Steve: Thanks for joining us. I’m Steve Hsu.
Corey: And I’m Corey Washington and we’re your host for Manifold. Our guest today is Doctor Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on violence against women and children with an emphasis on sexual assault and specifically understanding how contact with the legal and medical systems affect adult, adolescent, pediatric, victims’ psychological and physical health. More recently, she was the lead researcher on the National Institute of Justice funded project to study Detroit’s untested rape kits and this project will be our topic for today’s discussion. Welcome to Manifold, Professor Campbell.
Rebecca: Thanks, I’m happy to be here.
Corey: Let’s begin with a simple definition. What is a sexual assault or a “rape kit”?
Rebecca: Sure. A rape kit refers to the collection of forensic evidence from a victim’s body. The victim’s body in sexual assault is a crime scene. There’s all kinds of forensic evidence on, inside, the survivor’s body. Since about the 1970s, we’ve been recommending that sexual assault victims go to a hospital emergency department and have a healthcare professional collect that evidence. It could be a doctor. Now we have specially trained forensic nurses. They’re often called sexual assault nurse examiners and they do a head to toe assessment of the victim to detect any injuries, treat any injuries, to evaluate the risk of sexually transmitted infections. For female victims, they evaluate the risk of pregnancy and then if the victim wants, they can go head to toe and collect the forensic evidence, hair samples, fingernail scrapings, genital swaps to collect the forensic DNA evidence that’s been left behind by the perpetrator. All of that is boxed up in a kit and then the kit can be released to law enforcement as evidence of a reported crime.
Corey: And our topic today are untested kits, which it seems that there are a very large number. Can you give us an idea of how many untested kits there are in the US today?
Rebecca: Sure. What’s supposed to happen is is after the victim releases the kit to law enforcement, it’s supposed to be submitted to a forensic crime laboratory but what we’re discovering in jurisdictions all throughout the United States is that’s not what’s happening. Police take the kit and they put it in storage, they put it in the police department crime scene storage facility and it never goes to a forensic lab and trying to get an exact number on how many kits are untested in the US is pretty difficult because the tracking systems, the IT systems in most law enforcement agencies are pretty rudimentary.
Rebecca: We certainly found in Detroit, when we were trying to get our arms around this, I thought, “Oh, well this is going to be an IT query. We’re going to have this number in about 20 minutes.” We had the number in about six months, after a manual counting because there wasn’t a good IT system to figure out exactly what had come in, whether it had been tested. If you take the problem we had in Detroit and multiply it by all the law enforcement agencies throughout the US, that’s why it’s pretty hard to get an exact number. Best guess, 200 thousand, 400 thousand, somewhere in that ballpark is what we think may be sitting on shelves in law enforcement agencies throughout the US.
Steve: And I think Corey, to make you even more cynical about this, I think I read somewhere that in some states where they pass a law or they appropriate funds forcing the police to process some of these rape kits, they process the kit and then they don’t do anything with it because they just want to comply with what they’re supposed to do, so they process the kits and nothing else happens.
Rebecca: Yeah, that’s a real concern that we’re having right now, is it kind of goes back to how you define the problem. Is the problem that we’re not testing rape kits? In which case that kind of legislation, you can fix the problem, so to speak, by just turning in the kit and getting it tested. There, done, check. We’ve solved the problem but is the problem we’re trying to solve the criminal justice response to sexual assault, to truly test kits, investigate, hold perpetrators accountable and really improve public safety? If that’s your goal, then you have to not just test the kits, you have to do something with the results.
Corey: Yeah, there’s a large amount of money recently that was appropriated and actually paid out for this and we’re going to get in this later because there’s been a large difference in how jurisdictions have used that money.
Rebecca: That’s right.
Corey: Some have taken it and not done much with it. We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Let’s walk through how things should go, all right? A woman is assaulted, she goes to the police and then she goes to the emergency room, samples are taken, a kit is put together. It’s sent into a crime laboratory and what does that laboratory do with the kit?
Rebecca: Okay. What the lab does is they need to look at the documentation from the healthcare provider to figure out, what are the most probative samples? For example, if it is an oral penetration, then you need to go grab that oral swab. That’s going to be the one to test. If it’s a vaginal swab, whatever it may be. You have to read and really get your head around the case to understand what are the best samples and then this is where my disciplinary knowledge stops. They do their wonderful forensic science things with the samples and what the key thing they’re trying to do is separate the victim’s DNA from the perpetrator’s DNA and there’s many different methods for that and we actually had an opportunity to try a couple of different options for that but they’re trying to isolate the alleged perpetrator’s sample and if that sample meets the requirements for loading into the federal criminal database and again, this is where we get into some of the details of molecular diagnostics.
Rebecca: If it has a number of [inaudible 00:05:51] for the type of specimen. There’s very rigorous standards of what this sample needs to be and it needs to be from a purported crime, it needs to be the probable perpetrator of the crime. If all of that is there, then that sample, the DNA profile, can be uploaded into the CODIS system, which is the Combined DNA Index System, which is a national repository of DNA samples from crime scenes.
Corey: Now the CODIS database was created, I think at about 1998-
Corey: -as I recall and it has two parts to it, right?
Rebecca: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Corey: It has a kind of forensic side, which consists of basically unidentified specimens and it’s got an offender side, which consists of DNA samples that have been tied to particular people because maybe samples were connected either through sexual assault crime or I think some jurisdictions have laws, you can collect DNA from people if you just have been arrested for different kinds of crimes.
Rebecca: Right, the offender index are going to be samples where we know who the perpetrator is. Usually it’s going to be an arrest or a conviction. It’s sort of that’s the reference side. The forensic side is the stuff coming in from crime scenes, from sexual assault kits and the like. You’re uploading there and you’re trying to see, are you going to get matches or hits? And a hit can come in on the forensic side of the index and it might hit in the offender index saying, yep, this sample from this sexual assault kit matched to this other case that was also a sexual assault or from another sexual assault kit from another incident and then you get some information about the probable perpetrator’s identity. You could also get a kit on the forensic side, in which case, you may not know who the offender is but you’re building linkages and associations across cases. It has a lot of utility to police and prosecutors.
Corey: Let’s kind of go through these different types of cases and if you can, you actually discussed a couple of particular cases in some of your papers. Let’s go through a case where you have a hit of someone, say a woman’s been sexually assaulted, she doesn’t know who the perpetrator is, the kit is uploaded, this is kind of a classical case, an unknown person.
Rebecca: Sure, right.
Corey: What can you learn from testing that kit?
Rebecca: You can learn a couple of different things depending upon what the hit is, which side of CODIS it hits on. Let’s say in this scenario, this is a classic stranger perpetrated sexual assault. The victim has not been able to give the police any information about the identity, name of the offender. Maybe a description but nothing that’s really helping them identify who it is. It goes into CODIS on the forensic side. If that DNA sample hits to the offender index, to a reference sample over there, that offender’s identity is over on that other side because it came in through an arrest sample, a conviction sample, and you can go over to that sample and say, let’s find out who this is and I’m always reminded by my colleagues in law enforcement when I get really excited and I say, “We’ve solved the case,” and they’re like, “No, you haven’t solved anything. You have a promising investigational lead.” I’m like, “Okay, okay, we have a promising investigational lead,” but it’s identity, it’s a name and then they can follow up and do the investigation. That’s one thing that it can do.
Rebecca: The other thing is it may just … There may be no hit at all and we’re waiting and hoping, obviously hoping nobody else gets hurt but if somebody else does get hurt, that the sample might match to another case down the road and again, the police might be able to put the cases together, see if there’s common elements and that might help jumpstart an investigation.
Corey: This is one thing you emphasis is the possibility of identifying serial rapists.
Corey: In the study of Detroit, you identified a significant number of those cases. Do you recall exactly how many?
Rebecca: We’ve done two different studies in Detroit and it sort of depends whether you look at just cases hitting to other cases, meaning DNA to DNA and in that, it can be roughly 30%. When you pull in other information about perpetrators like their criminal histories and see if they have prior criminal sexual assault arrests or convictions, it’s about 40%. I think it’s reasonable to say about 30 to 40% of the offenders in Detroit had a other sexual assault case that was linked to them either by DNA or by a prior criminal arrest or charge or conviction.
Corey: Yeah, this is something else that struck me is I think you have a line in your paper, maybe you’re quoting someone else and saying that the people involved in sexual assaults are often involved in a lot of other crimes.
Rebecca: They are.
Corey: And so they’re stealing not just money or valuable stuff, they’re stealing sex, was I think the quote someone put in.
Rebecca: That was not my particular word but it is something that we see, is that they are … At least again, in Detroit, in an urban sample, and I think it really begs the question of what we will see in other jurisdictions throughout the US but in Detroit, they had pretty extensive criminal histories. Some of them might be specialized and they do more sexual assaults than other types of crimes. Some of them are committing a whole host of different types of crimes. This is one of many types. Again, it sort of begs the question, if we can start testing these kits and identifying these offenders, there really can be important benefits for public safety, not just in terms of preventing other sexual assaults but preventing other crimes.
Corey: It kind of changes a preconception, at least I think some people have of crimes that people specialize. This idea that some people, if they commit robberies, tend to only occur during the day, sometime only at night. It seems like that looks like, at least in this pool, is actually not the case.
Rebecca: No and that’s what we’re finding as we’re testing rape kits in Detroit and we’re seeing replication by other research teams in other jurisdictions. There’s a lot of different types of crime and the narrative of the specialization and this is what they do. It’s like, nah, they cross over into different types of crimes, they don’t specialize in particular types of victims. It’s really … It’s an interesting time where research is really challenging some preconceived and long standing beliefs in law enforcement about criminal profiling, specialization, and it can make for some interesting conversations at conferences of actually no, that’s not what we’re seeing.
Steve: I think it’s kind of been out of fashion to think that there’s any sense in which someone can have a predisposition toward criminality but it seems like, when you look at these people, they’re criminal in multiple ways, right? It may be that big data is going to reveal some aspect of this corner of human behavior that people aren’t particularly open to believing in.
Rebecca: Absolutely and I think what the DNA evidence does here is it brings a different type of data point into the equations that we’re working with because when you’re working with arrest data or charge data or conviction data, what you’re really modeling there are kind of two things. One is the behavior of the perpetrator but also the response of the system. Did they choose to make an arrest? Did they choose to charge? The DNA is … It’s just evidence. It’s not confirmatory in and of itself that the crime happened but it’s a different way of getting into and looking at the behavior of these folks and what types of crimes they’re connected to and that’s a really interesting data source to add into the mix.
