Officials: Few rapes reported, even fewer prosecuted

07/26/2014 4:41 PM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

The intruder woke her in her bedroom early on a recent Sunday morning. He had a gun, he told her, and he forced her to do what he wanted.

When he finally left, the 56-year-old woman reported the rape to police. Her case stands out for two reasons:

Rapes committed by perpetrators unknown to the victim account for less than 10 percent of all cases, local crime statistics show.

Also, officials say, she is in the minority to report the rape at all.

The FBI recently estimated that for every 100 rapes that occur around the nation, only 40 get reported. As low as that ratio may sound to most people, one local official who works with rape victims had a different reaction.

The FBI’s estimate “sounds a little high,” said Mary Stolz-Newton, assistant director for the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center.

She’s convinced the percentage of victims who actually report what happened is even lower than the FBI’s projection.

“We see a lot of survivors who never reported” what happened, said Stolz-Newton.

She said there are a number of reasons survivors don’t report the crimes. Many feel guilty, she said, as if they did something that invited the attack.

“We hear women sometimes victim-blame even more than men do,” Stolz-Newton said.

Another scenario that frequently silences victims is when they tell family members, who respond with, “We don’t believe you.”

“Changing our community attitude toward survivors would do a lot toward increasing the reporting,” she said. “We live in this culture that too often blames the victim.

“We need to start believing people.”

Local reporting rates

The FBI estimates that, on average, of the 40 percent of rape victims who report their crime, only 20 percent of that number result in prosecutions.

Lt. Randy Reynolds, who heads the sex crimes unit of the Wichita Police Department, said local statistics mirror the national figure.

Of the 258 rapes reported in 2013, criminal charges of some sort were filed in 54 of them — or about 21 percent, he said. In 2012, 259 rapes were reported, with charges filed in 55 of them — or slightly more than 21 percent.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office calculates its prosecution rate based on the number of cases that are presented to prosecutors by detectives. Not all reported rapes are presented to the DA’s office because detectives sometimes determine there’s no basis for the accusation, said Kim Parker, chief deputy district attorney.

Of the rape cases presented to the DA’s office, Parker said, 29 percent resulted in charges in 2013 and 30 percent in 2012.

The district attorney’s office works closely with Wichita police to make sure the investigations are thorough, Parker said. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors have received training to be up to date “on the topics that surround rape and how you prove these cases, how you gather evidence,” she said.

The presence of support agencies such as the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center also plays a significant role in prosecution rates that are higher locally than nationally, she said. It’s important for victims to recognize they’re not alone in the judicial process.

‘They’re just done’

More cases aren’t prosecuted locally primarily for one of two reasons, Parker said.

One is the victim doesn’t want to go forward with it.

“They’re just done,” she said. “They don’t want to go through with it. They don’t want to be a part of it.”

The other reason is there’s no evidence to corroborate or substantiate the reported crime, she said.

Without physical evidence demonstrating a crime, “They stand pretty much alone,” Parker said of the victims. With evidence to support the allegations, “You’re not putting them up against the world.”

If a case is based solely on a victim’s testimony, Parker said, defense attorneys will commonly attack the victim’s conduct.

“It’s almost like you’re traumatizing them all over,” she said.

A victim’s best chance of getting justice, Parker said, is to report the attack as soon as reasonably possible. That allows for the collection of physical evidence necessary to move the case through the court system.

“No one in our society should be subject to sexual abuse,” Parker said. “Rape is clearly an abusive, violent crime that we have government and other social resources dedicated to trying to stop this.”

It’s not uncommon for sexual predators to have multiple victims, she said, so a rape victim who reports a crime may help previous victims realize they’re not alone — and protect other women who may have become future victims.

Reynolds said the number of rape cases reported stays remarkably consistent in Wichita year over year.

“There’s no spiking trends, no declining trends,” Parker said. “It is pretty much consistent, which only tells me sexual assault has been going on for centuries and centuries and centuries.

“I don’t think we can expect anything different now.”

Making changes

To reduce the number of rapes and sexual assaults — and increase the number of times those crimes are reported — would require a cultural shift, Stolz-Newton said.

“I still hear it all the time: ‘Well, what was she doing?’ ” she said. “They’ll find something the victim did wrong. As long as we continue to do that, we are saying, ‘Rape is OK.’

“Instead of saying, ‘What did you do wrong?’ we should be asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ ”

The Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center launched a “Change the Rules” campaign during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April that drew such a strong response that officials decided to extend the campaign through the rest of the year.

That change, Stolz-Newton said, includes talking more. Not just about appropriate boundaries, she said, but “what consent looks like.”

“That outfit isn’t an invitation,” she said. “Because she drank that much, it’s not an invitation.”

The conversation has to include men and boys, Parker said.

“We have to train our little boys, not just our little girls,” she said. “What is appropriate? What’s in the bounds of what your expectations should be?”

It’s good to remind girls about things they can do to protect themselves, Parker said. But it needs to go beyond that.

“We really leave our little boys short on the education of what they should expect,” she said. “They’re not going to find it by looking on the Internet, that’s for sure.”

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