Robbed, Raped and Jailed: Are Police Departments Underestimating Rape Cases?

VIDEO: Rape victims tell Congress that police have been ignoring case after case.

It was July 14, 2004, when Sara Reedy's life changed forever.

The then 19-year-old was working her usual 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift at a gas station in Cranberry Township, Penn. She was by herself, when, near the end of her shift, a man walked in, pulled a gun, told her to sit in the corner and took all the cash in the store. He then put the gun to her head and sexually assaulted her.

For Reedy, the attack was just the beginning of a long nightmare. When she reported the incident to the police, the detective assigned to her case refused to believe her. Instead, he accused her of taking drugs, stealing money from the store and then fabricating the sexual assault story as a cover.

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The detective pressured Reedy to confess and when she didn't, he got an arrest warrant and put her in jail for theft, receiving stolen property and filing a false police report. Reedy was four months pregnant with her first child.

Reedy's serial rapist, however, struck again and was caught. It was only after he confessed to raping Reedy, that she was released.

Today, Reedy told her emotional story to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, which held a hearing on uninvestigated rape cases and whether police departments in major cities are underestimating and ignoring such rape cases.

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"After this experience, it left me concerned if I would ever be able to rely on an officer to do his job," Reedy said. "Because of (the detective's) uncooperative attitude and unwillingness to believe me, the victim, a serial rapist was allowed to continue attacking and assaulting other women."

According to The Women's Law Project, Reedy's story is not unique.

"There is no question that sexual stereotypes and bias are a root cause of police mishandling of sex crimes," Carol E. Tracy, executive director of the Pennsylvania-based group, told Senators. "The view that sex crimes are marginal issues permeates police departments across the country and contributes to the underreporting of rape and sexual assault."

On Monday, the FBI said that violent crimes reported to the police were down for a third straight year, dropping 5.3 percent in 2009. Reported cases of rape dropped by 2.6 percent.

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Attorney General Eric Holder said that smarter policing practices and investments in law enforcement played a significant role in reducing violent and property crime, according to the Associated Press. But not everyone believes those figures, and media investigations in several different cities have shown the situation to be in stark contrast.

Tracy today argued that the data is not reflective of actual rape cases because firstly, law enforcement agencies are not required by law to submit data -- they do so voluntarily -- and secondly, rape cases are undercounted by police, thus compounding the inaccuracy of the FBI statistics.

"The combination of bias and an unrealistic definition result in highly unreliable data on the incidence of sex crime in America," Tracy said.

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., who is chairing today's hearing, had questions about some of those figures too.

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"Studies have established that the annual rate of rapes has not decreased in the last 20 years and the lifetime prevalence of rape, in fact, has increased by more than 25 percent. These statistics conflict with official government data that show annual decreases in the rape rate," said a press release about the hearing.

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