Is Truck Driver a Serial Rapist Or a Falsely Accused Suspect?

A Memphis man has been linked to rapes of 11 women in four states over more than a decade. A jury acquitted him, but he is in jail awaiting another trial.

In 2008, DNA evidence identified a Memphis truck driver as a suspect in the rape of a woman in Kalamazoo, Mi. Women in Virginia and Missouri also accused Kelly of rape. He denies the charges. All three women were poor, black and vulnerable, characteristics that make them more likely to be raped and less likely to be believed, reports the Lansing, Mi., State Journal. A jury found Kelly not guilty in the Michigan case in 2017.

The prosecutor could not tell jurors that 11 women in four states over three decades who told police that they’d been raped, with the ensuing investigations leading to Kelly. Kelly either is a man who has repeatedly been falsely accused, or he is a serial rapist. The State Journal describes how the various cases against Kelly evolved and did not lead to convictions. In May, a Tennessee grand jury indicted him on rape and kidnapping charges. Kelly, 61, is in jail in Memphis awaiting trial once again.


States Allow Sex-Trafficking Victims to Erase Records

Some 42 states and the District of Columbia have followed New York’s lead and offered the sealing or expungement of sex-trafficking victims’ criminal records.

A woman was working in a new job when her boss showed her a stack of papers, asking, “What’s this?” It was her criminal record, but she didn’t know how to explain that prostitution arrests happened because she had been forced by a trafficker. The single mother of a 3-year-old had to start the job hunt all over again, the Christian Science Monitor reports. She had been labeled a prostitute and a criminal by a system that hadn’t recognized how young she was and how she was being manipulated. “To have that record on the books, it’s like a lifetime of stigma,” says Meredith Dank of the Exploitation and Resiliency Project at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Survivors can’t get a license for nursing or social work, for instance, unless they “go in front of a committee and explain,… which is incredibly traumatizing.”

There has been a paradigm shift in the understanding of human trafficking. As survivors have spoken out about the coercion that traffickers employ, most states have passed laws that give minors “safe harbor” from criminal prosecution for prostitution. Advocates saw signs of progress in Monday’s decision by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to commute the life sentence of Cyntoia Brown, who was being trafficked as a teen and was convicted of murdering a man who had paid to use her for sex. Some minors are still prosecuted, and many trafficking survivors have been living in the shadow of their records for decades. That’s where “criminal-records relief” laws come in, offering a chance to erase unjust convictions. New York’s pioneering law offering the sealing or expungement of records has been in place since 2010. Some 42 states plus the District of Columbia have followed. Some laws provide for “vacatur,” a court’s acknowledgment that the person should not have been convicted.


Is a Registry for Juvenile Sex Offenders a Form of ‘Child Abuse’?

Thomas Arrowhead, now 38, was found guilty of a sodomy charge when he was 12 years old. But because he committed the offense before a 2014 Oregon law that allowed judges discretion in requiring juveniles to register as sex offenders, he will likely have to live with the label for the rest of his life.

Thomas Arrowwood has been on Oregon’s registered sex offender list for over two decades, for an offense committed when he was 12 years old.

Now 38, Arrowwood can’t take advantage of a 2014 law that allowed judges discretion to determine whether child sex offenders should remain on the sex offenders’ registry under the supervision of Oregon State Police, or be allowed to start over.

That’s because his offense—sodomy—was adjudicated before the law took effect, with the result that he appears destined to live with the “sex offender” label for the rest of his life.

“It’s worse than being a convicted felon,” said Arrowwood. “Any job I applied to when I got out, they said, ‘Oh, I see you’ve got a record, but I can’t see what happened because it’s a juvenile case, so it’s sealed; but you are a registered sex offender so ….’

“And that was that.”

He’s not alone. Hundreds of Oregon adults who committed their offenses as children before the law was enacted are caught in the same legal limbo, with little chance of escaping.

Some juvenile justice advocates say the practice of keeping child sex offenders on the sex offender registry illustrates serious shortcomings in the nationwide approach to individuals who committed such crimes as children, and amounts to a form of “child abuse.”

According to Nicole Pittman, vice president and director of the Center on Youth Registration Reform, children adjudicated for sex crimes and required to register as sex offenders are four times more likely to commit suicide and five times more likely to be approached by an adult for sex—even though national statistics suggest they only have a 2 percent rate of re-offending.

“Placing children on the registry has to stop because it’s child abuse,” Pittman said.

