The prosecution and criminal sentencing of sexual assault offenders

 

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It is not uncommon for the people in the United States to see stories on the evening news about a rape case that has happened near them. This could be due to the increasing amount of rape and sexual assault cases that the United States has been seeing. Between the years of 2013 and 2014, a study done called Criminal Victimization, 2014 by Jennifer L. Truman and Lynn Langton, found that violent crimes like sexual assault went from 7.3 per 1,000 to 7.7 per 1,000, respectively.  Then, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI, in 2015, there was a 6.3 percent increase in the amount of rape cases reported since the previous year of 2014. There was an estimated 90, 185 rapes reported within 2015. However, some data that is harder to find, is the arrest data for rape and sexual assault.

            Criminal statistics are hard to find, especially in cases of sexual assault and rape for more than one reason. Andrew Luxen, a deputy district attorney in the second Judicial District, which is the city and county of Denver, says that the statistics are hard to know because of how big the jurisdiction in Colorado is.

“I am not sure what the actual statistics are because they are hard to track in a large jurisdiction like Colorado. I can say that we are dedicated to holding Defendant’s accountable for their conduct to the fullest extent of the law,” Luxen said. “Criminal cases are complicated matters, that can present challenges to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of six or 12 people in Denver. That said, we work hard every day to ensure justice for victims and their families.”

Luxen has been working at the District Attorney office for ten years. Within those ten years, he has seen several different outcomes of those accused of sexual assault.

“I have seen those convicted of sexual assault receive neither jail, nor prison, instead being sentenced to probation,” Luxen stated.

Sexual assault is hard to convict and give specific punishments for due to the way in which sexual assault and rape cases can be considered in the world of the court. Sexual assault can be considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the evidence found and the way in which it is presented to the jury.

“Charges are based on statuses passed by the Colorado General Assembly. A deputy district attorney has a meeting with a police detective to make a filing decision based on the police investigation. Depending on what the detective uncovered in her investigation, the deputy district attorney determines what charges fit the offense committed,” detailed Luxen. “There are a variety of different kinds of sexual assault sentences available to the Court depending on what kind of conviction occurs. For misdemeanors, generally, a Court can sentence a Defendant to anywhere between probation (non-custodial punishment) to two years in the Denver County jail. For felonies, a Court can sentence a Defendant to anywhere between probabtion to community corrections (halfway house) to the Department of Corrections for the balance of the Defendant’s natural life.”

Misdemeanors and felonies differentiate between not only the way the offender is prosecuted, but also the way in which they will receive punishment for the crime executed. According to the Crime Classification Guide 2014, there are two different definitions of sexual assault under the class one misdemeanor category. For a sexual assault offender to be tried on a count of a felony, there are four different definitions that range from a class one felony to a class four felony. The differing definitions in which an individual can be tried for sexual assault adds may be responsible for the level of difficulty in prosecuting an offender.

“Generally, for misdemeanors, someone may be sentenced to anywhere from zero days to two years in the Denver county jail. Generally, for felonies, someone may be sentenced anywhere from zero days to the rest of their natural life in the Department of Corrections (prison),” Luxen explained.

According to a study called, The “Justice Gap” for Sexual Assault Cases: Future Directions for Research and Reform by Kimberly A. Lonsway and Joanne Archambault,  of 100 rapes committed, there is an estimated five to 20 percent are reported. Of the five to 20 percent reported, anywhere between zero point four and five point four percent are prosecuted. Then, of that, between point two to five point two percent are resulted in a conviction. Then, finally, of those convicted, point two to two point eight percent are incarcerated. This may seem surprising, but to others it is not something that is at all uncommonly known.

Carlia Waite, a lawyer who specializes and currently practices family law, had her share of dealing with sexual assault cases earlier in her career. However, her experience comes from a different group than might be expected.

“The only experience I could speak from comes from when I worked with children in the foster care system who experienced sexual abuse,” Waite said. “My experience was that it was rare to even get a person charged and if they were, it was often dismissed or pled down to a lesser charge. Always very disappointing.”

According to the same study done by Lonsway and Archambault, it was found that in 2008, one in four forced rape reported to authorities resulted in arrest, while in the 1970s, the ratio was one in two. The shift in how many rape cases result in arrest could be important to note, especially when it comes to how victims go about reporting their assault.

Many victims feel as though there is a stigma that comes with being sexually assaulted or raped. Not only do they feel this way, some of them also feel as though it is almost a lost cause because the data would suggest that most offenders do not receive any kind of real punishment.

“I knew I would be judged for meeting this person late at night, going back to his apartment, and he was someone I had once dated. I said ‘no, no, no’ but he continued, and then acted like nothing had happened and took me home. I told no one. I felt like no one would believe me and proving he raped me would be hard,”said Jane Green.* “I didn’t have a car to drive myself to an emergency room and I definitely didn’t want my parents to know. Shame and embarrassment were my main feelings.”

With the notion that no one will believe you, it can become harder for victims to go to the police and report the incident.

“Too many times the victim is the one who is villainized and the perpetrator is viewed as just an innocent who is being accused of something that couldn’t possibly be true,” confided Green.

With the low rates of criminalization of sexual assault cases, victims can be left feeling like their want for justice can be a lost cause filled with negative impacts.

“I feel like today, I would have pursued some type of justice, but I don’t know 100 percent. The victim is still portrayed as a liar and too many times the rapist gets zero time,” explained Green. “So, is it really worth the humiliation?”

 

*Name has been changed for anonymity

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