Ninety-four percent of men who rape will never spend a day in jail. That statistic, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, applies to a Sam Hughes resident, who a woman says raped her at 3 a.m. on April 24, 2009, according to a police report obtained from the Tucson Police Department.
She agreed to sleep over at his house after a night of drinking with him, the report said. The victim told police she pretended to be asleep during the assault because she felt afraid he would hurt her — she later drove herself home and took a shower before calling the police, according to the report.
However, like many women who have been raped, she chose not to press charges. Despite vast improvements in legislation, advocacy, and DNA testing since the birth of the anti-rape movement, sexual assault still gets ensnarled within blurry definitions of consent and shameful stigmas. Women remain reluctant to report cases of rape, and seek prosecution.
FBI uniform crime statistics recorded 88,097 forcible rapes in the U.S. in 2009, with a per capita rate of 28.7 per 100,000 people, an apparent reduction from 1992, which saw the highest per capita rate of 42.8. The FBI estimated 21,407 arrests for forcible rape in 2009, a rate of about 25 percent.
Accordingly, Arizona had 2,110-recorded rapes for 2009 in Arizona with a per capita rate of 32.0, and 226 total arrests, a rate of about 11 percent. Tucson recorded 204 rapes reported in 2009.
However the FBI statistics utilize the oldest definition of rape around. They define rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” This definition does not include forced oral or anal sex, penetration with objects, sexual assault against men or by women, and does not account for the high number of cases that go unreported.
Therefore it provides only a small window through which to view the pervasiveness of sexual assault. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that 60 percent of victims never report their rape to police.
Angela Baldasare, former director of community education and outreach at the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, said under-reporting is largely due to “misinformation and rape myths within our culture that are pretty deeply embedded, and that serve as justifications for sexual violence.”
Some of these rape myths remain deeply embedded, particularly the idea that women somehow deserve to be sexually assaulted. “Either they’re asking for it, they wanted it, or they put themselves in dangerous situations; therefore it’s their fault. Those kinds of things really still act to stigmatize the victim,” Baldasare said.
According to the National Institute for Justice 2005 report on sexual assault on college campuses, 1 in 5 young women experience rape during their college career. Half of all student victims do not label the incident “rape,” and in 80 – 90 percent of these cases, the victim and assailant know each other, the report said.
It’s mostly not “the stranger lurking in the bushes” that commits the majority of sexual assaults in the U.S., though that certainly can and does continue to happen.
“Typically what we see are sexual assaults that arise through a social setting. They met someone through a friend or online, so there is a basic relationship there,” Sgt. Juan Alvarez of the University of Arizona Police Department said. Alvarez also said that more often than not, alcohol is involved.
“That’s where the line gets blurry. Those cases are hard to prosecute because it’s difficult to determine if there was consent or not, especially if the parties were too intoxicated,” Alvarez said. However, Arizona state law says a person who is incapacitated, even by self-induced intoxication, can’t give consent.
“We need to find the actual evidence that sexual assault occurred. Bruising, tearing, ejaculation, a used condom somewhere, statements from witnesses, and forensic evidence – we try to get the whole picture. If we can develop probable cause then we’ll make an arrest,” Alvarez said.
DNA testing and “rape kits” are useful in gathering evidence that sexual assault occurred, and can help verify a victim’s story. Yet even with the advent of DNA testing, arrests and prosecutions for sexual assault remain low. One possible reason for this? An extraordinary number of DNA samples collected from rape kits don’t get tested.
In Nov. 2009 CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteylan uncovered thousands of untested rape kits sitting in storage. According to the report, the arrest rate for sexual assault in the U.S. in 2008 was 25 percent. However, the arrest rate was 70 percent in New York City. Why? Because they test every rape kit.
In 2000, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner D-N.Y., initiated the DNA Backlog Elimination Act, which secured nearly $1 million in federal funding for the first time for rape kit testing in addition to the $12 million in funding that came from New York City.
Weiner also co-authored the DNA Sexual Assault Justice Act of 2002 with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. It provides $25 million in federal funding per year to help eliminate the DNA backlog. As a result of this legislation, New York City has eliminated its DNA backlog.
However, many experts believe greater diligence in testing DNA plays only one part in addressing the issue of sexual assault. In cases where the victim and offender know each other and the offender acknowledges sexual contact, DNA evidence becomes irrelevant. In these cases, the primary issue becomes consent, and prosecutors remain reluctant to pursue these cases.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Susan Eazer, supervisor of the special victims unit responsible for prosecuting sexual assault cases said “most of these cases usually never make it past investigation.”
Eazer said when deciding which cases to pursue, they’ll only go after cases that have a substantial likelihood of obtaining a conviction. “In many (acquaintance rape) cases, I know that no matter how hard we fight, no matter how credible the victim is, the jury is not going to convict,” Eazer said.
This is where those long-standing rape myths factor in, and why women remain reluctant to report cases of acquaintance rape. Moreover, Eazer said she’s seen the re-victimization and vilification of victims during the prosecution process destroy women’s lives.
Eazer also said she believes we have yet to experience the cultural shift that views sexual assault as a serious crime, particularly within our own justice system and in the minds of jury members.
In this regard, Erin Strange, the violence prevention specialist with the OASIS Program for Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence at the University of Arizona said she thinks we are fighting “an uphill battle.”
While she sees the importance of encouraging women to report sexual assault to police, her focus with the OASIS program revolves around the idea of prevention through education and advocacy, and teaching women how to protect themselves and reduce the risk factors.
She also indicated a great need to educate men. “Going forward I think what we need to do is focus on that idea of consent, and really give people clues as to what it means and how you know you have it. And if you are ever confused, you have to ask,” Strange said.
Strange says she feels overwhelmed when she thinks about trying to change the larger culture, but feels empowered and able to make a difference on a community level.
Maintaining a presence and “getting out there” on campus and in the community to raise awareness and talk about these issues is key, she said. “We’re trying to reach as many people (on campus) as possible because what they learn here then goes out into the community and it’s a trickle effect,” Strange said.