Background check on rapist - if and how
August 31, 2018 5:55 PM   Subscribe

A friend was recently drugged and raped on a date. As part of her effort to respond she wants to do a background check on him. Is this something that’s easily done? How does a non-employer/landlord go about doing this?
posted by skyscraper to Law & Government (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I forgot to mention that she’s concerned that he might find out she’s researching him and retaliate somehow. He claimed to have a “military intelligence” background.
posted by skyscraper at 5:58 PM on August 31, 2018

Can you clarify what you mean "as part of her effort to respond?" Are the police involved? What type of information is she hoping to learn about this person other than he's a rapist who should be reported to police?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:59 PM on August 31, 2018 [7 favorites]

Washington State Patrol is responsible for keeping conviction records in Washington state. I would contact them first.
posted by emmatrotsky at 6:04 PM on August 31, 2018

you can run some very basic (and not very good) background checks using various paid sites that come up in a google search (for something like $10 or $20), but be aware that all of those companies will sign you up for a monthly fee if you don't unsubscribe immediately.
posted by twoplussix at 6:06 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yep, she’s looked at the basic “watch out for the monthly payments” sites. Is this what employers/landlords go to?
posted by skyscraper at 6:09 PM on August 31, 2018

The MeFi Wiki ThereIsHelp page includes contact information for rape and sexual assault hotlines with trained counselors available to listen and make referrals to appropriate resources.

Your friend may also want to get a lawyer and explore free and low-cost legal help that can offer advice tailored to the specific situation.
posted by Little Dawn at 6:17 PM on August 31, 2018 [9 favorites]

Employers and landlords don't have to rely on those sites because they have written consent. Many of the services they rely on for their checks require it. You can go to an actual security company that performs such checks, but to get much information you'll have to (a) get consent (b) break the law or (c) pay enough for the research to be done the shoe-leather way, which I imagine would be a lot.
posted by praemunire at 6:21 PM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

[OP, you don't need to respond to every comment.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:24 PM on August 31, 2018

If you can get access to the Lexis public records database you can run a Comprehensive Person Search - you don’t need consent although the database will ask you DPPA and Gramm Leach Bliley etc related questions. In my experience when I run these I check off that I have no permissible use under DPPA or GLBA and I still get a pretty comprehensive report of data that is publicly available about an individual. They just consolidate a bunch of disparate publicly available data items into one report.

I would not recommend checking any boxes indicating that you have permissible use to access restricted data if you don’t. A - illegal and B - they can and will check up on accounts who are acting fishy. Not sure if they offer a pay as you go feature anymore so I’m not sure how the general public would get access to Lexis without knowing someone who is an account holder or has dedicated user access. Or buying your own subscription $$$.
posted by rdnnyc at 8:13 PM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

If it’s prior convictions etc she is looking for,her state may have a data base online for that. Oklahoma does. If his name is super common that would complicate things but it’s worth looking into. Not completely thorough brcuse other states etc. but it could give you an idea
posted by domino at 8:16 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is what PIs do for a living and they can advise on what is legal in your state etc.
posted by fshgrl at 9:24 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a lawyer, and I work with victims of sexual assault.

There is no single product that is a "background check." There are myriad original-source databases, mostly unconnected, that contain different records and are usually maintained by the agencies that created those records; and on another level, there are secondhand-source databases that purport to sell you collections of those records.

For instance, in Massachusetts, you can submit a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) request to the Office of Public Safety, which will give you a very limited record of the person's criminal charges. To get more information about each charge, you'd need to contact each courthouse or police department. If you contact those courts and police departments, you may end up discovering other crimes that didn't appear on the person's CORI. None of this will include the person's driving history, which is maintained by the RMV; nor anything about whether the person has been sued civilly, including for restraining orders that may have been related to sexual offenses. And of course, none of this will begin to address things like the person's financial history, bankruptcy filings, licenses and applications therefor, and other documents that can either tell you directly about a person or lead you to more information.

Also, this will just give you results within Massachusetts. Often Massachusetts residents spend time—and commit crimes, etc—in other New England states. If I were researching someone who lived in the Massachusetts towns of Attleboro or Chelmsford or Dudley, I wouldn't consider my job done until I'd also checked Rhode Island or New Hampshire or Connecticut. That doubles the work.

The term "background check" is a marketing term. It's more useful to think about what information, exactly, you're looking to uncover. If you are looking to uncover the maximum possible amount of information, then you'll have a lot of work to do. It can take me two months to obtain a clear picture of a person's background records, and I'm fairly experienced at doing it. Remember that none of this includes things like interviews with friends and family. So far we're just talking about records, and ones that are publicly available.

I hope that's helpful. I am very sorry for your friend's experience.
posted by cribcage at 11:29 PM on August 31, 2018 [22 favorites]

(Law librarian here.) If she's in Washington state and wants to know whether he's ever been charged with a crime or sued before, there are free court databases available. These will only search Washington state courts. The state court systems are in flux right now so there are multiple places to search:
-Do a Name Search here:
-Do a "Smart Search" here, using an asterisk after the first name to get any variations, e.g. Smith, Robert*
-For Seattle Municipal Court, do a Defendant Search here:

If he has a common name or lied about his name, the results will probably be inconclusive, I'm sorry to say.

Cribcage is absolutely right about databases and "background checks."

Feel free to MeMail me with any questions. I'm really sorry that happened to your friend.
posted by purple_bird at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2018 [5 favorites]

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