Corey: It’s actually not just, I think, criminal justice professionals have this perception. One of my real long time memories from reading the autobiography of Malcolm X. It actually wasn’t written by Malcolm X, it was written by … Who’s the guy who wrote Roots?
Steve: Alex Haley.
Corey: Haley, yeah. Anyway, at some point he says that among people he knew, some people would break into houses during the day and you could not, if you held a gun to them, get them to do it at night and other people were exactly the opposite.
Corey: And I don’t know if he was just saying this because it was a good line or not but it just seems like it’s no longer right.
Rebecca: Yeah, again an interesting example of where, as we get better data, more diverse data sources to understand criminal behavior, it’s not quite panning out the way that the narrative would suggest.
Corey: Now let’s look at the other case, right? I think this common sense way you think this might not be useful to test but a case where a woman knows her attacker, there is a sample, and that just seems like, well why would you test it? Because you know who the person is and I think that’s a common attitude among regular people. It’s a common attitude among police who perhaps should know better. What did you find?
Rebecca: Absolutely. We heard that over and over again in Detroit and I’ve heard it in almost every jurisdiction I’ve been in in the United States that has large numbers of untested kits. There’s no point in testing the DNA in a kit of a non stranger sexual assault, so when the victim and offender knows each other and the victim has said, “This is the perpetrator.” In very resource strapped law enforcement agencies, they say, “Listen, we can’t test everything. This is the sample not to test because we already know who it might be.” Well what we found when we tested this and this was such an argument that we had in Detroit. I literally had to go to the mat with, “It’s science folks. Let’s just try science and even if you don’t like it, even if you don’t agree with me, humor me. Let’s science,” and they would say, “Okay, here we go. Science is coming to save the day,” and I’m kind of like, “Well, let’s just see what happens.”
Rebecca: We tested a sample of non stranger sexual assault kits and what we found was, when they were loaded into CODIS, they would hit to other sexual assault cases, some of which were stranger perpetrated and then the hit happens and it’s like, oh wait a minute, sort of reverse the flow and it’s like, wait a minute, now this file, the non stranger case, has provided the really probative informative sample, the promising investigational lead, to a stranger case or a simpler way to say it is, we might have solved a stranger rape by testing a non stranger sexual assault kit.
Steve: It might also change the prior of the detective who maybe didn’t believe the woman and thought it was consensual but then when they realized this guy was involved in a stranger rape, they might sort of shift their view of what’s going on.
Rebecca: It does shift it. It does start to build credibility and it’s also showing a pattern of repeat sexual offending and again, that’s also something that challenges their norm because it shifts from a he said, she said to then he said, she said, she said, she said, she said. These are lining up. We’re getting a lot of these hits happening.
Corey: I guess there’s a couple of things, it also kind of changes your conception of these offender profiles. The thought is, here’s this nice guy who I was sort of dating and we were together and this guy got out of control and raped me but he’s otherwise kind of a nice guy and that is my sense of how the officers seem to be thinking of these kind of known offender cases but this person is in fact a serial offender who just presents as a nice person to get into someone’s good graces and then rapes them.
Rebecca: Might be, yeah and again, that’s where the DNA and the data can help sort of challenge that narrative or maybe that was the case in one particular instance but maybe not in this one or this one or this one or this one or this one.
Corey: Now another use for this kind of evidence is actually exonerating people who are wrongly accused.
Rebecca: Absolutely. Absolutely. If a victim has named a suspect and identified them through a lineup and the DNA doesn’t match, wow. Then we’ve got a real problem and the DNA can be absolutely instrumental in exonerating folks who have been falsely accused, incorrectly identified through eyewitness testimony. Haven’t had that happen in Detroit but one is too many, so that’s another reason that we’ve been highlighting the importance of testing the kits is, there could be and there have been folks in prison or facing charges where the DNA evidence pretty clearly exonerates them. Again, for whatever side you look at this from, pretty good reasons to do this.
Corey: Yeah, the previous evidence in rape was pretty weak, right? You often have this kind of BS science like hair analysis where you look at something under a microscope and people would suggest you could actually identity an individual’s hair or some other kind of looser eyewitness criteria. Now, let’s begin to get into police reasoning about these kits, right, because the kit comes in, police have a choice to make and we understand that they’re resource limited-
Rebecca: That’s right.
Corey: The officers often said to you that, “Look, our staff has been cut progressively. We’ve got to make choices and not just in kits we want to test but just what cases we actually want to investigate in detail.” You found a couple of reasons why kits were not submitted to laboratories and what were the main ones?
Rebecca: One of course was resources. They could not put all of them into queue in the Detroit crime laboratory. There was absolutely no capacity but they also chose not to. They chose not to and they often did that because they had concerns, they would say, about victims’ credibility. We would unpack that and say, “Tell me more about what that might be,” and they would say, “Well she was clearly involved in prostitution.” “Okay, what makes you think that?” And they would sometimes cite things like, “Well she was on this street at this time of day,” like it was shorthand. Well of course that’s what it would be and in different styles of qualitative interviewing, sometimes you might push back and I would say, “Couldn’t somebody just be on that street at that time of day?” “Well no, of course not.” Okay or she was poor or she was black and it was like, “Well that’s a large proportion of the Detroit population right now,” and it really was fascinating to me that there didn’t seem to be any …
Rebecca: They didn’t have to have any evidence that this was a case of prostitution. They just had to sort of put that out there in the ether that it might have been and that was an organizationally accepted reason not to investigate a case, not to test a kit and I would sort of challenge it like, folks involved in sex work can be sexually assaulted. In fact, there’s pretty good data suggests that they’re targeted and they would say, “Those aren’t the victims that we can help.”
Steve: Now were they just sort of being practical in the sense that maybe they didn’t think they could win a case if the person, if most of the time she’s a prostitute but then on this one night, she was raped. Maybe they entirely believed that that happened but they just didn’t think they could win in court because of the situation?
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s called the downstream orientation. Everybody is sort of thinking, many many steps and actually, many years, down the road of what’s going to happen? 18, 24 months down the road and the police were very quick to say, “Hey, I know the prosecutor’s office isn’t going to take this case,” and they would often frame it as the kindest thing I can do for this person, even if I believe them is say, “Hey, listen. I don’t think this is going anywhere.” Survivors are like, “Hey, come on. What happened to me matters. This is a case that matters,” and it’s interesting, the prosecutors were very much saying, “Actually, no. We will take these cases. We are taking these cases,” and we had a little interesting tension there of saying, “You don’t take these cases.” “Yes we will.” “No you won’t.” “Yes you will,” but we do see a shift in the national narrative around prosecution now that we know a lot of offenders do target vulnerable folks, people of color, poor, people who might be engaged in sex work, folks who have disabilities, members of the LGBTQ plus communities, they are targeted and they may be harder to win but from a public safety perspective, they deserve as much justice as everybody else does.
Corey: I just asked, given that you found the prosecutors are often willing to take these cases, were police just unaware the prosecutors would take them or is this in fact just a pretext on the polices’ part?
Rebecca: I think that it was a little bit of both. I think there was definitely some pretext on this, an assumption, and I think that they had so many, at least in Detroit, so many detectives coming in and out of the sex crimes unit, they didn’t necessarily have the collegial relationships with the prosecutors. They didn’t have time to really work with a prosecutor and get the sense of, oh yeah, so and so, she’ll take a tough case. He’ll take a tough case or if I bring the case to them and make an argument for it, that they’ll truly listen. They just didn’t have that kind of collegiality there.
Steve: But I could also imagine a situation where the truth is the prosecutor wouldn’t take the case but they don’t want to admit that to some academic who’s talking to them-
Rebecca: It’s possible.
Steve: -and the cop is saying, “Yeah, yeah, the prosecutor is saying that she would do that but if I really bring it to her, she’s not going to do it,” and it’s a pretty complicated situation where everybody in this system, imperfect communication, everybody’s maybe even trying to do exactly the right thing but they have to kind of make decisions based on complex information. You could imagine lots of miscommunication in these situations.
Rebecca: Absolutely and we had a front line, front row seat for it unfolding as we were sitting there and then helping them unwind it in the past and try to rebuild it for the future.
Corey: It seems like this is another topic for potential research project, actually to see what the relationship is between cases submitted and whether a prosecutor is willing to take them.
Steve: At least from my vast knowledge of TV police procedurals-
Steve: This is apparently a big deal, the cops don’t want to bring the case that the prosecutor won’t pick up and et cetera and the prosecutor is always communicating to the cops, “Don’t come to me unless you have this, this, and this,” right?
Rebecca: Because they’re all working under an incredibly resourced system and they don’t want to sort of invest their time, effort, energy, investigative resources, jumping in lines, so to speak, at the forensic lab to say, “I need this kit tested. I know you have a thousand but I need you to do this one,” and then to do all of that, to bring it to the prosecutor and the prosecutor saying, “I’m not going to take this.” There’s been, in some jurisdictions, attempts to try to create a more collaborative approach where things are reviewed together. Data on that are suggest it may not work quite the way we hoped, where the prosecutors in those jurisdictions are like, “Yeah, no. We’re not taking this,” and it really, unfortunately, reinforced the narrative that the police had of, I’m not going to work a lot of these cases up because it’ll be wasted effort.
Corey: Now you had some pretty interesting findings about the effect of the age of the victim on credibility and who the police are going to believe. I’ll just give the summary and try to get your reaction, you found that victim ages 13 through 15 were more likely to have their kits submitted. Older victims, 16 and 17, not so much and then police are then, again, inclined to believe women who are 18 and older.
Rebecca: There’s this area, there’s this spot, in development where the police are highly suspicious of an allegation of sexual assault because it’s, in their mind, a time where people might be engaging in behavior their parents might not want them to know or their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunties, may not want them to know and they are making an allegation of sexual assault to try to cover up for the fact that they were “dating” an older guy, that they were at a party, that they were drinking, that they were doing those things. It varies exactly where the age bracket is study to study but the general effect we see replicated across many research teams of, there’s a point in adolescence where the police are like, I think this is something else and you are covering this up as opposed to younger victims that they often would find more credible and then once they’re into an adulthood, then they’re again, might be seen as more credible.
