Sexual assaults rarely reported

Sarah McKenzie

A University victim advocacy group and the campus police department have filed 87 reports of sexual violence since Jan. 1, according to their records.
Only one of the cases investigated by University Police has resulted in a criminal prosecution, but charges were later dropped by Ramsey County officials, according to police records.
The vast majority of the incidents of sexual violence were reported to the Program Against Sexual Violence, a victim advocacy group that reports to McKinley Boston, vice president of Student Development and Athletics. University Police officers have filed 11 criminal sexual conduct reports this year.
Sexual violence reports compiled by PASV include sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic and dating violence, childhood sexual abuse and stalking.
Of the 76 cases reported to PASV, 39 were sexual assaults, 19 domestic violence and 18 sexual harassment, according to the program’s statistics. At least 17 incidents occurred on campus.
Liz Tobin, a peer education coordinator for the program, said at least 80 percent of the clients served were students. Most of the reported violence stemmed from encounters with an acquaintance, she said.
Although the victims were informed of a variety of options after they reported an assault to the program, Tobin said advocates rarely pressured or encouraged clients to report the assault to police.
“It’s laid out as an option,” she said. “We try to do everything in a non-threatening manner.”
Many victims fear that they will be revictimized if they report the crime to police. Others want the incident to remain confidential, she said.
Prosecution rates for sexual assault cases have been historically low at the University. A tiny fraction of the reported assaults ever result in criminal charges, in part because victims are often reluctant to report the crime, said University Police Sgt. Jo Anne Benson.
The police department’s clearance rate — the number of sexual assault cases closed by investigators — has hovered between 50 percent and 78 percent since 1997, said Jane Zimmerman, a University Police records supervisor.
Sexual assault investigations are typically closed by the department if the victim refuses to press charges or if the county attorney declines to prosecute the case, she said.
Most students who report sexual assaults to University Police live in on-campus housing and are typically in their first or second year of college, Zimmerman said.
In most reports, suspect information was not available. However, the perpetrator was a University student in at least half of the incidents reported to police.

Charges dropped in one case, other prosecutions declined
According to the police reports compiled since the first of the year, most sexual assault victims were 19- and 20-year-old female students. The only victims not in that age group, two girls under the age of 10, were allegedly assaulted at the Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative.
A 7-year-old girl told a school social worker that her father touched her buttocks, slept naked with her and ran around the apartment unclothed, reports stated. The University-run student-housing cooperative is located near the St. Paul campus.
In that case, an assistant Ramsey County attorney filed a criminal complaint against the girl’s father, a University graduate student. Second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges were dropped against the student May 11, after he was urged to participate in psychological assessment sessions, according to police records.
In the other case, two juvenile residents at the housing cooperative allegedly raped a 4-year-old girl in a laundry room in August. The case is an ongoing investigation and no arrests have been made.
Many other sexual assaults reported to police this year have not resulted in criminal charges. Two assaults occurred at Fairview-University Medical Center and the other incidents took place in campus residence halls. In both assaults at the hospital, a suspect was arrested.
Neither of the men detained by police have been charged by the Hennepin County Attorney. On Friday, University police investigators resubmitted one of the cases, which involves a 36-year-old man. He was arrested Aug. 15 for allegedly molesting a young female patient in the children’s unit.
Among the sexual assaults that took place in the residence halls, three investigations are listed as inactive pending new information. The other sexual assault investigations were closed by the department.
In one closed case, a 19-year-old Sanford Hall resident was allegedly assaulted in March when a male resident walked into her room while she was sleeping. He began kissing her and rubbing her leg, according to police reports.
When a University police officer asked the alleged victim if she wanted to press charges, she said that she was too busy, the reported stated.
A female student allegedly sexually assaulted at Centennial Hall in April declined to press charges against the suspect for “personal reasons,” according to police reports.
Another case closed by University investigators was submitted to the Ramsey County Attorney in April but charges were not filed. The female victim, a 19-year-old Bailey Hall resident, was allegedly sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old male resident.
The victim and the suspect began drinking shots of whiskey in the suspect’s dorm room. After the victim became intoxicated, the suspect attempted to kiss her and penetrate her with his fingers against her will, according to police reports.
“(The victim) does remember asking (the suspect) to stop, (the suspect) did not stop,” according to a statement made by a University police officer.
The victim told the police that she wanted to press charges against the suspect because she feared for her safety, but criminal charges were not filed by Ramsey County.
Benson said the case was denied because the prosecutor didn’t feel the suspect’s guilt could be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Few prosecutions not unusual
Kathryn Quaintance, deputy Hennepin County attorney, said the low rate of prosecution for sexual assaults is not uncommon. A number of factors can deter court action.
In acquaintance rape cases, the prosecution has to prove that the sexual encounter was not consensual.
According to state statute, the victim’s word is enough to convict an assaulter of rape, but Quaintance said a jury usually requires that the prosecutor present other evidence, such as bruises on the victim, torn clothing or broken furniture.
“As a practical matter, juries expect some other corroboration,” she said.
A victim’s refusal to cooperate in an investigation can pose other difficulties when filing charges against a sexual assault suspect. However, it does not make a prosecution impossible, Quaintance said.
“A victim’s unwillingness carries a lot of weight,” she said. “We can still use her statement to the police, 911 tapes and medical reports, however.”
Tobin said two clients she worked with in the past year were determined to press charges against their assaulter, but prosecutors never picked up their cases.
It is usually the victim’s word against the perpetrator’s word, she said.
Fear of disclosure
Records maintained by PASV paint an equally grim picture of the prosecution rate of sexual violence crimes. Only one case reported to the program has been picked up by the county attorney since Jan. 1.
Of the clients served, 19 filed reports with the University Police and other police departments. The program has also assisted clients in filing 12 restraining orders.
Prosecutors have said that reporting the crime is essential in safeguarding both the victim and other residents in the area.
“There are advocacy programs that I have worked with on occasion that discourage the victims from reporting the crimes,” she said. “But a crime has been committed against that community. I try to raise that point because others might be in jeopardy.”

Sarah McKenzie welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3222.