Austin’s sex as­sault snap­shot: 3 months, 113 cases, 10 ar­rests

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Katie Hall khall@states­man.com

The city’s Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion had asked Austin police of­fi­cials for a snap­shot of how sex­ual vi­o­lence cases are re­solved. What they got was a sober­ing re­minder that most sex as­sault pros­e­cu­tions don’t lead to con­vic­tions.

Dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the com­mis­sion’s monthly meet­ing Tues­day, police of­fi­cials gave a break­down of 113 sex­ual as­saults re­ported from Jan­uary to March 2015 to show where these cases were to­day. Of­fi­cials said they chose this three-month pe­riod to look at a sam­ple of cases that had had some time to move through the crim­i­nal jus­tice process.

Only 10 of the sex­ual as­sault cases — or less than 9 per­cent — led to ar­rests, the data showed. In 49 of them, Travis County pros­e­cu­tors said they didn’t have enough ev­i­dence to make a case. In 40 others, the vic­tim didn’t want police to pur­sue the case, of­fi­cials said.

The fig­ures are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what hap­pens in most sex­ual as­sault cases across the coun-

try, vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates said Wed­nes­day.

“I would say that’s pretty nor­mal in terms of what we usu­ally see . ... There’s room for im­prove­ment in our com­mu­nity and most com­mu­ni­ties,” said Coni Stogner, who works for the SAFE Al­liance, a vic­tims’ ad­vo­cacy group that han­dles the vast ma­jor­ity of sex­ual as­sault foren­sic ex­ams in Austin.

The Austin police pre­sen­ta­tion came at a time when city and county of­fi­cials are fret­ting about how the city’s DNA lab’s clo­sure — which oc­curred in June af­ter a state com­mis­sion ques­tioned the lab’s test­ing meth­ods — is af­fect­ing case turnover. How­ever, even be­fore the police DNA lab closed, most sex­ual as­sault cases al­ready ap­peared to be des­tined to fall apart or stretch on for years.

A few of the 10 cases that re­sulted in ar­rest are still pend­ing. Of those:

Four of the cases led to charges other than sex­ual as­sault: as­sault, ag­gra­vated as­sault, crim­i­nal tres­pass and ha­rass­ment. One case was dis­missed. One case is still pend­ing as of­fi­cials await DNA ev­i­dence re­sults.

One case is still pend­ing in court.

One per­pe­tra­tor was sen­tenced to three years in prison.

One per­pe­tra­tor took a plea deal and served 120 days in jail.

Of the re­main­ing 103 cases, 12 are await­ing DNA ev­i­dence re­sults, one is still open and another is pend­ing pros­e­cu­to­rial re­view. How­ever, the ma­jor­ity were sus­pended: Pros­e­cu­tors de­clined to pur­sue 49 of the cases, of­ten be­cause they were un­able to prove the of­fense, and police sus­pended 40, mostly be­cause the vic­tim didn’t want police to pur­sue the case.

“In the ma­jor­ity of our rape cases, the of­fender is known,” said Austin As­sis­tant Police Chief Joe Cha­con, who spoke at the meet­ing. “There are many times where the vic­tim does not want to go for­ward with that in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and we can’t pro­ceed with it for that rea­son.”

Cha­con said the Police De­part­ment’s Vic­tims Ser­vices coun­selors al­ways talk with vic­tims af­ter a sex­ual as­sault is re­ported to help them deal with the trauma of the sit­u­a­tion. The bet­ter a vic­tim is cop­ing, the eas­ier it is for police to work with them, he said.

“But ul­ti­mately, it’s up to each in­di­vid­ual sur­vivor what they want to do,” Cha­con said.

The Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion didn’t take any spe­cific ac­tion or make a rec­om­men­da­tion in re­sponse to the re­port.

The vast ma­jor­ity of sex­ual as­sault per­pe­tra­tors will not go jail or prison, ac­cord­ing to the Rape, Abuse and In­cest Na­tional Net­work, a na­tional anti-sex­ual vi­o­lence or­ga­ni­za­tion. Out of ev­ery 1,000 rapes in the U.S., about 57 lead to ar­rest, the net­work said.

If Austin of­fi­cials want sex­ual as­sault vic­tims to come for­ward, Stogner said, those vic­tims need to feel sup­ported, and the re­port­ing and crim­i­nal jus­tice process needs to be easy to nav­i­gate.

The SAFE Al­liance would like to see faster turn­around for ev­i­dence test­ing, Stogner said.

She also said the Univer­sity of Texas’ In­sti­tute on Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence and Sex­ual As­sault pub­lished a blue­print for police to help them un­der­stand how to best in­ves­ti­gate these kinds of cases and work with sex­ual as­sault vic­tims.

“We need to work bet­ter across the board to see where we can be more sup­port­ive at all stages,” she said.

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