More than two decades after its officers publicly discredited a rape survivor's account of her attack, the NYPD has issued a formal apology. Police Commissioner James O'Neill published a letter on Sunday owning up to the department's complicity in a smear of the woman, whom officials painted as a liar at the time of the incident, and whose story DNA evidence has since corroborated.

In April 1994, a woman reported to authorities that a man ambushed her as she walked home through Prospect Park, pulling her into the bushes and raping her. She provided a detailed description of the event, and officers even collected semen from her shorts, but certain members of the police still cast doubt on her credibility. She identified as a lesbian, and this apparently led some officials to believe that she'd concocted the story to drum up support for a rally spotlighting anti-LGBT violence. The late NY Daily News columnist Mike McAlary published those assertions in a piece entitled "Rape Hoax the Real Crime," writing, "The woman, who will probably end up being arrested herself, invented the crime, they said, to promote her rally."

Even after the DNA came to light, McAlary stood by his narrative, and the woman sued him and the News for libel (the case was dismissed in 1997). McAlary succumbed to cancer in 1998, and 20 years later, police matched the DNA sample to convicted serial rapist James Edward Webb. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations has run out on this particular case, but Webb is already behind bars for other rapes he's committed—some of which conceivably could have been avoided, had police taken the woman's allegations more seriously from the start.

"To the survivor: As Police Commissioner, I extend my heartfelt apology for all aspersions cast upon your credibility by NYPD personnel those many years ago," O'Neill wrote. "And I apologize for the NYPD's role in the quarter-century of questions that so wrongly surrounded your case. We know the damage that sexual assaults inflict on survivors. Compounding that damage with insensitive comments and wild conspiracy theories only further amplifies the cruelty and injustice of the initial crime itself. For that, I am deeply and profoundly sorry."

As the NY Times reports, the police commissioner at the time, Bill Bratton, did apologize for the fact that police had leaked their crying-wolf theory to the press, but not for the theory itself.

"I firmly believe that no one in the NYPD would draw such an implausible and ridiculous conclusion today," O'Neill wrote, characterizing the hoax allegation as "egregious" and acknowledging that the NYPD "fell short in an important area: Simple humanity."

The NYPD reopened the case in 2017, as the burgeoning #MeToo movement demanded that institutions begin listening to survivors of sexual abuse, and advancements in forensic technology allowed police to match the DNA with Webb's. On Monday morning, O'Neill appeared on Fox 5 NY to explain why the apology was such a long time coming.

"We meet with the advocates for sexual assault survivors four times a year, and it's important that we do that, too," he said.

"The NYPD's certainly not perfect," O'Neill continued, and he's not wrong: Survivors have criticized its Special Victims Unit for the carelessness with which they say investigators treat people who report sexual abuse. "I looked back, and it [the case] was a while ago, but it's important that people know that this is not the way survivors of sexual assault should be treated. It was important that I put that out there and let her know that, going forward, this isn't going to happen again."

Speaking to the NY Times, the woman said she was surprised to see the apology "in black and white."

"I wanted to see this happen so that the NYPD would have to take a public stance in support of survivors, so that there would be a public statement that would make it clear that it was safe and beneficial for survivors to come forward to the police, and that they would not be attacked or pilloried by the police," she explained.

After authorities identified Webb, the woman's attorney, Martin Garbus, told WNYC that both the NYPD and the Daily News owed his client apologies. Garbus was not immediately available for comment, and we have contacted the Daily News to ask if they plan to follow O'Neill's lead. We will update if we hear back.