Sexual assault victims afraid to face court

By Stephanie Flemmons, Staff Writer(Created: Wednesday, September 17, 2008 7:10 PM CDT)

Victims of sexual assault crimes would sometimes rather live with the pain resulting from the crime rather than seek out a conviction, according to experts.Experts say the judicial process is sometimes too traumatizing for victims of sex-related crimes to experience and confront their attacker.

Shea Alexander, clinical director for The Turning Point, Collin County’s rape crisis center, said the counselors and staff do not force victims to come forward and seek out convictions.

“It’s an unpunishable crime because most victims don’t want their life revealed in public,” Alexander said.

“Closure is different for everyone, there is not one recipe. Some victims are warriors and want to confront the offenders and feel peace. Others are not and it could be very traumatizing to confront a situation like that. They would feel powerless in the end.”

This fact has led the Plano Police Department’s sex crimes investigators to face challenges.

In 1997 the department created a sex-crimes unit, which consists of three investigators, who focus solely on the investigations of sexual assaults, all with more than 20 years experience with the department.

“These types of crimes are very different to investigate,” said Sgt. Sandra Tomeo, Crimes Against Persons.

“Sexual assault crimes are so delicate. We are trained and educated for the apprehension of offenders. Investigations are not always clear cut in their particular complexity associated with sexual assaults.”Rick McDonald, Plano Police public information officer, said with the department having a unit that focuses only on sexual assaults, he believes this will lead to more convictions.

He said with the complexities of these types of investigations, detectives are able to separate themselves from other units, leaving their focus where it needs to be.

“Since the unit developed we have not had a significant rise in sexual assaults,” McDonald said.

“The sex crimes unit is dedicated to this one particular crime that is so heinous. It’s a terrible crime and that is why we have a specialized unit.”

Alexander said the specialized unit has helped willing victims find the closure they need.

“We love the Plano Police,” Alexander said. “They are very patient and cooperative with the victims. It has helped a great deal to have a special unit focusing only on sexual assault crimes.”

Recent reports show 63 percent of sex crimes are committed by an acquaintance, 20 percent by a family member, 12 percent by a stranger and 5 percent are unknown causes.

“With 83 percent assaulted by someone they know, it makes it more difficult to get a conviction,” Tomeo said.

“A lot of the time the claim is the incident was consensual. It’s his word against her word in a lot of cases, which makes it difficult to solve.”

This year Plano’s sex crimes investigators have reviewed 34 cases, 16 of which were dismissed due to evidence proving false accusation.

Tomeo said this is a common occurrence, which is why she said numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“The amount of cases reported shows the amount of cases we investigate,” Tomeo said.

She said the investigators could determine the incident did not happen, the victim can choose not to cooperate or they decide they have loyalty to someone else.

With sexual assault crimes carrying no statute of limitations, Tomeo said incidences can become unreported for years. She said, this makes the case even more difficult to prove.

If a case does goes to trial, Tomeo said the investigators are asked to testify and will see it through.

Tomeo said the unit focuses on walking the victim through the process and what to expect.

The Plano PD refers victims to agencies, such as the Collin County Children’s Advocacy Center, The Turning Point and Crossroads Family Services to seek counseling during the traumatic time.

Alexander said from her experience she believes a jury is not qualified enough to make the determination whether the case should result in a conviction.

“If justice is being served, justice is blind,” Alexander said.

“Many victims who pursue a conviction don’t get justice. It’s a part of the social attitudes. Juries are not qualified enough. Many blame the victim.”

In the past 17 months, a Collin County jury convicted two individuals for sexual assault of an adult. Five cases resulted in a guilty plea and two cases resulted in a not guilty verdict.

During this same time, five indecency or sexual assault of a child have resulted in a guilty verdict and 22 have resulted with a not guilty verdict. There have been 53 guilty pleas.

Currently there are 42 pending adult sexual assault cases and 319 indecency or sexual assault crimes of a child across the county.

Meredith Marsh, Crossroads Family Services clinical director, said she believes Collin County has made strides to verbalize and make the county aware of what is going on.

“It’s not turn your head away anymore,” Marsh said.

“Our courts do a good job giving the suspect the option whether they want to plea or seek a trial. The main issue is working with the victim to go to court. It is very scary for them to face the suspect. We lose a lot of clients as a result of that.”

Link: http://www.scntx.com/articles/2008/09/17/plano_star-courier/news/20.txt

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