Every 68 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in this country. And every nine minutes, that victim is a child. All told, one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape.
Despite the enormous proportion of individuals who have and will be violated, most never disclose. Only a third of sexual assault survivors ever come forward. From there, these survivors take the brave step into the journey that is the investigation and prosecution of a sexual assault.
“Journey” is not a word we use lightly, but frankly, it is one that describes the institution we know as the criminal justice system. The ability to prosecute sexual assault cases has improved in recent years. This is due, in part, to the advancement in investigative techniques, which includes law enforcement's ability to examine electronic devices and social media accounts for relevant evidence. In a system where a survivor's account of what happened is put under a microscope, advancements in DNA science have also made it easier for prosecutors to identify perpetrators with physical evidence.
Here in Boulder County, there have been many improvements made by treatment providers, law enforcement, and the District Attorney's Office because these cases are a priority. Additionally, Colorado law offers some protections to those who are most vulnerable during this process. As an example, Colorado's Rape Shield statute prevents the use of evidence concerning a survivor's past sexual behavior. Yet, the prosecution of sexual assault remains a traumatic process for a survivor.
It has recently been suggested in this publication that victims will simply file charges until “the jig is up” and they are confronted with having to go to trial. (Oct. 8 “Boulder DA dismisses sex assault case against former Shambhala teacher.”)
However, the reality is often quite different. From the moment that someone decides to share what has happened to them, they open themselves up to a lengthy and potentially embarrassing process. Telling their story means having to provide a thorough account to law enforcement of the sexual assault. It can mean an intrusive medical examination that may or may not lead to corroborating evidence. It means relaying those painful details again to the prosecutors who will bring the case to trial. It means making the decision to testify in front of a courtroom full of strangers to tell the excruciating details once again. And it means having to face the perpetrator at trial and being subjected to attacks on cross examination.
Simply put, it means retraumatizing those who have already been severely victimized.
The realities of this experience are difficult to comprehend. Moreover, just because a survivor comes forward does not mean that the perpetrator will be held accountable. No prosecutor can ever guarantee a guilty verdict. Yet, day after day, we ask these survivors to tell their truth, trust the process, and navigate the challenges with us by their side.
With us by their side. That's a critical point that is at the core of sexual assault prosecution. As prosecutors we are committed to seeking justice for these survivors, and we work tirelessly to do so. But we also seek to empower these individuals to tell their experience on their terms.
The process must always be fair and just for all involved. Too often, our culture allows false stereotypes that keep survivors from reporting offenses. When a victim comes forward, they can be subjected to public scrutiny of extremely painful events. For the process to be fair and equitable, victims must know they will be supported. Our office is committed to providing this support.
A survivor's decision to testify or not to testify is a deeply personal one. Quite often, it is the choice that determines whether a case can proceed to trial. As prosecutors, it is a choice that we respect even if it means the dismissal of a case. No survivor chooses to be assaulted, but we will respect the choices our survivors do make as they play a major role in deciding how we, as an office, respond to what was inflicted upon them.
In Boulder County, we are thankful to work with all of our community partners in supporting survivors of sexual assault. We encourage those in need to contact the following organizations:
Blue Sky Bridge: 303-444-1388
Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA): 303-443-7300
Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley: 303-772-4422
Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN): 303-444-2424
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (264-5437), co4kids.org.
Boulder County District Attorney's Office: 303-441-3700
CU Boulder Office of Victim Assistance: 303-492-8855
M. Breck Roesch and Nicholas Trevino are Boulder County Deputy District Attorneys.Internet Explorer Channel Network