the Cosby Effect has little to do with Cosby and more to do with the country's evolving understanding of rape.

Over the past five years, Tracy said, the growing pressure to take victims seriously — rather than blame them or question their motives — has altered the way law enforcement handles rape investigations. Officers, for instance, are more receptive to delayed reports nowadays.

"These are the kinds of cases that, if you tried to take one to many jurisdictions years ago, they just wouldn't take it," Tracy said. "They just wouldn't count it in their numbers."

The cultural shift, she theorizes, stemmed from years of grassroots work in communities by rape crisis centers and a raft of cases that caught the public's eye and triggered police criticism.

After several of Cosby's accusers described assaults that unfolded in the city, New York police started collecting the years associated with the rapes, releasing the first round of data in January.

A victim in Queens, for instance, reported an assault from 1975. Another in Brooklyn told police about a 1999 rape. Another in Manhattan described an attack from 2003.

"Some of the rapes (Bill Cosby) is accused of go back 30 or 40 years," Bratton said. "We have really made a concerted effort to try and encourage the victims of rape to come forward."

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck also spoke publicly about the Cosby accusations, promising that the department would investigate any related complaint, no matter how old.

Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan, a 23year veteran of the Austin Police Department, said police officers in Texas and other states are working to internalize the idea that trauma can impact a victim's ability to recall information.

Someone who's trying to explain what happened during a sexual assault may appear to be lying, she said, and officers may instinctively slip into interrogation mode.

Police also stopped asking the victims to sign forms declaring that they wouldn't commit perjury — a step that can make a traumatized person feel under investigation.

"Removing barriers like sworn statements was big," Donegan said. "But I need to be clear — law enforcement still has a long way to go."

In January, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called for a sustained effort to fix the way authorities handle rape investigations, releasing new guidelines that urged officers to address their misconceptions.

"Acting on stereotypes about why women ... are sexually assaulted, or about how a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault should look or behave," the document states, "can constitute unlawful discrimination and profoundly undermine an effective response to these crimes."

Judge refuses to toss assault case against Cosby

NORRISTOWN, Pa. — After a two-day hearing, a judge refused to throw out the sexual assault case against Bill Cosby on Wednesday, sweeping aside claims that a previous district attorney had granted the comedian immunity from prosecution a decade ago.

The case now moves to a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to try the Cosby on charges that he drugged and violated a former Temple University athletic department employee at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

While more than 50 women have accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them since the 1960s, the statute of limitations for prosecuting him has run out in nearly every instance. This is the only case in which he has been charged.— The Associated Press

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.