The arrest rate for rape—24 percent—has not changed since the late 1970s. In the new Human Rights Watch book The Unfinished Revolution, Sarah Tofte explains why.

The U.S. has struggled to make progress in the way the criminal-justice system addresses violence against women and girls. Only in the last 40 years have laws and systems been put in place to prohibit a victim’s prior sexual activity from being entered into evidence, to eliminate the requirement that there be a corroborating witness to a rape, and to create procedures to collect physical evidence from victims.

Today police and prosecutors are extensively trained in how to move cases forward, and sexual-assault investigative and prosecutorial units are common in most major cities.

Yet despite these reforms, the number of reported rapes that lead to an arrest—much less a conviction—remains intractably small. In 2010 the arrest rate for rape was 24 percent, which was exactly what it was in the late 1970s, when the FBI first began tracking such data. Too many rape cases in this country don’t just remain unresolved—they remain uninvestigated.

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