Corey: This reminds me actually of something I heard a lot about growing up as a child where we’re consistently told that you’d find black men historically accused of raping white women when they’re in fact consensual relationships and the woman gets caught or she gets pregnant and to cover it up, makes an accusation of rape.
Rebecca: Exactly, exactly.
Corey: Your next result was actually really surprising to me. You found that non white victims were more likely to have their rape kits tested.
Rebecca: It depends on what jurisdiction you study that in and I think that as the data come in from other jurisdictions, there’s no effect of race or we can see that it’s white women where it’s more likely. I sort of look at my research now from a stronger intersectional point of view, of really trying to understand not just the race, gender, age and social class at the same time. Even I bracket that finding and say, you know what? I want another crack at that in future research to try to drill a little deeper because it’s not just the race, per se. It’s everything that it’s intersecting with and how they’re reviewing the overall credibility of the survivor. That, I think, is the key.
Corey: And you actually bring up another factor when you discuss that finding which is, it’s not just race of the victim, it’s presumed race of the offender and that may drive things. I think it’s just really obvious that people assess others on multiple dimensions. If you look at a lot of the bias reported against black people in America, it’s very clear it has a very strong class component to it, right?
Steve: Probably gender too.
Corey: Gender to, yeah. Absolutely, yeah and even size. Years ago I had this very good friend of my dad’s, in fact his roommate and graduate school and I remember him telling me he had left the United States because he couldn’t get a job. He was a physicist and he said that he had many more problems in the US with white people than my dad because he was just much bigger and the guy was like 6’2 or so-
Steve: Yeah, more threatening.
Corey: Much greater reaction than my dad, who’s 5’9. You also found that victims of gang rapes were less likely to have their kids tested and that’s a little bit of a surprise because-
Rebecca: It goes back to an issue that we’ve documented across a couple of studies is that law enforcement haven’t had good training on forensics and what forensic science can do. To their mind, there was no point in testing this because they thought, “Well, there’s multiple samples here. There’s no way they’re going to be able to do anything with this.” When I’ve presented at American Academy of Forensic Science, they literally throw their hands and the air and like, that’s exactly what we’re here for. We can do this. Our science has advanced to this. There’s a real disconnect between the disciplines of law enforcement criminal justice and forensic science and really educating them on actually, we can do this. We do know how to do this. There is utility. Yes, it might be harder but this is actually where we can probably be tremendously helpful to you in identifying the different suspects in a suspected gang rape.
Corey: Yeah, we probably won’t get into it but you described some changes in technology over the past couple of years that allow them to easily separate female samples and actually get more precise sense of male samples and distinguish multiple samples.
Rebecca: And one of the things I really like that we’re able to do in our work in Detroit was to try some of these different methods that are used in the forensic sciences for separating male and female DNA and one of the issues always of trying to get a new testing method up and running in use and practice in forensic science is that it has to be tested and validated on real samples, real crime samples. You can’t just have somebody coming into the lab and providing a sample, it actually has to come from crime scene and I remember a very vivid meeting of our folks from the forensic laboratories here in Michigan and the Detroit, the Wayne County prosecutor, of them really having a really good dialogue about, we can’t try new methods, we can’t get better, faster ways of doing this unless we can try it on real cases and the prosecutor is saying, “I’m not real thrilled about trying a new method on my actual cases,” but it was a really …
Rebecca: It was a great interdisciplinary dialogue of them just sort of staying at the table and talking it through to say, “This isn’t some half baked idea. We have lots of good bench science that suggests this is going to be good. Please, let us try it on some cases,” and they did and it was.
Corey: Why can’t you just use people doing medical science, run both kinds of tests on it? Run a traditional test, run the new test?
Steve: You might have limited sample, I don’t know if that’s an issue but …
Rebecca: It can be in a rape kit, yeah.
Corey: I mean I’d be surprised if you can’t amplify samples these days using pretty sophisticated PCR techniques.
Corey: There is noise. [inaudible 00:30:43] noise but you can also do that outside the laboratory and try to check how much noise you get from things. I guess this comes back, the last finding comes back to kind of the conventional picture of what a rape is and police are more often to submit cases where there’s physical violence. Is that because they sort of sense if there’s not physical violence, it might in fact just be a consensual case?
Rebecca: They think it might be consensual and they also, again, that downstream orientation. They are, at this moment, projecting 18 months, two years down the road to say, in court, what is going to be compelling to a judge and a jury and they think that what’s going to be most compelling is that physical evidence of injury and physical violence and a weapon and they think that again, they’re going to have a better chance of a charge, a conviction, a sentence, if it fits that narrative and that stereotype but we know that perpetrators don’t always need to use physical violence. They can use alcohol, drugs, to incapacitate, they can use power, control in their hierarchical power controlled relationship over somebody else. They can just scare the bejeebies out of somebody-
Corey: They just threaten they’ll kill you.
Rebecca: Exactly, there’s so many ways. Again, it’s kind of one of those situations of like, the science and what they’re beliefs are aren’t matching up.
Steve: Yeah, it would be interesting to know whether the beliefs of the police and prosecutors about success rates condition on some aspect of a case are accurate. I mean their incentivized to know, right? To be studying the system but they still might have the wrong perceptions.
Corey: Well they’re incentivized to close cases in part. I’m not sure they’re actually confronted with data and evaluated on that basis.
Steve: But if you have to allocate your energies across some portfolio of cases, you’re incentivized to know which ones you’re likely to be able to close, if you’re trying to close cases.
Corey: They can close cases as it turns out in ways that don’t involve investigation.
Steve: Oh I see, close meaning not win a conviction, just end. [crosstalk 00:32:35]
Corey: Exactly and this kind of brings us to our next issue which is cooperativeness. Look, it’s obvious that you can’t … At least it’s very difficult to bring criminal case if the witness isn’t cooperating but [inaudible 00:32:46] cooperation seems pretty elastic-
Rebecca: It’s very elastic.
Corey: -and subject to interpretation. How do police assess whether a victim is cooperating?
Rebecca: When I do training with police, they often tell me, “Oh I wasn’t able to take this case. The victim wasn’t cooperative,” and I say, “Well take me through what happened,” and they say, “Well I start the interview by reminding her that she could be criminally prosecuted if any statement she makes is inaccurate or ever found to be incorrect-“
Rebecca: Yes, so that’s how they start the conversation. They kind of go through this whole scenario of, “Well first I tell them I might throw them in jail and then I question their credibility and then I accuse them of prostitution,” and I say, “So did she become not cooperative before or after you called her a whore?” And it’s kind of a damper in that moment in the training and there’s always the nervous laughter of like … and I’m like, “There’s your answer right there.” They can make someone uncooperative and if they come at them in a very blaming way and very harsh and threatening them and saying I don’t believe them, you can make somebody walk out that door and from the survivor’s point of view, they’re like, “I’m just trying to stay alive, literally. I’m just trying to get through my day. You don’t believe me, this is going to be a tremendous cost to me physically, emotionally, financially, nevermind.”
Rebecca: The whole idea that the victim wasn’t cooperative, I think we have to kind of bracket that and say, “What happened right before you made that assessment or did you even really engage with them?” Again, what we saw in Detroit was it was something they could put in a report that was no questions asked, it’s like, just make an illusion to the fact that she’s not cooperative, even if you had no contact with her. It was an organizationally acceptable reason not to investigate, not to do testing of the kit.
Corey: And even beyond that a little bit, it seemed you had a case where the police would say, make a phone call and maybe that phone call is not returned and that qualified as being uncooperative?
Rebecca: Absolutely. Yeah. I called, she didn’t return my call. If you didn’t have a phone number but had an address, went to the house, you put your business card in the door. Again, think about this. In Detroit, you go to the house, you put the business card of the detective’s name in the door and it says, call me. Well you know what? They might not do that for a whole host of reasons but that was, again, enough reason to say, “We’re not doing this,” and they really talked about sort of shifting the onus onto the survivor, that if she or he, in the case of male survivors, if they really want it, they’ll call me back. They’ll really get their hand in the air. They’ll be coming down to the precinct, they’ll be calling me back, they’ll let me know that they really want to do this and if they didn’t do that, then they’re like, “Well nevermind then.”
Steve: Could be rational on their part though because if it’s …
Corey: On who’s part?
Steve: The police officer because if it’s … If their goal is to not close as in get the case off their desk but convict as many criminals as possible and they sense that this witness is not that gung-ho, that they’re going to last through this whole process, which is, I’m sure, very difficult, they might just say, “Well that’s not one we’re likely to succeed on. Let’s focus on one where the witness is clearly really gung-ho to try to get the guy convicted.” Again, I don’t want to be the defender of these cops but even if they have the best motivation, you could imagine a lot of these kinds of behaviors arising.
Corey: Yeah, it seems like the threshold is a little bit low, even if that’s their motivation, right, a single unreturned phone call.
Steve: No, that’s true but you’re kind of testing their judgment. Were they just kind of looking for a way to get off the case, off that particular case? Or were they legitimately convinced that, “Okay, now I think the probability is much less that we’re going to succeed, given that she’s not in contact with me.”
Corey: I mean just the nature of the crime, right, should make you believe that someone might be a little bit traumatized and thus require at least a little bit of encouragement. I assume there may be some victims who are incredibly gung-ho but maybe you have a sense of the distribution of victims, right? How many victims do you think are going to be aggressively pushing for the case, how many kind of would be willing to bring a case to the police if they’re interested, I mean clearly there’s a range of-
Rebecca: There’s a range and it’s a great question, it’s a great research question and it’s really hard to get an answer to it because it’s like, okay, I need to find a sample of survivors who engaged with the police and by the nature of this question, might not have had a great experience with the case. Then how do I get them to participate in a research study when their trust has already been broken and they’re traumatized? One of the things we try to focus on in training law enforcement is of this trauma informed approach, of really helping them understand what trauma means and maybe they’re not calling you back because given where they’re at in their trauma, they’re not getting out of bed. We also have to look at it in the context of the community. At the time that these kits were accumulating in Detroit, the Detroit Police Department was under federal consent decree for use of violence against it’s citizens.
Rebecca: There’s a broader community context here of the extent to which it feels safe to do this. The other piece that I think is a good lever for change here is partnerships with victim advocates. It doesn’t always have to be the police by themselves. How can we bring in advocates to support survivors? That maybe with a little help, a little support, they actually are in a place where they can do this or we can get them to a place where they can, you’re quite right, sustain a very long, very challenging, very difficult process but without help, how are they going to do that?