Oregon has 25,000 registered sex offenders, the highest number of sex offenders per capita in the nation. About 3,400 are registered for crimes committed as juveniles, about 11 percent of the total.

Before the law was changed, sex offenders had a small window of time in which they were eligible to apply for relief, a costly effort that can include hiring a lawyer, filing paperwork in court and attending hearings.

Juvenile sex offenders could apply no less than two years before and no more than five years after their adjudication, or they’d remain on the list forever.

“It was worded pretty poorly and strangely back then,” said Tim O’Donnell, Deputy District Attorney for Oregon’s Marion County. O’Donnell, who works in the county’s juvenile division, cautioned he spoke only for himself and not on behalf of the district attorney’s office.

Arrowwood said he missed that window because he didn’t know about it until it was too late.

“I’ve been registering for 18 years,” he said. “Now, I guess, they say I can never get off the list. I’ll be on it forever. I missed my opportunity, and I won’t ever be removed.”

But not everyone feels that he, or others, should be removed from the registry.

“I think oftentimes in our culture we spend a lot of time ruminating and thinking what happens to an offender and the impact that it has on them,” said BB Beltran, executive director for Sexual Assault Support Services of Oregon’s Lane County, where an estimated 187 offenders who committed crimes as children remain on the sex offenders’ registry.

“What we don’t think about is the impact it has on not just the individual survivors, but their partners and their families. … It’s a domino effect.”

Beltran added that while there is a lot of empathy or pity for a person who made a mistake as a juvenile, “I would like to see the same consideration for both sides.”

A 22-year-old Eugene man named Robert, who The Register-Guard is only identifying by his middle name because he is eligible for relief from registering in the coming months, said he hopes he will be granted a reprieve so he can garner a fresh start.

He was adjudicated for a first-degree sodomy charge at the age of 10.

“I will be the first person to say I don’t feel like anybody who would (sexually abuse) a kid, like they should know what is right and wrong, they deserve to be on that list,” he said.

“As a kid, though, we’re supposed to be in a new millennium, and I feel like there should be some other option out there than just throwing everyone under the bus and under the same label.”

“I am pretty sure that if (my case) was taken care of before I turned 18, or if it never would have happened, I would be in a house with my family, instead of living with my wife and child in a room at my mother-in-law’s house, sharing a room with my wife’s sister. I’ve lived with this label since I was 10 years old,” Robert said.

“I’d be in my own house. My boy would have his own bedroom, and I would be, well, different.”

Federal Requirements

Sex offenders have been federally required to register with local law enforcement agencies since 1994, when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was enacted.

The Act was named for an 11-year-old Minnesota boy who was kidnapped in 1989, molested and murdered.

Under the law, each state had discretion on what registration information was made public, but dissemination of that information was not required. Two years later, however, Congress amended the act in 1996 with the so-called Megan’s Law — which required law enforcement agencies to release information about registered sex offenders that the agencies deemed necessary in the interest of public safety.

In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act — named for the 6-year-old boy who was abducted and murdered in Florida in 1981 — further increased federal registration requirements by categorizing sex offenders into three tiers, with Tier 3 being the most severe and with the most requirements.

Tier 3 offenders are required to update their whereabouts every three months for life. Furthermore, failing to register or update information became a felony under the law.

However, Marcy Mistrett, chief executive officer of Campaign for Youth Justice, thinks the 2006 law does not do enough to protect children who have offended.

She sees legislation that the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed with certain tweaks to the Walsh Act as flawed, in that it doesn’t exclude child offenders from proposed increased sanctions.

While some of the proposed changes benefit juvenile offenders — including a reduction in the number of years juveniles would be required to register and exempting certain adults registered as sex offenders for crimes committed as juveniles from from disclosure — the bill has been packaged with other bills that unnecessarily increase sanctions around sex offenses in general and don’t exclude juveniles, Mistrett said.

“Our concern is that teens who are sexting could get caught up in (the new proposed laws). We are working to pull Adam Walsh from the rest of the package,” Mistrett said.

 Consequences of a Lifetime Label

There are real consequences for living with the label for the offender and the public.

A 22-year-old Eugene, Ore., man who asked to be identified by his middle name of James in order to keep his employment, which is a condition of his probation, was adjudicated for inappropriately touching and exposing himself to a family member at the age of 14.

“There is an outside impact of treating everyone with the ‘sex offender’ label the same,” said James, who can apply for relief in a year.

“They’re treating everyone as predatory, when I didn’t go out and attack someone. I was curious, and I broke rules that I didn’t know existed. I am deeply regretful of what I did to this day, but I can’t change that.”

