DENVER - CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon and photojournalist Jason Foster of 7NEWS have been honored with the prestigious Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award – the broadcast journalism equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.
This is the third duPont–Columbia Award 7NEWS has received in the past decade, along with 3 Peabody Awards and 3 national Edward R. Murrow awards.
Rabon and Foster are recognized for a series of investigative reports they conducted on sexual assaults in Colorado, which shed light on a crime that affects thousands throughout the state annually.
The reporting revealed systematic failures in the handling of rape cases in Colorado and exposed thousands of neglected victims through the discovery of over 6,000 untested rape kits. The team’s investigation also examined the rates of sexual assault prosecution by the Denver District Attorney, finding only 29% of felony sex assaults are accepted for prosecution by the DA. These stories have led to changes in policy and state law, and perhaps given victims a chance at justice that would have otherwise been denied. Today, Rabon and Foster are recognized for their achievement.
“We are honored to receive this prestigious award. It is a recognition of our unwavering mission to investigate and shed light on difficult stories in an effort to bring change and improve our community,” said 7NEWS News Director, Jeff Harris.
For over 70 years, the duPont-Coumbia awards have recognized excellence in broadcast journalism and is regarded as one of the most prestigious prizes in broadcast, documentary and digital news. The awards bring the best of national, local, and independently released reports together, honoring them for their outstanding work. Every year about a dozen new stories are recognized by the duPont-Columbia University Awards for the strength of their reporting, storytelling and impact on public interest. The awards are presented at Columbia University's Low Library in a ceremony hosted by some of the country's leading broadcast journalists.
To learn more about Call7 Investigator Keli Rabon, "Like" her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @KeliRabon, or visit TheDenverChannel.com. To learn more about the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, visit journalism.columbia.edu.
See the video behind the story below. Mobile users, click here: http://vimeo.com/82145427
Here is what Keli wrote about her series:
When Kelly Binder was drugged and raped by a stranger in 2010, she thought Denver police would quickly help solve her case and prosecutors would bring the attacker to justice. But as with so many other sexual assaults in Colorado, Binder's rape kit was never tested and prosecutors refused to accept her case.
A year-long investigation by KMGH-TV uncovered systemic failures in the handling of rape cases in Colorado -- from minimal police investigations, to prosecutors only accepting the most clear-cut cases, we found sexual assault victims rarely receive justice and their attackers are rarely held accountable. But as a result of our reporting, major changes are being made.
Our reporting began with an in-depth analysis of how Colorado police departments utilize rape kits, the evidence obtained through an invasive physical examination of a victim after a sexual assault. The DNA evidence can be used to connect criminals to cases in other cities or states. Through more than a dozen records requests, we found police departments throughout the state had no idea how many rape kits they had in evidence, how many had been tested, and how many were untested. Some police departments said it would take more than $25,000 to compile this data, or that rape kits "weren't necessary to track" and denied our requests.
We found local police departments had failed to test as many as 72% of rape kits, for reasons ranging from misunderstanding of what evidence was eligible to be tested, to a belief that evidence from known suspects was of "no use" to a case so it was unnecessary to test. When our investigation aired in November 2012, one police department immediately changed its policy to test all of its rape kits, and a state lawmaker vowed to sponsor legislation that would require police throughout Colorado to test all rape kits, including the backlog of untested kits. That bill was signed into law by Governor John Hickenlooper on June 6, 2013 -- just 7 months after our initial story aired. Now $14 million have been set aside in the 2014-2015 state budget, and more than 6,200 untested rape kits from old cases have been uncovered statewide and will soon be tested.
As our investigation continued to evolve, we took a closer look at prosecution rates across the state, and found the Denver District Attorney was refusing to prosecute 71% of felony sexual assault cases presented by police. This refusal rate was far higher than other districts in Colorado, and other comparable sized cities throughout the country.
For five months we requested interviews with the Denver DA, but those requests were consistently denied. The primary reason -- the DA said he didn't like our rape kit investigation. Ultimately we agreed to meet with the DA off-camera to discuss the low prosecution rates, but when we arrived at the meeting the DA had setup a camera of his own and would only speak to us if he recorded the meeting and we didn't. We later filed an open records request to obtain this video, and put the entire hour-long meeting online.
Our investigation revealed that one of the reasons the Denver DA was refusing so many cases was the office's filing standard -- proof beyond a reasonable doubt -- is a trial standard and not an intake standard. Experts say using that filing standard sets the bar too high, too early in a case, and in turn this could mean that good cases were being prematurely closed.
In summary, our reporting on sexual assaults in Colorado have shed light on a crime that annually affects thousands of people throughout the state, yet is too often only minimally investigated. But these stories have led to changes in policy and state law, and perhaps even given some victims a chance at justice that would have otherwise been denied.
7NEWS is owned and operated by the E.W. Scripps Company. The E.W. Scripps Company (www.scripps.com) serves audiences and businesses through a growing portfolio of television, print and digital media brands. It owns 19 local television stations and daily newspapers in 13 markets across the United States and an expanding collection of local and national digital journalism and information businesses. Scripps also produces television programming, runs an award-winning investigative reporting newsroom in Washington, D.C., and serves as the long-time steward of one of the nation’s largest, most successful and longest-running educational programs, Scripps National Spelling Bee. Founded in 1879, Scripps is focused on the stories of tomorrow.