Corey: I assume these organizations exist in many jurisdictions in the US, perhaps wealthier ones. Are there such organizations in Detroit to help women out?
Rebecca: Now there are but the bulk of the time that these kits were accumulating, no. They did have a victim advocacy program within their police department, again, stretched very very thin but also, part of that organization, not somebody outside the organization that can kind of rattle the chains a little bit and say, “Wait a minute, what are you doing here?” In terms of an advocacy presence outside of law enforcement, they had one person, one advocate on average. One community based advocate is not going to be able to radically shift this tide and that’s certainly what we found there but we are trying to move communities to having more advocates and that’s certainly the case now in Detroit, where we have community based advocates, the advocates working in the system, really trying to approach this in a very different way.
Corey: Yeah, this kind of thing is standard on college campuses these days it seems and maybe other places. I guess I’m not surprised to find that it doesn’t exist in kind of under resourced-
Rebecca: It’s a class issue. It’s a class issue, a gender issue, a race issue. It’s a very intersectional problem.
Corey: It’s funny, this kind of casts a more nuanced light in the general picture that criminal prosecution is something that the state carries out, regardless of the victim. We’re just doing it for justice, for everyone’s safety overall. It seems, in actual fact, you need to have … The kit has to be pushed in some degree by people outside the system. The states may not do it on it’s own, maybe in a murder case but even then, maybe not without people pushing for it. It’s actually, you have to kind of own your own case if you’re a victim, a little bit.
Rebecca: And that’s a pretty tough ask and a pretty big responsibility we’ve put on somebody who’s just been horribly traumatized and that’s why we need our colleagues from social work, we need them … the advocates to be that person, to intervene and to understand the system. The criminal justice system doesn’t make itself easily understood. It helps to have somebody who knows the system, knows the steps to say, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, this was supposed to move from point A to point B. It hasn’t. Where is it literally, physically, how do we move it from point A to point B? Wait a minute, why is it stalled here? Who’s desk does it sit on?” The more you understand the inner workings of the system, you know the questions to ask and that’s where the advocates can be instrumental.
Steve: Such a tough situation though. I mean imagine, Corey, that your sister or your cousin was sexually assaulted and she was a little bit reluctant because her first encounters with the justice system were very rough and thought, “Wow, to pursue this all the way through trial, it could take a year, a lot of my life, I want to move on, I don’t want to be dwelling on this. What’s the defense attorney going to say to be in court?” You might say to your sister or cousin, “Hey, let it go. I mean we want you to recover and get past this. You go the rest of your life to live, do you really want to invest a year of your life in this?” And so even from her, just the sense of her wellbeing, you might advise her, “Don’t go through this process,” right? And how do you fix that because you also don’t want wrongful convictions, so you want a rigorous process, right?
Corey: I guess in light of this discission, what I would encourage for her to do now is … She may not want to go through it but have her kit tested because it may turn out that this guy is a serial rapist and-
Steve: Sure. Yeah, I meant further … Not just the kit thing but I’m curious if you survey a bunch of detectives, how often they see it as, I and my team invested a ton of effort into this and then the witness basically just opted out at some point and said they didn’t want to continue with it and we felt like, “Wow, this was a waste of everybody’s resources. Now we’re going to test every witness very carefully at the beginning and be really confident that they’re going to be there for us through this long process before we start.” Is that an attitude that a lot of these detectives have?
Rebecca: They do and some of them can point to a specific case but what’s interesting to me is independent of whether there’s a specific case they had, it’s part of the lore. It’s part of the organizational narrative and again, it becomes one of those things that you can make reference to that is unquestioned and accepted of like, “Oh, well that’s why we’re not going to do this,” is because that one time that they can give you no detail about but that one time, that’s what happened.
Steve: Yeah, it totally goes back to whether they’re accurately perceiving reality or they’re just relying on some folk stories that are in their community and-
Corey: And they also seem inclined in a certain direction and just need a little bit of push to move in that direction, right? One [inaudible 00:43:08] case-
Steve: They would love for that to be a good justification for what they were going to do anyway.
Rebecca: One of the things I try to talk with police about is, we don’t have to make all these decisions right now, right now, in this very moment, in the first 24 hours after an assault, 36 hours, 48 hours, to really try to, again, that telescoping out over that full long range and asking survivors right here, “Yes or no, are you in or are you out?” It’s like, “Slow this down a little bit,” and I know, that sounds counter intuitive because the criminal justice system is painfully slow but it’s fascinating to me how quickly they put victims on the spot to make a decision, yes or no right now. It’s like, how do we get them connected to advocates, get them some social support, get some family support … They may make the decision, “I don’t want to do this.” You’re quite right, Steve. They may say, “I can’t do this,” but the number one reason why survivors do report is they don’t want this to happen to somebody else.
Steve: Exactly. I mean that’s the real reason why you might encourage your sister or relative to, hey, get this guy off the street so he doesn’t do it again but then on the other hand it’s like, it’s your sister that’s going to endure a year of trauma over this, right? In the scheme of things, it seems like $400 or $1,000 to test a rape kit isn’t really even that much money. Maybe equivalent to some hours of detective time or attorney time. It seems like that can’t be the major cost of pursuing the case, right?
Rebecca: It’s not and it’s a great return on investment.
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Rebecca: And we see economists now kind of coming into this space on untested rape kits and we were fortunate that we had a colleague out at Stanford, sort of look at some of our data from Detroit and other economists looking at data from other cities is like, this is a heck of a return on the investment in terms of what it gives you for what it costs to actually test the kits.
Steve: Yeah, I think that study needs to be shown to more policy people and governors and mayors and such. I mean the ROI, I think, that this person, an economist, I think at Stanford Business School maybe, found was just unbelievable for conditional on testing the kit. You get somebody off the street and they’re likely to be a multiple offender and et cetera, et cetera. The payoff is just enormous.
Corey: You’ve got another line in one of your articles, I think it was someone, not an economist, but someone in criminal justice who said, “We had never solved so many crimes so easily by testing these kits.”
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Corey: It’s an unbelievable trove of evidences that’s not used.
Steve: And it’s going to get much better.
Rebecca: Because CODIS is cumulative. As we add more and more samples, the probability necessarily increases, that we’re going to keep getting more and more hits and matches. Populating CODIS has some real long term benefits.
Corey: One question just occurred to me, have you found results similar to what may have been found in other cases … You’ve got this new case of murder where you kind of have some particular person you have a suspect on and you don’t quite know who this person is but you got some information and you kind of use relatives’ information to try to identify this person. You may not have an actual hit from this person but you have the DNA. Their cousin is in a genetic database and you sort of triangulate. Have those cases occurred in rape yet?
Rebecca: They’re starting to. It’s not been something that I’ve done in my particular research but at the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative meeting just a few months ago, big topic of conversation of what is the current technology on that? How reliable is it? How might we be able to use that in sexual assault cases?
Corey: I guess we should step back, the kind of index case for this was the golden state serial-
Corey: Murder case.
Steve: I think in the context of these famous cold cases, often serial killers, there are a large number of these cases getting solved. For a while, it seemed to be like one a month and now it’s probably like so many that they’re not reporting all of them in the newspaper and I think the real issue there is there are enough Americans that have done, just for ancestry type purposes, inexpensive DNA array testing that if you really wanted to solve the case and you had a decent DNA sample, so you actually did some level of sequencing somewhat beyond CODIS markers but some level of sequencing, even low coverage sequencing, of the sample, you’re almost guaranteed to find something like a second cousin in the existing databases and so if you really want to solve a crime, you can narrow it down to like 100 people right away.
Corey: Well the complexity is that a lot of these database, like 23andMe, have requirements they not be used by law enforcement-
Steve: Well this has not been tested legally, so this is an extremely interesting question, which I think is going to be tested legally in the near future.
Corey: But they’re currently used in primarily one database, which is more or less open source and is pretty explicit in the fact that they will allow the sample to shared.
Steve: Full disclosure, I’m on the board of a company that is working on this kind of technology. There was an open source database that was used a lot for this. There was a commercial company called Family Tree DNA that was in the kind of ancestry space, it’s one of the smaller ones. They have maybe a million people in their data set and they cooperate with FBI and law enforcement. The big question is to what extent ancestry and 23andMe, which combined have about 30 million people, that’s like 10% of the US population in their data. As far as I can tell, there is no legal grounds on which they can resist a court order for a criminal investigation and so far, one has not been brought. There have been requests to those companies from law enforcement, but so far short of an actual court order.
Steve: In other words, if a judge in Iowa says, “Okay, I think this is really central to the case, I’m issuing a court order that 23andMe allow this match.” The match is just a little piece of code, which runs through their data set. It’s not really invading anybody’s privacy-
Corey: That’s a real question.
Steve: Well, if no match is found, for sure nobody’s privacy is invaded because you can’t say the algorithm was looking at you, right? The algorithm was-
Corey: But you matched. See, this is splitting hairs.
Steve: Right, once you find the match, then the question is, okay, the person who’s going to then be contacted by law enforcement over the match, their privacy is in question but that’s very similar to a situation where there’s a photograph of the crime scene and you see some guy in the background, oh that guy might be a witness. Who is that guy? And you look them up and go and find them. Did you invade that person’s privacy in pursuit of justice? In a way you did, right?
Corey: Well if someone has a photograph in some sort of … If it’s a newspaper, that is essentially putting your own information in the public domain.
Steve: How about from a security camera?
Corey: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. I mean there’s different cases, right?
Steve: Yeah, I mean all these things … Of course it’s especially scary and weird because it’s your DNA or your cousin’s DNA but the tradition that in order to solve a case, the police are allowed to pursue clues, is pretty well established, right?
Corey: Well but there are limits on evidence that should be accessible and available for trial. We don’t allow unlimited collection of data, Steve, right? There’s always been limits and the question is, where are you going to draw those boundaries in this case?
Steve: Right, that’s open. That law has not been tested yet.
Corey: One thing that, again, surprised me and this comes back a little bit to police education is, their view of DNA. They seem to see it as something that’s not actually integral to the investigation. It’s more of like … It’s kind of confirmatory, the icing on the cake, you know? You have a suspect, you want to nail it down and that was really puzzling because that suggested something has not been communicated about progress in the functioning of the database and the quality of the tests. How did that come about that police seem to have this attitude?
