Today on Unfair Park, I’ve got an item up about Cornelius Dupree, Jr., the 51-year-old man who served 30 years in prison for a rape and robbery he did not commit. He was exonerated by DNA evidence. Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has made conviction integrity a staple of his office and campaigns.
What does this mean for rape victims? It’s very complicated, because it’s important we take rape victims seriously and don’t use this as an excuse to say that they can’t be trusted. (After all, DNA exonerees in Dallas County have been convicted of a number of different crimes, from murder to burglary, so we mustn’t view rape eyewitnesses as somehow more “unreliable” than other victims of crime.) In this case, the victim wrongly identified her attacker, largely because of a fudged line-up presented to her by police (both Dupree and the man he was convicted with, who has also been exonerated, were in the same line-up). Thankfully, there was DNA evidence available.
While this is good news for Dupree, we have to realize that this means someone committed this crime of rape and robbery thirty years ago and has gone free. And we have to remember that rapists are repeat offenders–many will rape six or more times before they are taken to court. Which, to me, makes this the takeaway: if it’s possible, obtain a rape kit and physical exam (it’s worth noting that sometimes, it isn’t possible and there’s nothing a victim can do about it, which is maddening). A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is a certified and trained nurse who specializes in evidence collection. In Dallas County, only Parkland Hospital and, very recently, Presbyterian Hospital, can perform certified exams.
Prosecutors, victim’s advocates and victims themselves have told me repeatedly when I’m reporting on sexual assault: physical evidence makes for the most solid prosecutions. Putting the right person behind bars in the first place is key to reducing rape. Of course, this is all made muddier when dealing with victims who’ve been raped by partners, friends or dates–DNA alone cannot prove or disprove consent. And so I’ll take this opportunity to say: yes means yes.