The XX Factor

Cleveland Turns Backlogged Rape Kits Into Stream of Indictments

Some of the many cases solved in the past few months

Courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The shocking case of Ariel Castro, who kidnapped three young women and held them for years as rape and torture objects, fascinated the nation when it broke last month. But Cleveland has had a problem with residents living in fear of sexual predators for a while now. As Phillip Morris of the Plain Dealer reported in April, the discovery of serial killer Anthony Sowell’s collection of corpses in 2009 created a climate of fear that only escalated as other serial rapists terrorized residents. Clevelanders have been repeatedly reminded of how many monsters live among us, attacking women under the radar, and understandably they are worried. 

But there is one item of good news: Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, has decided to go Eliot Ness on rapists. The Plain Dealer reports:

Cuyahoga County prosecutors and investigators are revisiting decades-old unsolved rape cases, using DNA evidence to connect serial rapes, tracking down victims and sending cases to grand juries for indictment—often racing against a 20-year statute of limitations.

The Plain Dealer rightfully takes credit for this, having turned the pressure up for years on authorities. Efforts escalated in 2011 at the request of Ohio’s Republican attorney general Mike DeWine, and the result has been a factory line of indictments, often against men who are accused of spending decades attacking women without facing any repercussions for it. Now the newspaper has created a clearinghouse page so readers can follow the stream of indictments since March, as well as other stories about the DNA testing, in one place. (The above screenshot is only part of the page—I couldn’t get the entire thing into one screen—but gives you an idea of how many cold cases are being turned into indictments with this move.)

Many of these indictments open up multiple cold cases at once, which is to be expected, as most rapists are serial rapists. Cleveland set aside about 3,000 untouched rape kits to be processed, which is a massive amount of work, but it’s hard to argue with results like this. Law enforcement nationwide has been responding to pressure to process their backlogged rape kits, often with mixed results due to poor handling of the kits in the first place. The relative success in Cleveland should serve as a reminder of how effective rape kits can be in getting justice for victims, but only if they’re handled properly and law enforcement bothers to use them.