According to statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, they are in the process of testing 13,435 sexual assault kits. Each tested kit could lead law enforcement to a rapist who has never been arrested for their alleged crime.
On June 12, 2003 the life of one Polk County woman changed forever. Nearly 14 years after her alleged attacker was arrested she told investigators she “is still traumatized by the incident today.”
The woman’s name is protected because she is the reported victim of a sex crime. ABC Action News has never met, interviewed, or known who she is. But, reading the arrest warrant we didn’t have to meet the woman face-to-face and interview her to know that what she went through was nothing short of horrific, according to the report.
Victim’s rights advocates tell us, sadly, this is the sad reality for tens of thousands of woman across the United States who have been victim’s of sex crimes. Waiting years for law enforcement to make an arrest.
In 2015, the Winter Haven Police Department audited their sexual assault kits finding several that were more than a decade old and never tested.
“Different administration, different policies, different personnel that are no longer with us anymore,” Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird told reporter Michael Paluska. “Whatever the reasons are, that rape kit did not get turned in. And, there is really no excuse for it, it didn't get turned in.”
Bird says the kit for the 2003 case sat in their evidence room, never getting tested. According to their incident report, the detective working the case had all the evidence he needed, but no suspect information.
The report says that four days after the reported rape, the detective closed the case “due to the lack of suspect information.”
Before even attempting to send the sexual assault kit in that the victim completed, the detective just four days later closed the case.
“Unfortunately, that is not unusual,” Karen Lea the Program Manager for Peace River Center Victim Services said.
That’s because, Lea says, a lot of detectives didn’t ask the right questions or were skeptical of victim stories. Lea says if investigators didn’t think their victim was credible, even though many were, they wouldn’t send the kits in for testing.
Lea says how victims reacted during their sexual assault often led to bias from law enforcement as well.
“Definitely look at trauma interviews, how trauma impacts victims, how memory is encoded,” Lea said. “The person is not making a choice to fight, flight, or freeze; their body, their brain is making the decision for them.”
According to the 2015 FDLE report, some tests weren’t sent in because of lack of funding, victim credibility, or the decision by the detective not to send it in.
As the 2003 rape kit remained in evidence for more than a decade, Berouty, now charged with the crime was in and out of the Polk County jail. He spent more than a year and a half years behind bars for crimes ranging from domestic violence, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and battery.
Berouty’s DNA wasn’t uploaded to The Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, system operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigations until 2011. Bird says even if they submitted Berouty’s DNA swab for analysis immediately after the reported crime, that 2011 date is the earliest Berouty would have been arrested for the rape charge.
“It validates what they (victim) had said happened number one, and for us as an agency,” Bird said. “It is bitter sweet because it is one that we should've done something sooner.”
According to the report, the victim picked Berouty up and they went to the public boat ramp on Lake Howard and ate fast food. At first the report said they began consensual kissing. When she didn’t want to go any further she told investigators Berouty pulled out a knife and said, “As long as you do what I say, I won’t hurt you.” The report said he ordered the victim to take her pants off then tore open her buttoned shirt and held the knife to her throat.
Evidence collected at the scene show the detective “logged out the victim’s clothing, consisting of jeans and a button down shirt. While inspecting the shirt, I found that several buttons of the front of the shirt were missing and the fabric was pulled as if the shirt was torn open.”
After the victim was transported to the Rape Crisis Center to undergo a sexual assault kit the Nurse Practitioner “observed a red linear style marek on the left side of the victim’s throat that coincided with the victim’s account of the suspect holding a knife to her throat during the offense.”
Four days later, with no suspect information, despite all the evidence. The case was closed.
Bird says the detective working that case made a mistake, and it won’t happen in his department again.
“We’ve put steps in place we’ve put in a safety net so we don't have anything that falls through the cracks,” Bird said. “We have to go and do the best we can for those victims and that is what we are going to do.”
Lea says victims of sex crimes feel an intense shame as if they did something wrong. She said law enforcement and society as a whole have to change the way we react to sex crimes.
“I have yet to have a single victim not feel embarrassed,” Lea said. “Of a hundred rapists out there, only three only ever see jail time, that is 97 percent get away with it because it is underreported, because victims are traumatized, and because rape kits have not been sent in.”
Berouty remains in a Polk County jail awaiting trial on a $1 million bond.