Rebecca: That was surprising to me too. They would say, “Oh well we didn’t test this kit because we didn’t have a suspect and I’m like gripping the table like, “Well that’s one way you can get a suspect,” but again, I’m like, “Tell me more about that,” in this open ended style of interviewing and it was really fascinating to sort of walk this back that because when DNA testing first became available for law enforcement, it was such a scarce resource. It was incredibly expensive, it was incredibly time consuming and again, the norm, the culture was, this is not something that we can do all the time. This is only for certain cases and it wasn’t even just the credible cases, it was the ones that were going to court and it really was that confirmatory check in court to assure the judge and jury, we have the right person.
Rebecca: Because of the tremendous resource constraints that this was such a precious precious thing that could only be used on a couple of cases, the ones going to trial, that sort of colored the whole perception on what it’s utility was and then we look at it now in 2019 and say, well this has tremendous investigation utility to you. That wasn’t how they were trained, it wasn’t how they viewed it, it wasn’t what they were taught, it wasn’t part of their narrative.
Corey: This is puzzling. It’s not how their trained. The training has clearly lagged behind by a decade or more-
Corey: And plus in the back of this conversation, I’m kind of wondering what effect your discussions have had on the police as far as their practices go but I’m curious as to how that’s possible, right? How training could be so far behind and do you think actually that you may have had an effect on police practice by having these conversations?
Steve: I hate to interrupt, Corey, but you know the standard stories that for a medical innovation, which saves lives and you’re trying to get highly trained, highly educated doctors to use the medical innovation, the time scale is like 17 years between when the laboratory breakthrough is made and when it is actually used in widespread medical practice. The cops are not that much worse than the docs, even in the case of DNA, actually in case of their level of understanding of what’s possible and their application of the technology.
Corey: Well this is a little bit worse because it’s not just the practice, it seems like the … Doctors may be training on new medical procedure but that statement you made, says it’s actually not taking up into practice. Here it sounds like the training hasn’t changed-
Rebecca: The training hasn’t changed.
Steve: Okay, that may be true from what they’re getting in the academy or something but what I was told in the medical context is that if it wasn’t established technology when the doctor went through medical school, it’s much much harder to get them to adapt to it later on and it sounds like a similar situation but maybe the medical schools are teaching up to date stuff and the police academies are not at the moment.
Rebecca: I think that, at least in Michigan. Now there’s a real push to change the way we’re doing this in the academy and that does come about from science and it comes from a lot of scientists really trying to close that science practice gap and really focusing not just on what we find but what are pathways to implementation, to dissemination, how do we get out of our walls here at this university and actually go to police departments, medical schools, wherever it may be, and share the information? In this case, they weren’t getting it in their training, the training was out of data, and the other factor that was interesting in all of this was even now when they’re like, “Okay, now I get it. Now I’m starting to understand how this can help me build my case, when do I get my results?”
Rebecca: The timing, we need this faster, faster, faster. If this is going to help my investigation, you can’t sit on it for six to nine months. I need it now. A real push, again, sort of back to the bench scientist to say, how quick can you do this in a reliable way so that it’s utility really can be realized in an investigation sense but it’s got to be both the mind shift from the police to view it as an investigative resource but the lab has got to come help and get those turned around much faster. Much, much faster.
Corey: Just one question, are these labs more or less in house labs or are they being outsourced to commercial enterprises?
Rebecca: Right now it’s both and again, there’s a recent-ish National Academy of Science report on this that there needs to be independents. This is a different discipline, there needs to be some checks and balances. In Detroit at the time these kits were accumulating, their lab was internal. It was part of the police department crime scene and we’re starting to see a slow shift to moving the labs outside of the law enforcement agency into it’s own independent office and we are seeing a growing independent, for profit, lab marketplace developing to meet demand.
Steve: I hate to sound like a capitalist but if you want this system to function efficiently, it cannot be in the hands of government agencies. There has to be actually market competition because the technology is changing so fast, that there’s no way the state labs are going to keep up with the latest technology.
Corey: I mean I thought this was something that it changed quite a lot in even … I mean again, quite obvious in light of our discussion that my belief, my priors were not accurate but this was a huge issue in wrongful convictions going back 30 years, having police labs under the prosecutor office, right? They’re subject to pressure, they’re subject to manipulation. Even if its not explicit, there could be bias and there’s just been a real push, right, to get these things-
Corey: If not for profit, they’re independent.
Rebecca: Just independent.
Steve: That’s another great point, Corey. I mean if it’s a for profit private lab and typically you’ll have some centralization, so you’ll have some fairly big lab and you may be shipping the sample to them. You barcode it in an anonymous way, so very tough to rig the case for the prosecutors and stuff if it’s a commercial lab that’s far away that’s actually processing it.
Corey: Yeah, it’s kind of surprising. I guess this hasn’t … It seems like it’s not a big change in the culture, just a matter of outsourcing.
Steve: Well I don’t know how many really, other than OJ, I don’t know how many really rigged cases there were with DNA but-
Rebecca: Surprisingly, they don’t let the social scientists in too often to really poke around and do a real deep dive in the records to get all that information.
Steve: I mean I’m guessing the main … You can have often wrongful convictions based on witness testimony, other stuff, and the people are cleared by DNA. It seems like that’s more likely than someone actually rigging the DNA data to convict the criminal but maybe I’m wrong.
Corey: I think it’s very hard to do in this case. I mean other cases have labs that have had other forms of testing, right? That’s been rigged, right? You have some kind of hair sample. That’s all your evidence is, some hair sample and you want to come back with the right result
Steve: Right, I mean if-
Corey: [crosstalk 00:57:46] already.
Steve: If you have sample swapping by the detective before they send it to the lab, that’s where rigging really could occur for sure.
Rebecca: I think the other piece here goes to, if they’re in the same organization, they’re still under the same organizational constraints and resources, the same sort of organizational culture and norms and we certainly saw that. I could interview folks who were at the time, in the Detroit police department crime lab and I could look at their transcripts and sort of see them talking about victims and their credibility and honestly, without an ID number, I don’t know whether I was reading a detective interview or a crime lab. It was just part of the organizational culture. Not all of these are worth it, not all of these victims are credible, and it was really kind of a group think mentality that we were starting to see there. I think for a whole host of reasons, the independence is really critical.
Steve: I think we’re going to be in a situation soon where the cost is completely in material, it’s just going to keep going down from where it is now and the DNA genotyping and the data processing type, information processing type stuff will be almost too cheap to meter in a sense and the real issue will be the privacy issue that you were uncomfortable with a moment ago is like, wait, whoa, wait a minute, what can you do? I don’t want you to do that.
Corey: Yeah, look, I think it’s probably going to come close to what’s happening with video surveillance, right?
Steve: Yeah, face recognition is in that situation now.
Corey: Someone said, in China … A friend of mine said that in Beijing, it’s impossible to commit a crime, get away with it for more than 24 hours because there’s so many cameras. It seems like it’s made very hard for anyone’s relatives to commit a crime in the US because all of our DNA will be available. People had often described prosecutors as the most powerful people in law enforcement as far as deciding, ultimately whether to bring a case and how they want that case brought about. It seems that in the case of rape, the most powerful people may actually just be the police officers.
Rebecca: They are. They are. They’re often referred to as the gatekeepers to justice because if you don’t get through that, it goes nowhere. If there’s not a report, if there’s not an investigation, if it’s not a quality investigation. If they don’t test a rape kit, if they don’t interview suspects, if they don’t canvas the area looking for witnesses, there’s nothing that can go to the prosecutor and that’s what happened in Detroit and we see it in so many jurisdictions, the prosecutor is like, “I didn’t even know this case existed. This was triaged way before it even got to us.” It’s the police are the gatekeepers to justice here.
Steve: Yeah and you can totally imagine how this is very class based. If you’re a affluent person with resources, you never think of the police as the gatekeeper because if they’re kind of slow on your case, you can elevate the complaint, you know who to call, your attorney can call somebody downtown, but if you’re a person with no resources, the police officer really can gate the whole thing for you, right?
Corey: Let’s move now to what can be done about the situation. I think this part of the discussion happened a little before we started recording that you said most obviously, you can reduce sexual assaults-
Corey: -and I want to bracket that. I want to have that discussion with you maybe another time-
Corey: -because I think there’s lots there but let’s start focusing on what can be done within the criminal justice system-
Corey: -to improve things. If you were to give us your top 3 to 5 or 10 … If there are many more, we’d like to hear them, ideas for improving how sexual assault is handled particularly and how rape kits are handled, what would they be?
Rebecca: Number one, training law enforcement from the earliest moments of the academy through their continuing education in trauma informed offender focused investigation. What we mean by that is teaching them about trauma, they get no training on trauma. None, zip, nothing, nada. Helping them understand why victims behave the way they do, how memory works, and having them really understand what science tells us about how victims behave instead of letting their stereotypes, their beliefs, dictate that.
Corey: They have remarkable stereotypes as to how people are supposed to respond to sexual assault-
Rebecca: Yes, yes.
Corey: Sometimes saying, “Well this person didn’t seem terribly upset,” right?
Rebecca: Right. Right and we can look at the data and look at research on how victims respond to trauma, there’s a huge variety of responses and many do have a very very blunted affect, they’re not demonstrably upset, but what they think, what they’re expecting is a complete meltdown, hysterical crying and if a victim doesn’t show that, then they’re like, “Well, it must be a false report.” In changing this, we have to teach them what trauma is and what trauma does and how trauma affects victims but I said two things there, I said a trauma informed offender focused investigation. The crime of sexual assault, they approach as investigating the victim. They don’t investigate the offender.
Rebecca: We have to shift them to, go do the investigation of the offender. What is his or her background? What do you know about them? Part of it is shifting that training. The second piece is they need to test the kits and again, very much the way we did this in Detroit, which is when they would say “No, no, no, there’s no value,” and I would say, “Hey, let’s just try this science. Let’s see what happens when we do some science here.” The science said, “Hey, there’s real benefit.” Our colleagues in economics said, “There’s really benefit here in terms of the ROI,” so I think we need to keep testing the rape kits and the third thing that we need to do is really try to shift our lens into a multi disciplinary framework of instead of looking at this of, well there’s the advocates over there or maybe, we hope there’s advocates, the prosecutors are here, the police are there, the nurses who collect the data, we need to be bringing this together into a multi disciplinary framework.