Nationwide, more than 200,000 of the roughly 900,000 people currently listed on sex offender registries were added to those lists as children, some as young as 8 years old.

Dr. Elizabeth LeTourneau, a researcher and expert on child sexual abuse, testified to the Oregon Legislature in 2013 that the registration of juveniles “fails, in any way, to improve community safety.”

Among the evidence she cited were rates of re-offense for juvenile sex offenses, as measured by arrests, charges or convictions.

Those rates are very low across the country, whether or not youth are required to register, LeTourneau said, adding that “the vast majority — 88 percent to 98 percent, depending upon the study — of registered youth do not reoffend.”

But it does happen, which is why some authorities say even the relatively small number of individuals who re-offend is an argument for continued monitoring.

“I don’t think sex offenders can be fixed, period,” said Springfield, Ore., police sgt. Dave Lewis. “It’s strictly my opinion, but having worked my entire career around this, I don’t think sex offenders can be rehabbed.

“One of the only things we can do besides incarceration is to monitor them in some way. And any time someone repeats a sex offense, from a community safety standpoint, we’ve let the people down. I come at it from the side of the victims.

“They are stigmatized forever by what has happened to them. Why shouldn’t the perpetrator be stigmatized in some way?”

Chelsea Deffenbacher, a staff reporter for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., is a 2018 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow. This is a condensed and edited version of an article prepared as part of her fellowship project. The complete story, along with sidebars and videos, can be accessed here.


#MeToo Cited in NYC Rape-Report Increase

While other violent crimes in New York City like murder and assault decreased or remained relatively flat, reported rapes increased 22.4 percent to 1,795 in 2018, up from 1,467 from 2017. “Historic underreporting is finally being addressed,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

About 300 more people reported they were raped last year in New York City than the previous year, a sharp increase that officials theorize was prompted in part by the #MeToo movement, the New York Times reports. While other violent crimes like murder and assault decreased or remained relatively flat, reported rapes increased 22.4 percent to 1,795 in 2018, up from 1,467 from 2017. A broader category of sex crimes that includes groping and forcible touching jumped 8.4 percent to 3,873 in 2018, from 3,573 in 2017. Reported rapes have risen for 16 consecutive months since last fall, when allegations of sexual misconduct against movie producer Harvey Weinstein ignited a global reckoning about sexual harassment and assault, especially in the workplace.

Maureen Curtis of Safe Horizon, a nonprofit that places crime victim advocates at the city’s police precincts and handles local calls from the national rape crisis hotline, said the environment has made victims feel more comfortable discussing assaults. “They’re feeling more believed,” she said. “There’s more compassion and there’s less blaming around the person who has been victimized.” In the annual crime victimization survey released last month, the Justice Department reported that 40 percent of those who said they were sexually assaulted in 2017 said they reported the attacks to the police, up from 23 percent in 2016. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the numbers appear to reflect a cultural shift in attitudes about sex crimes. “Historic underreporting,” he said, “is finally being addressed.” He added, “I think the #MeToo movement is a part of it, and a number of other things. Messages are being sent by government. Messages are being sent by media, by advocates, helping victims — survivors — to know that they should come forward, that it’s important, that they’ll be protected, they’ll be supported.” The increase in reported rapes was driven largely by people coming forward about attacks involving domestic partners and acquaintances rather than strangers.


Spacey Appears in Nantucket Court on Sex Charge

A judge denied actor Kevin Spacey’s request not to be required to appear in court Monday in Nantucket, Ma., on a charge that he sexually assaulted a teenage man in 2016. Spacey complained about “negative publicity” about the case.

Kevin Spacey stood in a Massachusetts courtroom Monday to face a sex-crime charge that he groped a teenage busboy in a bar on Nantucket Island in 2016, USA Today reports. He did not enter his expected plea of not guilty but the judge set his next court date for March 4. But first Spacey faced a massive media scrum of cameras of the sort he’s been avoiding for more than a year, both coming into and leaving the courthouse.

The two-time Oscar-winning actor has said in court documents he would plead not guilty to a charge of felony indecent assault and battery. He arrived in the tiny courtroom jammed with media people, wearing a suit and tie and sweater vest, looking tired and unsmiling. He said nothing.

The felony charge stems from an incident in 2016, when the “House of Cards” actor allegedly stuck his hands down an 18-year-old’s pants, grabbing his genitals, after buying him drinks at a restaurant. The young man’s mother, former Boston television news anchor Heather Unruh, made the allegations against  Spacey in late 2017. Authorities issued a criminal complaint in December.

