The Power of Truth: The Life of Louis R. Vitullo and the Legacy of the Rape Kit by Tristin Engels, PsyD
ABOUT THE BOOK
When Louis R. Vitullo started as a “beat cop” with the Chicago Police Department in 1951 he couldn’t have guessed the impact he would make on the history of forensics. As Sergeant and then Chief Microanalyst of the crime lab, he oversaw some of Chicago’s most notorious cases, which allowed him to address flaws in crime scene investigation. In 1978 he created the Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit, now known as Rape Kits, which standardized the collection of evidence in sexual assault cases.
These “Vitullo Kits” have increased the convictions of sexual offenders and improved survivors’ ability to obtain justice by challenging biases toward sexual crimes and fighting victim shaming. Additionally, they assist in exonerating the wrongly accused. However, Vitullo never imagined that over 400,000 kits would be discovered untested and collecting dust in evidence lockers throughout the United States. He had done his part to help those affected by sexual assault crimes… why aren’t we doing ours?
The Power of Truth is the story of Louis R. Vitullo and the legacy of the rape kit as told by his granddaughter, a forensic psychologist who works with sexually deviant and serial offenders, a compelling chronicle of a family legacy addressing criminal justice reform.
In the United States alone a rape happens every 98 seconds!
I receive a lot of requests from authors to read their books and when Dr. Engels asked me to review her book about her beloved and well-respected grandfather who was the man behind the creation of the Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit or Rape Kit, I was happy to do it.
Mr. Vitullo was an Italian immigrant, World War II vet, and beat cop in Chicago. Dr. Engels describes her grandfather as a very loving husband, father and grandfather, a funny man, a private man, and a dedicated women’s rights advocate.
In the 1970s in Chicago, Vitullo met Martha Goddard, who was a victim advocate and founder of Chicago’s Citizens for Victims Assistance organization, and herself a sexual assault survivor. Due to the ignorance and mishandling of Goddard’s sexual assault, she wanted victims to be treated with respect and insist that law enforcement follow through with sexual assault complaints. That’s when she met Vitullo and they worked together to create the Vitullo Evidence Collection Kit.
Dr. Engels’ book gives us not only the personal background on her grandfather and how he was involved in the creation of the Rape Kit, but how he became an early expert and consultant on crime scene investigations. Vitullo’s valued experience and assistance as a consultant for some of the most notorious cases such as Richard Speck, a brutal rapist and murderer of eight nurses in Chicago, and John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer of young men in Chicago, demonstrates the respect and importance of his contributions to law enforcement.
Vitullo was a member of the Citizens Committee on Rape, State of Illinois Rape Advisory Committee, City of Chicago Rape Ordinance Committee, and the State of Wisconsin Laboratory Employment Committee. When he retired from the police force due to bureaucratic and political gains, he continued to lecture across the state of Illinois, and, as noted above, he also worked as a consultant for organizations regarding ongoing, and often complicated, cases of sexual assault.
Dr. Engel also discusses the shameful backlog of untested, sometimes decades-old, sexual assault evidence kits across the country and the excuses and the blatant disregard from federal and state agencies that sexual assaults are not a priority in our justice system. States legislators need to step up and make these issues a priority.
In addition, the book describes what rape victims go through psychologically and physically during testing, what types of assault cases there are such as stranger rape, acquaintance rape, and serial rape cases, and the destruction and mishandling of rape kits.
Inspired by her grandfather’s dedication and accomplishments, Dr. Engels became a forensic psychologist and currently works for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and has worked with “serial murderers, gang members, cartel members, and serial rapists.” Despite the brutal and heinous things the offenders have done, she treats the inmates as patients. This is how she makes a difference. She uses her “Papa’s” belief that “she could be whatever she wanted to be, if she believed it.”
This book was written to not only memorialize my grandfather for his contributions to society, but to draw awareness to sexual crimes, the backlog of untested rape kits, and the culture around rape. As I mentioned before, we have the power to create a positive ripple effect. My goal is to start that ripple with this very book.
I am glad to be a part of Dr. Engel’s positive ripple effect by reviewing and recommending this book to anyone who has been affected by a sexual assault, be it a survivor, a family member, a friend, or someone who wants to make a difference about one of the most underreported crimes in the nation. Part of the proceeds of this book are going to foundations working to stop the backlog of untested rape kits.
Thank you to Dr. Engels for giving me the opportunity to read this book with no expectation of a positive review.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tristin Engels, Psy.D., is the maternal granddaughter of Louis R. Vitullo. Growing up just outside of Chicago, she spent every Sunday, holidays, and school vacations with her grandfather at his home in Cary, Illinois.
Dr. Engels was inspired by her grandfather’s life and accomplishments. She has worked at a criminal defense law firm to understand the justice system from the defendant’s side. In 2013, she completed graduate school, and now treats offenders with significantly long, violent, and sexually deviant histories with the hopes of addressing maladaptive behavioral patterns, identifying undiagnosed mental illnesses, and ultimately reducing their risk of reoffending.
Dr. Engels was interviewed by CNN in 2015. Read the article here.