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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

New Orleans Has a Rape Response Problem

Police are taking hours to arrive at the scene; rape kits are going untested; cases are indefinitely stalled.

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In May 2021, a New Orleans Police Department crime scene technician reported that she was raped by a police officer while they were out on a date. The officer, Gerry Paul, was arrested, temporarily suspended, and then placed on administrative reassignment. More than a year later, she tells NOLA.com that her criminal investigation has stalled.

The crime scene technician, who asked the newspaper’s reporter that she not be named, alleges that she’d been drinking with Paul, her colleague, in his apartment, when he performed oral sex on her. In an affidavit filed by police in criminal court, she alleges he reached for a condom, but when she told him to stop, he refused, muttering that it was “too good to stop.”

“He repeatedly ignored me when I told him to stop, and no, and that I wasn’t ready,” she wrote in her petition for a restraining order. She said she tried to push Paul off, but he kept ignoring her and placed her hands behind her back “in an arresting position.” She wrote that he then choked her and raped her, all “with a firearm visible on the nightstand.” The forensic exam “documented bruising and damage to the back of her throat from the strangulation,” according to Nola.com. (A spokesperson for NOPD did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment, and Paul has not publicly commented on the allegation.)

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The evidence from the survivor’s 2021 forensic exam is one of 73,000 untested DNA samples in the Louisiana State Crime Lab, many of which are part of a backlog of rape kits. Morgan Lamandre, policy and compliance director of New Orleans organization Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR), tells Jezebel the problem is not just the testing of the DNA—it’s about how detectives respond to the reports and interview witnesses to build their case. (Disclosure, I volunteered for STAR in 2017).

Crime analyst Jeff Asher sent me the report he presented to the New Orleans city council a few weeks ago. It documents how rape survivors, many of whom are children, have to wait hours for police to respond because of NOPD staffing shortages. Mayor LaToya Cantrell blames staffing shortages on the NOPD being under federal consent decree, which ironically is partly because of how it failed to handle sexual assault crimes in the past.

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In one example Asher cited, an Uber driver “reported having a hysterical passenger who said she had been recently beaten and sexually assaulted.” When she was dropped off at her location, she didn’t have her phone. When officers arrived three hours later, they were unable to find her. She was noted as “GOA,” which means gone on arrival. In a separate incident that made national headlines, law enforcement officials failed to appropriately respond to a 911 caller reporting an ongoing rape in the French Quarter.

Asher reported that between January and July 2022, 95 aggravated rape incidents in New Orleans were downgraded from emergency to non-emergency status, while the 911 calls were dispatched. Often, this increased the likelihood that the victims were GOA by the time the officer went to the scene. Keep in mind only 310 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are even reported to the police, according to the 2020 National Crime Victimization Survey.

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A recent Sexual Violence Response Advisory Committee report said that the NOPD is averaging a case load of 89 cases per detective, while the committee recommends that each detective take a maximum of 26 cases at a time.

Meanwhile, a New Orleans police spokesperson told NOLA.com that Paul “remains employed by the NOPD on administrative reassignment pending the results of the criminal proceedings.” Initially suspended for 120 days after he made bail, Paul’s suspension was canceled, and he was reassigned. Recently, after the newspaper started reporting on the stalled investigation, the NOPD requested expedited processing for the crime scene technician’s rape kit. But, it goes without saying, this doesn’t reflect how most sexual assault survivors DNA testing is being treated.

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So sexual assault survivors in the city might call 911, wait hours for a response from the NOPD, and potentially get a forensic exam that will go months or years without being processed. And on top of that, they may be accusing someone in the very department to which they’re supposed to report. New Orleans is just one city—but it’s a microcosm of what rape victims are up against in a system that’s inherently stacked against them.