A judge denied the 59-year-old’s request to skip appearing in person at Monday’s arraignment on the Massachusetts island. Spacey in a court filing said he believed “that my presence will amplify the negative publicity already generated in connection with this case,”  the Wall Street Journal reports. 

The actor also said he wished to enter a plea of not guilty. Spacey released a video on YouTube after the charge was announced in which he appeared to be portraying his “House of Cards” character, Frank Underwood.

He asks viewers not to rush to judgment, saying, “you’re smarter than that.” Unruh acknowledged her son wasn’t of legal drinking age, but said he was intoxicated after Spacey allegedly bought him several drinks and assaulted him without consent. “The victim, my son, was a star struck, straight, 18-year-old young man who had no idea that the famous actor was an alleged sexual predator,” she said.

Netflix Inc. and “House of Cards” producer Media Rights Capital cut ties with  Spacey in fall 2017 over sexual-assault and harassment accusations against him.


Austin Cops Wrongly Cleared Sex Cases, Audit Says

An independent audit found evidence that Austin police investigators improperly classified some sexual assault cases as cleared, including more than two dozen cases in three months of 2017. The errors were announced on New Years Eve, which a critic called “a disgraceful, punk move.”

An independent audit found evidence that Austin police investigators improperly classified some sexual assault cases as cleared, including more than two dozen cases in three months of 2017, reports the Austin American-Statesman.

The reasons for the errors were not immediately clear.

Police Chief Brian Manley said the findings are preliminary and that he’s eager to see the full report next week to determine what went wrong. “But we’re not going to wait for that final report before making some changes and before making some improvements,” he said.

The police department asked the Texas Department of Public Safety for the audit after ProPublica interviewed former Austin police Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan, who said she was pressured to classify sexual assault cases as “exceptionally cleared.”

The category is one of several that law enforcement agencies can use to report the status of their cases for the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. A case can be exceptionally cleared when a suspect dies, when prosecutors decline to bring charges or when a victim or survivor is not ready to speak with investigators.

The audit found 30 cases in January, November and December 2017 in which an exceptionally cleared case did not meet the FBI’s criteria.

Also, 15 reported rapes did not meet the definition for rape.

Donegan told ProPublica that a supervisor twice told her to change the clearance code of a suspended case to exceptionally cleared. Donegan said the clearance numbers used by Austin police give the city “a false sense that a case has been thoroughly investigated and closed.”

The Grits for Breakfast blog said Manley announced the audit results in the late afternoon on New Years Eve, “hoping it would get lost in the holiday media cycle. That’s a disgraceful, punk move. This is too serious an issue to play media games.”


Has MO Police Agency Improved on Rapes Since CNN Report?

Cable News Network aired a critical report on the Springfield, Mo., police department’s handling of rape cases. Police say they have improved but some victims dispute that.

In crimes like burglaries or larcenies, prosecutors often win cases without much stress on victims. Rape cases are different, including sexual assault exams,  interviews where strangers ask you to describe in painstaking detail the worst moment of your life and trials when a defense attorney tries to discredit you in open court. “Victims who come forward and talk about these things, they’re brave just to do it,” said Lt. Culley Wilson of the Springfield, Mo., Police Department, reports the Springfield News-Leader. “Because it’s not easy.” The city’s police department is trying to earn back the trust of victims after a CNN report  criticized the department’s handling of rape investigations. CNN said police had destroyed dozens of untested rape kits and given victims “decline to prosecute” forms.

Springfield police say they stopped using “decline to prosecute” forms after CNN started asking questions and except for two cases, rape kits have not been destroyed since 2014. The News-Leader interviewed police, the prosecutor, medical professionals and a victim advocate to learn what should happen after someone reports a rape. Some victims say best practices weren’t followed in their cases. One woman complained that police did not communicate with her about her case, the crime lab did not test all of the evidence in her rape kit and prosecutors were too willing to pass on the case. The father of a child sexual abuse victim accused a detective of being slow to act on his daughter’s case and telling the family to let the accused abuser, an immigrant, simply leave the U.S. Wilson said a recent policy change is to call sexual assault detectives in to work at all hours of the night to get started on cases. Two detectives who focus primarily on adult sexual assaults handle more than 100 cases a year.