Rebecca: We see this in team science all the time. You bring people together in a multi disciplinary framework, you put them together in a team, you get some of those tensions that happen between different perspectives but that’s how you get growth, that’s how you get change, is you put them together and you get them in a little friction, little argument, different ways of looking at things and really trying to coordinate care for survivors, advocacy, investigations, communities that are doing that are seeing higher victim satisfaction and they’re seeing more cases move forward through the criminal justice system.
Corey: Which cities are on the front line of these kinds of changes?
Rebecca: Oh there’s no way I’m going to go there. The thing is, there are cities that are trying some different things. They’re trying … Some have evaluations, some don’t. My take on this is that each city is unique. It has it’s own history, it’s own culture, it’s own everything. I don’t want to say, “Portland, Oregon’s model is going to work in Detroit.” Portland is doing some good stuff, Detroit is doing some good stuff. I don’t know that the good stuff is the same good stuff in both cities or that it needs to be, given the history and the culture in those different cities.
Corey: I don’t know whether this was actually part of our … We taped this or not but we talked about the fact that there was a fair amount of money that was allocated, I think it was 44 million or more to basically have these rape kits tested.
Steve: This was within Michigan or … ?
Corey: This was nationally, yeah.
Rebecca: National. Yeah, the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
Corey: And what did you find in how those funds were used?
Rebecca: Not part of my research. There’s been some investigative journalism looking into that and it’s been uneven, which is kind of what you would expect, that there’s been jurisdictions that … For example, Detroit and Cleveland are recipients of those funds. Took the funds, tested the kits, moving cases forward in investigation and prosecution and there’s been jurisdictions that have used that fund to count their kits and that’s about it and then there’s been some that have counted their kits and tested their kits and said, “Thanks, we’re good.” It’s uneven but the extent to which that’s different from a lot of other federal initiatives, where you see uneven uptake in utilization, I don’t know, but it hasn’t been uniformly jumped on and utilized the same way in all jurisdictions.
Corey: What kind of response have you gotten to your research from politicians?
Rebecca: From politicians, they’re interested in, “How do I make my community safer? How do I make the lives for my constituents better?” And if this is going to protect public safety, they’re very interested and very engaged in it. From the political community, there’s been a lot of will. At the same time, there’s always been the, whoa, whoa, whoa, how much is this going to cost? Who’s going to fund this? And very excited about, we’re going to mandate this and then we’re like, and you have to write a check, unfunded mandates, our policy analysts will tell us very clearly, nothing is going to happen there but even when there is money attached to it as we were just mentioning, it doesn’t necessarily mean somethings going to happen. The political folks, definitely good will, worried about the money. Law enforcement, it’s been interesting because a lot of what I’m saying and doing is stuff they may not want to hear or they don’t like and I’m always bracing for that moment of like, “Oh boy, here we go.”
Steve: You’re the lady from the university who’s here to tell us-
Rebecca: Exactly. Exactly. It’s like when was the last time you carried a badge? Never and I think that’s part of how I try to approach it is like, I don’t do what you do, I don’t walk in your shoes. As the nature of my job, I don’t wake up knowing that I might die in the service of my job and they do and I respect that and we each have something to bring to the conversation and so I’ve actually seen a lot more interest in engagement from the law enforcement community than I thought I was going to have and they’ve actually been pretty open of like, “Yeah, we’ve been doing this and this isn’t what I signed up for. I actually don’t want to be closing all these cases. There’s no other option. I don’t have the resources, I’m burned out, I’m frustrated, I’m … Help,” and that’s been both sad and gratifying to be able to have some authentic conversations.
Corey: It seems that there are actually other options aside from just closing cases, right? You could leave these cases open and [inaudible 01:07:58] that they’re unsolved. My general sense when I look at criticisms that are made of law enforcement, that it’s in part resources but it’s also a matter of incentives.
Corey: And the incentives, in many cases, are just off, right? The incentive to close cases are a huge problem that can push officers to either not identity a suspect and just say, “We can’t do this investigation,” or to rapidly identify a suspect which may lead to error but it seems that … Then it’s constantly a push saying, “Look, you have to have closure and you have to have finality in the criminal justice system,” but I think you could approach this in some ways, the way we do science, which is certain things are open questions and let’s just accept we don’t have enough evidence to answer this question right now but it’s something we will continue to work on and if you could allow that, you might give officers a way to keep working on a case and not get penalized for it or to work on it when new data comes in. Have we had any of those discussions with them?
Rebecca: Yeah, absolutely and there are some law enforcement agencies that are trying to think very creatively, very critically, on what’s a good outcome here? Closing a case without investigating at all? That’s not a good outcome. Closing a case because there was no evidence to suggest a crime happened, that’s important, that’s a good outcome. That we’ve done a thorough investigation, that we’ve referred it on, that’s a good outcome and I think there’s a real appetite for thinking about that in a much more nuanced way than there once was. The trick is, if you leave stuff open, you become open to criticism of like, “Oh my gosh, look how many are lingering, look how many are open,” and so it takes some work both inside and outside the organization to do what you’re suggesting which is say, “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” and when we were doing it with the Detroit cases, going back and notifying survivors and saying, “Yeah, your kit wasn’t tested. Now it has been, we have a hit. There might be an option for reinvestigation,” of really telling them, “Please don’t push this issue right at this moment. The survivor has took in a ton of information, leave it open and say, you don’t have to make your decision now, you can come back to us.”
Rebecca: And what they found in Detroit was when they gave them that space, survivors were more likely to come back after they had some time to digest it. I think there’s some real merit and some promising evidence that suggests, if we give people some time and space, a survivor’s engagement might change and yes, there could be new evidence that comes to bear.
Corey: Again and this is another aspect that I hadn’t really been aware of, the significant portion of women don’t want their kits tested and you sort of explained why someone might not want their kits tested. I assume that if you go in for an exam, everyone would want their kit tested but that’s not what you actually found.
Rebecca: Survivors may not know, even going in, what it is that … They’re just told, “Go to the ER,” and they don’t quite know what conveyor belt they’ve been put on and they may not want to involve the criminal justice system. They haven’t made that decision. They know the offender, the offender is somebody that is a friend or an intimate partner and they just don’t want to do all of that. They just need some healthcare, they want to make sure they don’t have a sexually transmitted disease, they may be concerned about pregnancy, I think it’s also shifting how we do those exams to again, leave options open and not try to close everything down and make a decision right then and there in the immediate aftermath of a trauma.
Corey: You are continuing this research, right?
Corey: I’m curious, what are the questions on your mind that you’d like to investigate over the next few years?
Rebecca: I want to understand how police and prosecutors are utilizing this information. When they get the DNA hit, what happens next? How did it change the way they thought about this particular case? Are we seeing that shift to thinking about DNA as an investigatory resource? Is it actually increasing our prosecution rates? If they thought the victim was lying because she wasn’t demonstrably upset and the DNA shows it’s a serial rapist, how is that changing the way they approach future cases and investigating how is it changing organizational norms around investigations?
Corey: Do they ever go back and apologize?
Rebecca: They do, they do. In the victim notification protocol in Detroit and we went to the mat on this, there needs to be an apology that the kit wasn’t tested. It may not be from the original detective who you first had your interaction with but the power of apology is very important.
Corey: I was just thinking about apology when police have a woman in and give her a pretty harsh initial discussion and make it pretty clear to them they don’t believe her. Later the kit is tested, this is a serial rapist. Ever go back and say, look-
Rebecca: I wish. I don’t … I believe that has happened in some cases that I’m aware of. It is not department protocol, shall we say.
Steve: Truth in reconciliation, is what you’re asking for.
Corey: Yeah or at least realizing that you’ve got to treat people with respect if you expect them or the communities to engage with you.
Corey: Went back and say you made a mistake.
Rebecca: But you can’t admit a mistake in the criminal justice system. It is incredibly punitive. It doesn’t have … Again, as a social scientist who’s been working in that space for years and was deeply deeply embedded in Detroit, I was so acutely aware of the culture differences, that we live in a word of probabilities and error rates and hey, we tried something, it didn’t work. My hypothesis wasn’t supported. We go to bed, we get up the next day, everything is fine, they don’t work in that world. An error is like no. It means something very different. Again, a very big culture clash of science in the criminal justice system and trying to get them to think about that differently is very hard.
Corey: Yeah, it’s something that’s, again, really clear in the kind of wrongful conviction space. People rapidly reach closure, assuming this person had to have done it and a sense that you’re on a, again, a conveyor belt towards conviction.
Rebecca: Yes, yes.
Corey: And even the recognition of error often happens years or decades later. There’s almost no feedback, right? To let someone know that they made a mistake right off the bat. Now something that I realized a long time ago, at least it’s a hypothesis of mine, which is, I think wrongful convictions for many crimes are going to drop to zero practically because very soon you’ll know where everybody is all the time. They’re wearing wearable clothing that [inaudible 01:14:15] you know what they’re doing at any given time.
Steve: Yeah, you know the accelerometer on their phone is telling you whether they’re running or not, right.
Corey: Exactly and so yeah, I know there’s some pretty serious issues but it seems like there’s … Long before we get there, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit to be gained by testing the data we’ve got.
Steve: I think to put on the Silicon Valley tech guy hat, it’s just incredible frustration that the technology is improving at incredible rates but the ability of society to efficiently use it or understand it’s potentiality or even it’s limitations, responds much more slowly.
Corey: Yeah, I would say even more dire terms, it seems like it’s not even the ability of society. These were kits that were sitting there in warehouses, could have been tested-
Corey: There’s a capacity to do it, right? Or you could easily expand the capacity pretty rapidly and it just wasn’t done, right? It was a matter of just will or interest rather than simply the ability.
Steve: Yes. In an open, free environment, there are not a lot of $20 lying on the floor. When government gets involved, there are 20 billion dollar bills lying on the floor that no one picks up. I say that as a center left person but having worked in big organizations and looked at tech companies competing fiercely to deliver better products. I definitely don’t think there are certain things that should be left to government.
Corey: Is your impression, Rebecca, that you think in a few years, all kits will be uniformly tested?
