Twenty-one women who say their reports of rape or sexual abuse were dismissed by Baltimore police have reached out to a hot line established this week to ensure that officials are handling complaints properly.
More than half of them asked authorities to reopen their criminal case and pursue possible leads. All their reports will be forwarded to auditors seeking to find out why Baltimore police lead the nation in the percentage of possible sex crimes that detectives conclude are false or baseless.
"The callers are very clear that they were assaulted and they would like someone to take a look at their cases," said Rosalyn Branson, the director of the victim's advocate group TurnAround, which is operating the hot line on behalf of city police.
"Folks are very pleased to tell their stories and wanting someone to know what happened to them," Branson said in an interview Thursday. "It's a lot of sadness. People have been wounded, physically and emotionally."
The hot line — 443-279-0379 — and audit illustrate the speed with which city officials are moving to address findings reported by The Baltimore Sun that reveal the city has recorded the highest percentage of unsubstantiated rapes in the country.
Statistics show that nearly one-third of rape cases investigated by police were called "unfounded," five times the national average. Four out of every 10 emergency calls involving allegations of rape were dismissed by patrol officers before ever reaching a detective.
Many women and advocates have complained that police intimidated them during questioning and either talked them out of filing a report or made them feel as if the attack was their fault. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials have pledged an overhaul of sex-crime treatment in response to The Sun's findings, and the mayor directed a comprehensive review of cases that have been shelved by detectives.
City officials and Branson would not describe details of calls coming into the center. The victims were promised confidentiality. Branson did say that "all the calls are different" in details but share a common thread: "There was no progress and their cases were closed."
Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi promised that the review would lead to long-term change. "This is not going to be a superficial audit to satisfy a sound bite for the media," he said. "This is going to change the way we handle rapes."
Some changes will be made quickly, the spokesman said. That includes a reevaluation of the 50 detectives in the sex offense unit to ensure that "they are investigators and not drug officers or traffic officers." He said more training will be afforded the detectives "in the way we handle rape victims."
Other changes would take more time, including a proposal to provide sexual assault victims with the same services the police department now offers child abuse victims. Children in those cases are immediately taken to the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, where they meet with counselors, doctors and police detectives.
"It's a comfortable environment," Guglielmi said.
The spokesman said auditors and others in the department are exploring ways to duplicate the process for victims of sexual assault, and might propose using the TurnAround group.
Branson embraced that idea. "Studies on this have showed that there is a better outcome for the victims if they have advocates," she said. "And they are also more likely to talk with law enforcement about their case. I don't know a reason why we can't have a center like that in Baltimore."
Guglielmi said another change will be a closer working relationship with prosecutors.
"We must work together with the State's Attorney and have a true partner in this effort," Guglielmi said. "We have to work on this collectively, and not just dismiss cases because the case is weak or the victim recants. The investigative process is arduous."