Rape Clearance Rates Plunge Amid #MeToo Wave

The clearance rate for rape cases fell last year to its lowest point since at least the 1960. Blame lies in some combination of more reported cases, a willingness by police to investigate rather than reject reported crimes, and a lack of police resources to handle the workload.

What should be a watershed moment for holding assailants accountable has coincided with a troubling aspect of the #MeToo era: Police departments in the U.S. are becoming less and less likely to successfully close rape investigations, the Associated Press reports. The clearance rate for rape cases fell last year to its lowest point since at least the 1960s, according to FBI data provided to the AP. The question now is which factors deserve the most blame for unsolved cases. Among the leading explanations: a greater willingness by police to correctly classify rape cases and leave them open even when there is little hope of solving them, or a lack of sufficient resources to investigate cases at a time when more victims are trusting police enough to report assaults.

Police successfully closed just 32 percent of rape investigations nationwide in 2017, according to the data, ranking it second only to robbery as the least-solved violent crime. That statistic is down from about 62 percent in 1964, despite advances such as DNA testing. The clearance rate in rape cases dropped steadily in the 1960s, plateaued at nearly 50 percent through most of the 70s, 80s and 90s, then began a steady yearly decline that persisted through last year, according to the statistics collected by the FBI. In 2013, the FBI significantly broadened the definition of rape in its Uniform Crime Reporting system to include oral penetration and attacks on men. After the revision, the number of rapes counted in the system soared from an average of around 84,500 per year between 1995 and 2012, to nearly 126,400 in 2016. The clearance rate after the adjustment continued to tick down, falling from 38 percent to 32 percent. The number leapt again to 166,000 in 2017, a year when sexual assault got unprecedented national attention.


Texas Fund for Testing Rape Kits Goes Largely Unused

With an estimated 15,000-case backlog of untested rape kits, Texas lawmakers created a fund to pay for the tests using donations people can make when they renew their driver’s license. But only one jurisdiction bothered to apply for a share of the money.

A Texas law allowing people to donate a dollar or more to end the state’s staggering backlog of untested rape kits has generated more than $560,000 from about 200,000 donors. But between October and Dec. 11, when Gov. Greg Abbott’s office invited cities and counties to apply for a share of the money, all but one jurisdiction didn’t bother, the Dallas Morning News reports. Now the governor’s office is planning a new round of applications. John Wittman, Abbott’s spokesman, said the lack of applicants suggests that labs and law enforcement need more than short-term dollars to chip away at the backlog. “It’s a tough situation for a lot of these labs. They just don’t have the capacity to do it,” he said.

Officials estimate the number of untested rape kits at 15,000. Abbott has called clearing the rape kit backlog an administrative priority and will ask for $14 million in state revenue to be allocated toward clearing the tests over the next biennium. Earlier this year, he allocated $1 million to the University of North Texas Forensic Services Unit to process rape kits. The sole applicant for a piece of the drivers’ donations was Harris County. It asked for $104,000.


Despite #MeToo, Rape Cases Still Confound the Police

The clearance rate for rape cases fell last year to 32 percent, the lowest point since at least the 1960s, according to FBI data. Some experts attribute the falling clearance rate to an antiquated approach to investigation.

The #MeToo movement is empowering victims of sexual assault to speak up like never before, but U.S. police departments are becoming less likely to close rape investigations successfully, the Associated Press reports. The clearance rate for rape cases fell last year to its lowest point since at least the 1960s, according to FBI data. That nadir may be driven, at least in part, by a greater willingness by police to classify rape cases correctly and leave them open even when there is little hope of solving them. Experts say it also reflects the fact that not enough resources are devoted to investigating sexual assault at a time when more victims are entrusting police with their harrowing experiences.

Police successfully closed just 32 percent of rape investigations nationwide in 2017,  ranking it second only to robbery as the least-solved violent crime. That statistic is down from about 62 percent in 1964, despite advances such as DNA testing. The FBI provided The AP with a dataset of rape statistics back to the early 1960s, a table that includes more complete data than the bureau releases each fall. Some criminal justice experts attribute the falling clearance rate to an antiquated approach to investigation. “You’d figure with all the new technology — and the fact that the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assault know their attacker — the clearance rates would be a lot higher,” said Joseph Giacalone, a former New York City police sergeant now teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Sexual assault is one of the most confounding crimes police confront. Many investigations lack corroborating witnesses and physical evidence. Many complaints are reported months or years after the fact. Researchers believe only a third of rapes are reported at all. Historically, some detectives discouraged women from pursuing tough-to-prove charges against boyfriends, husbands or close acquaintances.