Rape victims: Indiana is failing

Posted: 8:24 PM, Mar 27, 2014
Updated: 2016-03-25 13:35:58-04

Rape victims, lawmakers and advocacy groups say Indiana is failing rape victims, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney reported.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics from 2009 and 2011 show Indiana ranks second-worst in the nation when it comes to high school girls saying they’d been forced to have sex.

The statute of limitations for Class B felony rapes is five years in Indiana.

Although each state defines rape differently, roughly 20 states have no statute of limitations whatsoever, and all but a few states have limits longer than Indiana.

Click here for state by state comparisons

As the Call 6 Investigators were first to report, a 39-year-old Carmel man confessed to an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis detective that he raped a student back in 2005.

The victim, Jenny Wendt, asked to press charges.

"I was informed that I could not prosecute because the statute of limitations was five years," said Wendt. "He walked into a police station, said, 'I raped somebody,' and he walked out the front door."

Wendt never filed a police report.

"I felt ashamed, and I felt guilty for letting him into my apartment," said Wendt.

Rape victim Keith Morris has been working on eliminating Indiana's statute of limitations for several years, without much luck.

"I was raped from the age of 13 to 15 by a national church leader," said Morris. "I've been pushing for this for many years, but it has been falling on deaf ears. Indiana has a long way to go."

Morris hopes Wendt's story of a confessed rapist going free will help reinvigorate efforts at the Indiana Statehouse.

"Indiana has a severe problem," said Wendt. "There should be no time limit on prosecution."

Like Wendt, Morris also did not report the crime to police.

Neither did Malea Crosby, a rape victim from Terre Haute.

"I had so much self-blame, I didn't say anything for 16 years," said Crosby. "Indiana's way behind."

Anita Carpenter, CEO of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Indiana is lagging behind in other ways, too.

"We have 43 counties in Indiana with little to no services at all for victims of sex crimes. We have no state funding to support sex crime victim," she said.

Carpenter added that she is also concerned about the statistics from the CDC that show Indiana ranking 2nd-worst in the nation in high school girls forced to have sex.

"That's a problem. That's an epidemic,” said Carpenter.

With cities such as Denver and Detroit facing rape kit backlogs, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney dug into what the situation is in central Indiana.

The Marion County Crime Lab shows a current backlog of 32 rape kits. Numbers obtained by Kenney show the lab has picked up more than 2,000 kits since 2010.

"We have a backlog, but not a backlog problem," said Michael Medler, director of the Marion County Forensic Services Agency. "We are meeting court dates, and if there's a problem with having a case rushed, we can do those kinds of things."

The Marion County Prosecutor's Office told Kenney it is satisfied with the crime lab's turnaround time. Medler said they store rape kits whether the victim reports the crime or not.

"That evidence is critically important," said Medler. "So, we want to make sure we secure all evidence for the future. We can keep it pretty much indefinitely from the standpoint of how we can freeze things."

Kenney also checked with the Indiana State Police Crime Lab and found its current backlog sits at 36.
Paul Misner, biology section supervisor for the Indiana State Police Laboratory, told RTV6 its computer system does not count kits, but does count types of crimes.

In all, 215 rapes, child molestations and other sex crimes have been submitted to the lab so far this year. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the lab took in a total of 2,941 sex crimes.

"We have four labs around the state with a total of 45 forensic scientists in the biology section, which is less than one unassigned sex crime per analyst," said Misner.

Misner added that it takes roughly 54 days to process a rape kit and other items of evidence.

"Rush cases are worked out of order and completed sooner," said Misner.

Misner said the 36 backlogged cases will be processed.

"They simply have not been assigned because they have been submitted recently," said Misner.
Medler said the Marion County lab's staff is diligent about picking up rape kits from area hospitals.
"I think this community has done more to be responsive of sexual assault victims than maybe other communities," said Medler.

An estimated 75 percent of rape victims never report what happened, and for the 25 percent who do, it can take decades for them to come forward, Carpenter said.

Wendt started a petition in an effort to eliminate the statute of limitations in Indiana.

They’re also working with Sen. Mike Crider (R-Greenfield) on legislation for the 2015 session.

"I've already begun the process, talking with folks in the Senate and House who are chairs of the criminal and courts committees and planting the seeds that this is something I will be bringing next session," Crider told Kenney. "I'm hopeful we can bring something that makes sense and have enough support."

As for the man who confessed to raping Wendt, Kenney tried to track him down at his Carmel apartment and left a business card, but the man did not respond.

"He's not paying for his crime," said Wendt. "I'm bound and determined and on a mission to make Indiana change."

When asked whether they support the elimination of the statute of limitations on rape cases, the Marion County Prosecutor's Office indicated timing is crucial.
"We believe time is a critical element in prosecuting rape cases and that it is very important for rape victims to come forward and report the crime immediately," said spokeswoman Peg McCleish in an email to RTV6. "Every second that the victim waits to go to the hospital, the opportunity to collect important evidence is lost. For victims who may be uncertain, there is an option of requesting a 'Jane Doe' rape kit that allows for the collection of evidence without attaching the victim's name. If a victim comes forward days or weeks later, the evidence collected in that kit can then be associated with the victim for purposes of investigation."

Women Against Registry does not support increasing the statute of limitations.

"We see no way an accused individual could prove a defense for an allegation that occurred more than 5 years ago due to time lapse," said President Vicki Henry in an email to Kenney. "Many of the accused are offered plea bargains by prosecutors who do not have clear and convincing evidence to take the case to trial. Defense attorneys are obligated to advise the defendant of the plea deal and will often encourage plea bargains for fear of longer prison sentences placed on their clients. Our prison systems, public defenders and law enforcement would experience the repercussions, therefore an impact study should be made before any further action is taken."