When 23 year old Shannon Schieber was raped and murdered by a serial rapist in Philadelphia, PA in 1998, serious flaws were revealed in the sexual assault investigation unit. Years after Shannon’s tragic death, the Philadelphia police department has reversed its inadequate and inappropriate performance and continues to seek ways in which it can improve its service to rape victims..
“In the late 90s Philadelphia police would declare almost a fifth of cases to be “unfounded”, in addition to the hundreds it simply buried by misclassifying them under bogus codes. Now, as well as long ago eliminating the intentional misclassifications, its “unfounded” rate for rape cases has dropped to around 9% or 10%, closer to the national average range of 6% to 9%, which most experts deem fair. One former detective from the 90s became notorious for nicknaming the Philadelphia sex crimes unit ‘the lying bitches unit’ and publicly opining that women lie about rape ‘about half the time’. The current head of the unit, now called the special victims unit, Captain John Darby, swiftly scotched that…”
“Sylvester Schieber [Shannon’s father] takes some grim satisfaction from the reforms that took place. ‘If Shannon screamed for help tonight they would break the door down. The probability that she would be alive today would be a lot higher. It took her murder and another one [by a different perpetrator] for policing policy to change,’ he said.” – the Guardian (linked above)
Philadelphia is not the only city in the States, or other areas of the world, who has a history of failing rape victims and ultimately perpetuating sexual violence; however, their new model is a definite example of how a city can turn its policies around. It would behoove many cities to look to serious reform before a serial rapist forces them to face the consequences for their lack of responsibility.