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According to the FBI’s most recently compiled Uniform Crime Report (UCR), a rape is reported about once every seven minutes in the United States. Specifically, the 12,781 U.S. law enforcement agencies submitting crime statistics to the FBI reported 76,714 forcible rapes for the year 2003. However, less publicized is the number that should naturally follow – the nationwide clearance rate. 

Clearance rates are determined by how many cases were solved either by a suspect being arrested or identified, or dismissal for failure to develop evidence. A law enforcement agency’s clearance rate is essentially its report card. It is the one way a community knows whether the police are doing their job. Higher clearance rates indicate efficient and effective police investigations.

The current nationwide clearance rate for forcible rape is at the lowest point of a steady decline that started back in 1996, when it was 52%. In 2003, of the 76,714 forcible rapes reported across the U.S., law enforcement investigators cleared only about 33,754 (44%). What this means for victims of rape, and the communities where they live, is that their cases remain open and unsolved more often than not. And it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.

According to a new manual written to help educate and train sex crimes investigators, major causes for these overall low solve rates include a lack of leadership, a lack of experienced and informed supervision, and a lack investigative training. “Attitude starts at the top and works its way down,” says Brent E. Turvey, MS, co-author of the Rape Investigation Handbook from Elsevier Science. “If the head of an investigative agency makes rape investigations a priority, trains competent supervisors, and rewards investigators with high solve rates, then investigations will be motivated to produce results. If not, there is no incentive, and no way of knowing whether or not the results are any good. That’s assuming the rape complaint actually gets assigned to an investigator. Some cases don’t make it that far.” In some jurisdictions, according to Turvey, only cases that have a high probability of being solved are actually assigned to an investigator, meaning not every rape complaint is investigated. "That is not acceptable," he argues.  

Leadership not only affects attitudes, but opportunities as well. Turvey explained that even under the best circumstances it’s hard for well-intentioned investigators who seek additional training – but are undermined by departmental politics. “Unfortunately, training opportunities, high profile investigative assignments, and the coveted prize of overtime are not always given to those with demonstrated ability. Too many administrators and supervisors give out advancement and other rewards to satisfy internal politics. They want investigators who will play ball and not make waves.” According to Turvey, that kind of leadership creates division, dissatisfaction, and sometimes apathy within an agency.

John O. Savino, a sex crimes detective for the past 15 years and Turvey’s co-author on the Rape Investigation Handbook, agrees that leadership and training are crucial. “Supervisors need to expect more from their investigators, and investigators need to be rewarded for getting the job done,” he explained. “A lot of guys out there doing investigations have to learn how to work their cases on their own. Even when there is money for training in the budget, there’s just not a whole lot of good material available to learn from. So basically they have to learn from the guys that are already in place doing the job. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t – its hit and miss.”

Savino, who has conducted more than 10,000 sex crimes investigations and has no small amount of homicide experience under his belt, explained another big problem - supervisors who may or may not have the investigative experience to properly review investigative work for mistakes. “The reality is that a lot of bad investigative habits are reincarnated through poor training, apathy and inexperience and they keep slipping through the same cracks. Admitting to these kinds of problems is the first step towards fixing them.” 

John F. Timoney, Chief of Police in Miami Florida, agrees. Timoney, nationally renowned for his sex crimes reforms and initiatives as chief of police in both Philadelphia and Miami, wrote the Foreword to the Rape Investigation Handbook. There, he gets right to the point about problems and solutions in police work, writing:

It is not an exaggeration to say that science has outpaced training in most police agencies —but it would be unfair to blame police officers and detectives for this situation. It is the responsibility of top management to provide appropriate training for all officers. While the lack of money and resources are real issues, they can never be offered as an excuse.

Timoney goes on to offer support for the manual as a comprehensive guide to "the best policies and practices" in rape investigation, stating "At a minimum, this book should be available in every precinct, district, and detective squad room for ready reference." 

The collaboration of Savino and Turvey on the Rape Investigation Handbook came from a mutual understanding of what was regularly lacking in sex crimes investigations. “We both see a big training gap out there in the investigative community, we both see a lack of solid leadership, and we both see these problems hurting solve rates,” said Turvey. “It’s not the same everywhere, and everything is felt in degrees, but the report card isn’t good. Solve rates are way too low. We wanted to help change things for the better – to create a standard for rape investigation that everyone could use. There’s a lot of confusion out there. Supervisors, investigators, attorneys and even victims can reference this text to get an applied sense of the steps in a rape investigation, and what investigators can be doing along the way.”

Savino explained that the Handbook is meant to give investigators something solid to hold onto when they start “catching” their first cases. It can also help administrators and supervisors with less case experience, he explained, by showing them what to look for when reviewing investigative casework. “There has never been anything else like it. It really walks you through tried and true procedures that have been successful in thousands of tough to solve rapes. These common sense procedures can also be applied to any investigation being conducted, straight talk on not just how to work your cases, but also how to run and manage them and then put them together for prosecution. What it doesn’t do is work your cases for you.”

Both Savino and Turvey also agree that unless attitudes change, and better training is required for sex crimes investigators, solve rates around the country will continue to drop.

Brent E. Turvey, MS may be contacted via his website at, or via his email:

The Rape Investigation Handbook is published by Academic Press, an imprint of Elsevier Science. It is available at:



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Last update: 11/08/2004