The Rape Kit’s Secret HistoryBreaking News
tags: sexual violence, 1970s, criminal justice, activism
MARTY GODDARD’S FIRST FLASH OF INSIGHT CAME IN 1972. It all started when she marched into a shabby townhouse on Halsted Street in Chicago to volunteer at a crisis hotline for teenagers.
Most of the other volunteers were hippies with scraggly manes and love beads. But not Marty Goddard. She tended to wear business clothes: a jacket with a modest skirt, pantyhose, low heels. She hid her eyes behind owlish glasses and kept her blond hair short. Not much makeup; maybe a plum lip. She was 31, divorced, with a mordant sense of humor. Her name was Martha, but everyone called her Marty. She liked hiding behind a man’s name. It was useful.
As a volunteer, Ms. Goddard lent a sympathetic ear to the troubled kids then called “runaway teenagers.” They were pregnant, homeless, suicidal, strung out. She was surprised to discover that many weren’t rebels who’d left home seeking adventure; they were victims who had fled sexual abuse. The phones were ringing with the news that kids didn’t feel safe around their own families. “I was just beside myself when I found the extent of the problem,” she later said.
She began to formulate questions that almost no one was asking back in the early ’70s: Why were so many predators getting away with it? And what would it take to stop them?
Ms. Goddard would go on to lead a campaign to treat sexual assault as a crime that could be investigated, rather than as a feminine delusion. She began a revolution in forensics by envisioning the first standardized rape kit, containing items like swabs and combs to gather evidence, and envelopes to seal it in. The kit is one of the most powerful tools ever invented to bring criminals to justice. And yet, you’ve never heard of Marty Goddard. In many ways she and her invention shared the same fate. They were enormously important and consistently overlooked.
I was infuriated when I read a few years ago about the hundreds of thousands of unexamined rape kits piled up in warehouses around the country. I had the same question that many did: How many rapists were walking free because this evidence had gone ignored?
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