Sun, Jul 07, 2013 - Page 9 News List

How one city’s rape crisis stands to help others

In the 1980s and 1990s, Philadelphia police were found to have regularly ignored rape cases. The resulting crisis brought shame to the city — but now the department’s transformation is a model for others

By Joanna Walters  /  The Guardian, NEW YORK

It emerged during the investigation into Shannon Schieber’s murder that two of the rapes prior to her attack had, initially at least, been filed by detectives under the classification 2701.

A 2701 was a “non-criminal” category that meant something so trivial it required no further police action.

Schieber was heard screaming for help by a neighbor, who called the police.

They arrived in six minutes, knocked on Schieber’s door but, hearing nothing and seeing no signs of forced entry, they left.

Schieber’s father, Sylvester Schieber, believes, especially having chewed the case over with federal criminologists, that the attacker intended solely to rape his daughter, but when the patrol officers knocked on the door he strangled her to silence her, then fled out of the balcony door.

If the officers had known there was a serial rapist prowling the area they would probably have forced their way in and perhaps been able to save the promising young finance student — although she would not have chosen that area to live if the public had been warned, he said.

“They set Shannon up for murder,” he said.

The police were initially convinced her murder was a crime of passion by an ex-suitor.

It took eight months for investigators to link the five neighborhood cases to one predator and two years and a series of Pulitzer prize-nominated investigations by the Philadelphia Inquirer for the police to admit there was anything more than “isolated sloppiness” at play and that comprehensive reform was needed.

All the 2701 shelved cases going back five years (the statute of limitations) were re-examined leading to 681 reclassified as rape, 863 as other sexual offenses.

The Schiebers failed in a lawsuit against the city. However, Sylvester Schieber takes some grim satisfaction from the reforms that took place.

“If Shannon screamed for help tonight they would break the door down. The probability that she would be alive today would be a lot higher. It took her murder and another one [by a different perpetrator] for policing policy to change,” he said.

Schieber’s killer was not caught until 2002. Troy Graves, then 29, had raped one more woman in Philadelphia then married and moved to Colorado, where he raped six women near Fort Collins. By that time Philadelphia police had been forced to recognize they were looking for a serial predator.

“A very skilled forensic medical exam on one of his victims in Colorado in 2001 helped crack it,” Boyle said. “He had licked the woman’s breast and the examining nurse was diligent enough to swab the breasts meticulously — and picked up his DNA.”

“After Shannon, he had been careful not to leave sperm at the scene. But after that rape kit he popped up on the federal DNA computer system,” Boyle said.

The police then eventually identified and tracked down Graves, who is now serving multiple life sentences.

Philadelphia has since improved its detection of linked cases and its outreach to the public.

Just in recent weeks, officers from the SVU were handing out flyers in the lovely Fairmount Park near the river and warning joggers not to listen to music through earphones and to stay alert because the mysterious, serial “Fairmount Park Rapist” is still on the loose more than a decade after his first attack.

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