What do rape exonerations mean for victims, justice?

Cornelius Dupree, Jr., addresses a packed courtroom of lawyers, courthouse staff, media and fellow DNA exonerees this morning after his innocence hearing.

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.

About andrea grimes

Andrea is a journalist living in Austin, TX. She has a master's degree in anthropology and did her thesis work on gender and stand-up comedy. Seriously. Also, she has a bunch of cats. Three of them. Is three a bunch? Discuss.
This entry was posted in legal issues, rape culture, sexual assault. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What do rape exonerations mean for victims, justice?

  1. amy says:

    I can’t imagine the fear that this woman must feel. Reopening this wound must be horrible, and I am truly sorry that the justice system failed everyone in this situation – the victim, Dupree, and the real perpetrator.

    It’s a sad reality, but women have got to be educated about what to do after a sexual assault – go to a hospital, demand that you’re treated appropriately, and tell the police everything that you know. You may not be able to control what that person has done to you, or what other people are going to think, but you can make sure that you do all that you can to bring your assailant to justice.

    That being said, law enforcement has got to adopt a more appropriate protocol for handling rape cases and rape victims. I think shows like Law and Order: SVU completely distort the reality of what actually happens in rape investigations and the trial process (meaning the efficiency, they do an excellent job of discussing victims rights and rape in general in a feminist context).

    But what I think we’re also forgetting is the trauma that Dupree suffered as a victim of the justice system. We have no idea what kind of crap he went through in prison, and by placing him there, the state put him at a much higher risk for sexual assault than any other man his age. My heart sinks at the thought that an innocent person sat in prison for THIRTY YEARS (more than he’d lived life outside of prison!) because of some dickwad rapist.

  2. Daniel Z says:

    Not only should women be educated on what to do in the case of a sexual assault, we as a society should make them feel empowered in doing so.

    There was an episode of the show that Penn and Teller do on Showtime that discussed the problems with locking the wrong people up and that specifically is that for every innocent person who sits in jail, there is a criminal walking free among us.

    So it is vital that our justice system truly seeks JUSTICE and not just convictions.

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