Rebecca: No, I don’t think so. I think that for that to happen, we would have to have a broader culture shift that says, “This crime matters, these people matter. The women, the men, the children who are sexually assaulted, that this crime matters.” I think we’re seeing that shift with the Me Too movement but I don’t think we’re there yet. For it to see every single kit tested, we have to have a society that says, “We care about this crime and we care about these survivors.” We’re making progress there but I don’t think we’re there yet.
Steve: Is it fair to say that most of these untested rape kits, what I would call the $20 bills lying on the ground, are they all linked to under resourced communities or-
Rebecca: No, not necessarily.
Steve: Yeah, that’s what I thought. Okay.
Rebecca: We see the headline making pile ups in resource strapped, often communities of color but no, it is … I mean I’ve been in rural white America looking at untested rape kits and it’s there, it is in lots of different places.
Steve: Right, so-
Corey: These initial ones, even now I think it may be more but initial ones were like in New York, in LA-
Corey: These are places which were not resource strapped.
Steve: Right. The question is, what stops performance from being better in certain contexts and personally, I think it has a lot to do with local incentives and also, the quality of the human capital, the people that are running that operation, may not do a good job. There may be things they can do 10 times better but they just can’t figure out how to do it and I see it again and again.
Corey: Yeah, I don’t think this is actually that complicated, right? I mean this is a matter of taking it and shipping it off to a lab, right? It’s not-
Steve: No, but if you’re not aware that DNA technology has improved, you’re literally not aware, you don’t read science magazines, you just literally don’t know that this capability, this magical capability … In 1980, this would be magic. You’re not aware that it’s possible, so who can blame you for not funding it or telling [crosstalk 01:17:32]-
Corey: No, because the police station down the road knows it’s actually improved, right?
Steve: They didn’t tell you.
Corey: Look [crosstalk 01:17:38]-
Steve: Go survey these guys and see what their level of knowledge is. I mean I’m saying they’re-
Corey: Clearly Rebecca has noticed that people don’t have this but it’s just in science journals, I assume … I mean maybe we’re … [inaudible 01:17:48] ask you, did you find police department A seemed to have very little knowledge of the developments in technology, in DNA databases, police department B, not too far away, actually had pretty good information on this topic?
Rebecca: There is variability site to site, city to city, even within the same state but across the board, the law enforcement community is not up on the latest things happening in the lab, they’re just not.
Steve: Again, at the risk of drawing it back to the Silicon Valley thing, let me give you standard startup experience. You’re a startup guy, you’ve built a better widget, it’s 10X better than the widget that currently, a huge company called Microsoft or huge company called Check Point Software is selling and you go in and meet with a senior executive at that company and you put the widget on the desk and say, “This does this, what you guys are supposed to be doing but 10 times better, should we talk?” And this guy, who has advanced degrees from top universities, is highly compensated, doesn’t understand, literally doesn’t understand what you’re saying to him and doesn’t believe you or doesn’t understand the market opportunity and that’s a standard startup experience, otherwise how could little teams of 10 people destroy giant companies?
Steve: Well you’re going to find the same thing in a police department and you’re going to find the same thing in a major hospital, where there’s some doctor who literally is not following the research and doesn’t realize that what he’s doing is far short of optimal.
Corey: I still think this case is quite different. This is a case of not too advanced technology, this case where they’ve actually communicated in one police department, right, the one next door simply hasn’t gotten the same … Some kind of simple description read at roll call saying, “Look, you can now actually find people’s identities through putting something in the CODIS database.” It’s not advanced technology, it’s simply a matter of communicating something in a simple continuing education program. It’s not super complicated. It’s not cutting edge or requires advanced degrees, right? It’s just like-
Steve: No, I was giving that as an example that even though the people are the finest-
Steve: -human capital that we can find, they can still be in the wrong state of mind for years at a time.
Corey: Sure, yeah but I think we all see that, right? Of course, this strikes me as exceedingly low hanging fruit. You’re not going to solve the problem you described very easily. You can solve the problem that Rebecca has described pretty easily by, I think just having some just aggressive communication, not even detailed information. Look, you can now do X, Y, and Z. Say that three, four times, maybe 10.
Steve: How long until this problem is solved? So easy, so easy, Corey.
Corey: I’m not saying it’s … No, I’m not-
Steve: $20 lying on the pavement. Someone else will snatch it up, right?
Corey: I mean the question-
Rebecca: Well the problem is, again, which problem are you trying to solve? If you’re trying to solve the intersectionality of sexism, racism, classism, that gives rise to-
Steve: That’s a hard one.
Rebecca: -sexual assault and to the fact that the criminal justice system isn’t going to take this crime seriously. That’s a different problem. The probably with getting the rape kit tests, that, actually the testing, that is solvable, that is very solvable.
Steve: Maybe we all agree that there’s a simple course of action and the budget required to do it is well within … Say a fed gov has decided, hey, we’re going to give money out to local municipalities to do this. The amount of money is not crazy, maybe a lot of experts, including economists at Stanford and distinguished professors at Michigan State all agree that, “Yeah, the first order, the best thing is just to test all the rape kits. Don’t be so stingy about this. Let’s just get it done and let’s set it up so it’s faster.” How long before that’s in place?
Corey: I have no idea.
Steve: I think the problem, again, I think it’s obvious to you that there’s a solution here but the time it takes to get it implemented in the real world [crosstalk 01:21:14]-
Corey: Yeah, of course. All I’m saying is the solution is not complicated-
Rebecca: It’s not complicated
Corey: -as some problems are. Implementing may be difficult but it’s not like we have to figure out what to do, right, in this case. It’s not like it’s a problem-
Steve: No, so you have figured it out-
Corey: No, I-
Steve: -but there are other people in power, who control the precinct down the street who maybe haven’t, don’t believe what you’re saying.
Corey: No, I think almost … I don’t want to put word … It’s pretty clear what the solution is. It’s a whole different matter of getting that solution actually implemented, right? But the question-
Rebecca: It’s a little of both. There are some that do not accept this as a solution. I still have that. I travel around the US.
Corey: How often do you say, okay, to test the rape kits, right, what kind of barriers do people put in your way when you say, “Look, you need to communicate better to the police on these issues, you need to test the kits?”
Rebecca: I don’t have the money. I always hear the resource barrier, going back to Steve’s point. This is within the realm of what the federal government could fund and do but then they’re like, “I don’t want to spend the money on this crime.”
Steve: Yeah, they’re not convinced. They’re not convinced.
Corey: No, that’s a different point. That’s saying, “Look, this solution looks pretty obvious. Look, I don’t want to spend the money on that solution,” but it’s not questioning whether we actually don’t know how to solve this problem. That’s a different point.
Steve: Okay, let me make a more nuanced point. Imagine that there are cases where maybe the ROI on that specific rape kit is low and the local police detective realizes this for some reason, okay? But on average, if we just had a simple rule like, test all of them, the net ROI is super positive and this has been established by academic studies. I don’t think that point is broadly realized.
Rebecca: It is not broadly realized. It is not broadly realized.
Steve: I call this a cognitive problem but you can call it something else if you want.
Corey: I think the only way to do this is actually try to go and talk to a lot of police departments and say, “Look, you simply test your kits. They’re going to cost this much. We’ll [inaudible 01:22:57] this money for you, right? And see what happens.”
Steve: Yeah, but they-
Rebecca: And that’s what we’re doing and it always begs the question, what are then happening in the law enforcement agencies that didn’t apply for this federal money and I’m like, “I don’t know, I’m not in those organizations. I’m in the organizations that did apply for the money.”
Steve: I’m trying to say, is there plenty of probably well intentioned police departments out there who didn’t apply for this money, who don’t realize the ROI on this is enormously positive, even if you just use the simple rule and they just don’t … They’re not aware and that’s the state of the world, that’s how things work.
Corey: Yeah, that’s right but again, I think we’re lumping a bunch of things together. We’re lumping one thing together is [inaudible 01:23:33] police officers themselves to realize, CODIS database has been updated. You can now actually identify offenders, et cetera. That’s sort of one issue of the problem. The next problem is actually saying, trying to get police departments say to inform them on the possibility of testing kits and applying for federal funds. I guess we’re kind of lumping a couple of things together in this discussion,
Steve: Yes. Yes, we are but the fact that you just don’t suddenly get everyone implementing [inaudible 01:23:58] solution is [crosstalk 01:23:59].
Corey: Yeah, yeah.
Steve: I mean I won’t be surprised if five years from now, it’s still … The probability that a given rape kit is processed properly goes up significantly but it’s still far short of what the optimum is in terms of ROI.
Corey: It depends on a lot of factors. It depends on federal funding, right? It’s unclear exactly what will happen there.
Rebecca: Yes and in getting people to want to do it, to have the funding to utilize the information. It is an economic issue, it’s a forensic issue, it’s a psychological issue. There’s a lot of different facets to making this happen.
Corey: And there’s got to be some kind of feedback release, I’d say sanction for not doing it, right? As long as people can not do things and having no consequences.
Rebecca: The issue of consequences for police, I believe is probably a topic for another podcast.
Steve: Yeah, what are you going to do to this guy, right? I mean he reports to the mayor. If the mayor likes him, they play golf together, what are you going to do?
Corey: Look, it’s a general problem, again especially for … I’m at least aware of it from the wrongful conviction literature, right? There’s very rarely feedback for making mistakes of that kind and that’s what drives … Look, it drives error in science. At least it drives our failure to reduce error in science. It drives [inaudible 01:25:10] any error. You got to have feedback and if communities are taking this money and say, counting their kits, and not doing anything else with it, unless there’s a journalist who is going to go out and report that story and it’s going to become an embarrassment, if there’s some sort of general bias in the community against rape victims, that could go on for quite a long time.
Steve: Right but this is what I meant by, in the state of the world, there are many obvious solutions that are not implemented, many good things that could be done or not done.
Corey: Absolutely, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Steve: But keep fighting the good fight.
Rebecca: I will.
Corey: It’s interesting, you straddle a lot of different areas. You’re a researcher but you’re also … Are you working with these departments to help them improve their practices?
Rebecca: I am. I am. Community engaged research. I’m not … You’ve got to bring your findings to the real world. We’re not going to close the science practice gap through our traditional methods of dissemination. Dissemination is, of course, our peer review journal articles and it is the podcast, it is the trainings, it is the going to practitioner oriented conferences, of deliberately putting myself in spaces that are not common for academics and to talk to them and to hear them and to be challenged. I can tell you, there’s nothing quite like presenting your data at a conference full of prosecutors. It makes a standard academic conference actually quite a bit easier, to be honest. But to do that, so yes, I’m engaged in the training, I’m engaged in the work. That’s, to me, that’s what a land grant university should be doing. That’s what we should be doing, is taking our good quality research and seeing it through to implementation.
