Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Woman Who Invented the Rape Kit and Forced Police to Starting Treating Sexual Assault Like a Crime

The Rape Kit's Secret History: The Story of the Woman Who Forced the Police to Start Treating Sexual Assault Like a Crime

MARTY GODDARD’S FIRST FLASH OF INSIGHT CAME IN 1972. It all started when she marched into a shabby townhouse on Halsted Street in Chicago to volunteer at a crisis hotline for teenagers.

 

Most of the other volunteers were hippies with scraggly manes and love beads. But not Marty Goddard. She tended to wear business clothes: a jacket with a modest skirt, pantyhose, low heels. She hid her eyes behind owlish glasses and kept her blond hair short. Not much makeup; maybe a plum lip. She was 31, divorced, with a mordant sense of humor. Her name was Martha, but everyone called her Marty. She liked hiding behind a man’s name. It was useful....

 

She began to formulate questions that almost no one was asking back in the early ’70s: Why were so many predators getting away with it? And what would it take to stop them?

 

Ms. Goddard would go on to lead a campaign to treat sexual assault as a crime that could be investigated, rather than as a feminine delusion. She began a revolution in forensics by envisioning the first standardized rape kit, containing items like swabs and combs to gather evidence, and envelopes to seal it in. The kit is one of the most powerful tools ever invented to bring criminals to justice. And yet, you’ve never heard of Marty Goddard. In many ways she and her invention shared the same fate. They were enormously important and consistently overlooked.***

 

As soon as I began to investigate the rape kit’s origins, however, I stumbled across a mystery. Most sources credited a Chicago police sergeant, Louis Vitullo, with developing the kit in the 1970s. But a few described the invention as a collaboration between Mr. Vitullo and an activist, Martha Goddard. Where was the truth? As so often happens in stories about rape, I found myself wondering whom to believe....

 

Little did I know that I would have to hunt for six months before I finally solved the mystery. I would learn she had transformed the criminal-justice system, though her role has never been fully acknowledged. And I would also discover that Louis Vitullo — far from being the inventor of the rape kit — may have taken credit for Ms. Goddard’s genius and insisted that his name be put on the equipment.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2020/07/the-rape-kits-secret-history-the-story-of-the-woman-who-forced-the-police-to-start-treating-sexual-assault-like-a-crime-m.html

Violence Against Women | Permalink

Comments

Post a comment