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Reporting Highlights Room For Improvement In Kentucky's Sexual Assault Response

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

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Why does Louisville have so many fish fries?

Kentucky has worked in recent years to reform systems that handle sexual assault cases, but a recent examination by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting shows there is still room for improvement.  This week, WFPL’s In Conversation discussed KyCIR’s latest investigation, “Prosecution Declined,” as well as ways for survivors to access services and hopes for continued improvements in the systems that investigate and prosecute sexual assault. 

Our guests:

  • Investigative Reporter Eleanor Klibanoff with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Survivors' Corner Founder and Director Donna Pollard

The investigation, part of KyCIR’s new podcast “Dig”, found that the Louisville police rely heavily on prosecutors’ judgment when deciding whether sexual assault cases should lead to an arrest. Only 30 of 194 rape cases reported to the Louisville Metro Police Department in 2017 ended with an arrest. Just four of those arrest cases ended with rape convictions. 

Investigative reporter Eleanor Klibanoff wrote the report.  She said it is not unheard of for police to involve prosecutors early in complex cases like these.

“What is so unusual in Louisville is how frequently the prosecutors are saying ‘no’, and how often that results in the cases being cleared by exception, ” Klibanoff said. 

The investigation found that LMPD often present rape cases to a prosecutor early in the investigation, and in at least one case, cleared a case in violation of its own rules and FBI guidelines. 

Klibanoff said prosecutors play a big role in the outcome of rape cases statewide, but they have not been subject to the same reforms as other parts of the criminal justice system.

Klibanoff said identifying the backlog of untested rape kits in 2015 was seen as a turning point for reforms on sexual violence in Kentucky. Since then, legislators have passed laws that require police create a tracking system for rape kits, mandate first responders receive trauma-informed training around sexual assault, designate hospitals with 24/7 access to sexual assault nurse examiners, and more. But ongoing reporting revealed rape kit testing takes an average of seven months or longer, and a lack of sexual assault nurses prompted some Kentucky hospitals to illegally turn away victims away.

Donna Pollard said the “Prosecution Declined” investigation reveals a need for more reform in Kentucky. Pollard is the founder and director of Survivors’ Corner, a nonprofit aimed at helping survivors of trauma by connecting them to peer-learning and support groups. Pollard said it is important to help survivors before trauma affects their livelihoods.

“If they continue to live in silence because they’re afraid of the stigma that inevitably is associated with their victimization, then that delays their healing,” Pollard said. “They can very well end up losing jobs because they’re living with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression and anxiety, and don’t feel that they’re empowered to seek treatment about that.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer commented on the investigation in a statement, saying he is confident that LMPD “places a priority on getting justice” for rape victims.

To share information with KyCIR: call (502) 814-6580 or email us at investigate@kycir.org. The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE or through an live, online chat here.

For free services in Louisville, contact the Center for Women and Families at (502) 581-7222.

Join us next week for In Conversation as we discuss controversy over Louisville schools’ dress codes.


Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.