Steve: I think it’s fantastic. I wish we could modify our incentive system within the academy a little bit to give more incentive for people to be engaged outside the ivory tower.
Rebecca: Is this the point where I remind you that you’re a senior vice president of research?
Steve: Well yeah, no, I meant that in an operational sense.
Rebecca: Yeah, yeah. absolutely.
Steve: Absolutely, yeah.
Rebecca: Absolutely and that’s why I’m glad we’re having this conversation and we do see that in some universities and some academies, to think critically about what engagement means, what is impact and impact is not just an impact factor of a journal. I want to have a good publication, obviously, that’s well respected by my peers in the scientific community and I want to make a difference in Detroit. I want to make a difference in Michigan. I want to make a difference in multiple jurisdictions, that’s why I’m a scientist.
Corey: Yeah, we should start giving people tenure for actually more practically activities than peer reviewed journals [crosstalk 01:27:38].
Steve: A narrower one that we’ve already faced is okay, if you patent things or you create innovations that start companies and make it to the market, how should that count? These would be your publications in scholarly journals and so there’s some universities that have talked about using that as a specific separate criterion in your promotion file and I could see a very strong case for this kind of work as well.
Corey: Yeah, one thing I’ve been talking to some international organizations about is the possibility of having people who kind of occupy sort of a combination of being a faculty person, researcher, and a kind of practical consultant, who actually goes out and tries to implement projects and it’s clear that there’s people … You need people with both of these skills but it’s not really an obvious place for them to be employed because we force people to jump through the hoops of peer review and purely academic research to get tenure and so then basically rate people, how much money you bring in, but if we could have that kind of hybrid position here, it seems like it would be a real opportunity for society. I think we do do pretty well here. In many of our areas, people are fairly well engaged and more so than in many institutions.
Steve: Another one that we have on the ag side is we have people who are practitioners who actually, they’re paid to … Their main activity is actually interfacing with real farmers and bringing the technologies out from the university into the field but that’s a kind of special thing that we have that. Most universities wouldn’t have that.
Corey: Do you think there’s a trend in your field towards more engagement?
Rebecca: Absolutely. I see it in many of the social science disciplines, psychology, criminal justice, education too, of that feeling of, we’ve done this work, we know what works, we have a good idea from the science and yet we’re not seeing it happen in the real world and we have some rally good, credible, empirically supported ideas on how to make something better and realizing that we are not going to … That change isn’t going to happen without us going outside of our comfort zone and again, I don’t mean to suggest that all scientists need to do that. There’s some that it’s like, you’re best at the bench. Stay there. You’re good and then there’s some that are going to be more comfortable or can tolerate the discomfort of working in different spaces and running up against different disciplines, different values, different approaches, and to try to bring the science out and I like that. That’s something I like doing and I see more and more of my colleagues in the social sciences wanting to do that.
Corey: That’s definitely been trend in economics, right? There’s been much more focus on empirical work. People getting involved in education and other kind of things, whether it’s trying to test whether certain interventions are better and much less inclination to focus on purely theoretical studies and model building. I think it’s … I’ve got a general view which, in order for an academic discipline to survive, it’s got to have constituency outside of itself. I think a problem with killed philosophy in many ways is it’s tried to become science in a very abstract way and it didn’t track with any fields within the academy. It basically did nothing for society and so it just sort of dwindled over time. I think the same thing is often true for linguistics but it seems like, here’s a real case where you can show that research is obviously practical and that it should be kind of extended.
Rebecca: And a lot of the onus, I think, is on us to start building those bridges, to get out of our comfort zone, to go try that and it won’t always be well received, it won’t always be comfortable. There’s a real … Well, communication, arts, and sciences tells us, it is both art and science and communicating this and you may be skilled in one area of your discipline but not another. Again, a team model can work, of bringing people in from different disciplines but there’s a lot of different strategies to close the science practice gap. You got to make a decision that you want to close the science practice gap and be part of whatever different type of solution you want.
Steve: I’m guessing you’re motivated really by pure idealism that you just think, you see these problems that maybe could be improved, the situation could be improved and you want to make a difference, whereas if you took a very stereotypical view of a professor, well they want to get their promotion and tenure and lots of citations and boy, it takes so much energy to go and talk to that police chief and he doesn’t really like me and there’s a big communication barrier. It’s just, I think, the incentives in the academy to induce people to do what you’re doing aren’t really there. It’s too easy just to be a narrow scholar and just focus on the disciplinary stuff and so it’s just amazing that we have people like you who are so idealistic that are willing to really … because it takes so much drive and energy to go out in the real world and actually change things.
Rebecca: It does and that is why I get up in the morning. It is not to create another peer reviewed journal article, it really isn’t. It is to make the world safer for men, women, and children. That’s why I do what I do. I don’t lose site of that goal.
Steve: Fantastic. Of course, I do want to defend the purist guy who, or gal, who says, “No, my publication in the long run, over the next hundred years or whatever, we’re building this huge edifice of human knowledge and you need these rigorous peer review papers, so what I’m doing is important too.”
Rebecca: Absolutely and I need-
Steve: And we’re not denigrating that at all.
Rebecca: And I need that work. I need that work.
Steve: Yeah, exactly.
Rebecca: I’ve said that to many of my colleagues who aren’t engaged in community work and aren’t applied. I’m like, who do you think I’m citing?
Rebecca: I need your work, I need my work, I need other applied scholars. I get impatient with the sort of basic applied distinction. It’s like, it’s science. It’s a lot of different ways we can do science and we need the synergy between the different aspects of what we do and that includes, I think, going out and doing engaged work in the community.
Corey: A lot of research just isn’t appropriate to engagement, you know?
Corey: Someones working on some kind of protein structure-
Steve: Corks or something.
Corey: Yeah, exactly.
Corey: And in some fields, it’s been pretty traditional for a long time to have engagement like engineering, often people help to design things. We just interviewed [Joe Suzario 01:33:31], right, from your department.
Corey: And Joe works on police shootings and-
Steve: Corey has a fascination with, I don’t know what it is, crime or police work or-
Corey: Yeah, no. I have an absolute fascination. I’m interested in criminal justice, I think for social and political reasons also but I think research … It’s such a heavily politicized area of discussion-
Rebecca: It is.
Corey: It’s great when you actually can get data to get … I don’t want to say get at the truth but get much more clarity on these issues, which often are really confused in the public mind. People … There’s very little signal out there. People take very different views based on what their kind of political orientation and if you’re just in politics and science, you want to know actually what the world is like. That’s kind of what really fascinates me about these areas. It seems really relevant. I’m just wondering, other areas where you could find potential policies that are really relevant. I mean, I think about education because that’s an area where you actually have had people trying out theories in school systems, right? I can think of education and policing but I think any other growth areas would be … I’d definitely like to hear about them.
Steve: One of the kind of theoretical things that’s occurred to me in just our discussion is, if you had perfect policing, perfect law enforcement, which I don’t know, who knows, maybe they’re going to get there in China or something, what fraction of the population do you actually have to lock up to get the crime rate down, literally almost to zero? Is it basically one percent of the population commits all the crimes?
Corey: Well, it’s very complicated because look, when everybody is watching you-
Steve: Right, less crime.
Corey: I regularly speed, right? And I’m not going to be speeding probably if everyone is watching me.
Steve: Right, right. They immediately just debit the money out of your account as you’re speedometer hits-
Corey: But yeah, but there are many people, right, who are kind of on the borderline-
Corey: -and if there’s greater surveillance, maybe much less inclined.
Steve: Of course that percentage goes down as enforcements get better because people just stop committing crimes but imagine that the rate of criminality didn’t really go down but you really could identify those people immediately, how many would you have to lock up? Who’s actually causing all these problems?
Corey: This is a question I think, this kind of comes back to, you notice people are multiple offenders, right?
Steve: That’s what I’m saying, yeah.
Corey: If you notice what faction of … Is there a core group of people responsible for say, 10 or 20% of the rapes in … ?
Rebecca: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of debate in my disciplines about what that would be and I think the simplest thing I can say is though we know one in four to one in five females will be victims of sexual assault, that does not mean one in four and one in five men are offenders. There’s a definite disconnect there where a smaller proportion are committing repeat crimes. How many, what percentage we get are repeat offenders, I think is something that is really hard to know. We have methodological issues of self report, is everybody going to self report their behavior correctly if we use the “official” crime records? Well, we know at least in the crime I study, those are hardly unbiased accounts of what happened. We get into some real chicken and egg issues of trying to figure out how many acts have been done by an individual person. That’s one of the reasons why I love the DNA evidence. It’s like, well whatever you said, your DNA is somewhere you said it wasn’t going to be.
Steve: Right, I mean you get a lower bound. Say you catch some guy and then you run him through the database and you realize, this guy has sexually assaulted 10 women. Immediately you get a lower bound on how many he’s done, right? You could get an estimate for the distribution.
Corey: This was part of a theory of the kind of tough on crime in the 90s, right?
Steve: Yes, yes.
Corey: And they locked up an enormous number of people and some people-
Rebecca: Not for gender based violence.
Corey: Yeah, yeah. Exactly, not for gender based violence.
Steve: Yeah and sometimes for drug stuff, which wasn’t really.
Corey: Exactly but the argument people have made is that the crime drops of the 90s were the result of locking up so many people. They’re kind of testing your theory or they did test it over time.
Steve: Well that’s one scenario, that’s one claim, that that kind of strict enforcement really reduced the crime rate overall. There are other hypotheses for that.
Corey: Well this has been a pleasure talking to you.
Rebecca: Thank you. I’ve enjoyed this too.
Corey: Thanks for coming in and I think we’ve identified a number of other topics we’d like to talk to you about at some point in the future.
Steve: Yeah and I want to say, really I think you’re an exemplary faculty member. It’s amazing that you’re involved in such complex things in the real world and also doing great scholarly stuff.
Rebecca: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Steve: We’re very proud of you at Michigan State.
Rebecca: Thanks, I appreciate that too.
Corey: Is that a wrap?
Steve: Yeah, I guess it’s a wrap.