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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Sexual assaults widely unreported

    Sexual assaults widely unreported

    Editor’s Note: Although the Arizona Daily Wildcat normally withholds the names of victims of sexual assault to protect their privacy, Lucy Cannon allowed her name to be printed to better tell her story.

    Lucy Cannon’s male friend of three years made margaritas for Cannon and her roommate in her new apartment one night in June 1998, a few months before the start of her freshman year at the UA.

    Cannon said she drank too much that night, and her male friend followed her into the bathroom to hold back her hair as she vomited.

    “”He raped me right there on the bathroom floor,”” Cannon said.

    Cannon said at the time she thought she could trust him and said he had even met her parents.

    After the rape, Cannon remained in bed and missed all her classes as she became sick and depressed. She went from a size 4 to size 11 in one semester, and her grade point average dropped to a 1.34.

    Cannon said that when she finally decided to approach her assaulter and former friend about his intentions, he responded, “”I always knew we would have sex one day.””

    Eight years after the rape, Cannon said she saw her assaulter at the grocery store.

    “”I left my full cart right there,”” she said. “”The whole world seemed to stop.””

    Cannon never reported the rape to the police because she did not know that her situation qualified as legal rape in Arizona, and she said she blamed herself for the assault because she was drinking underage.

    Cannon is not alone at the UA. In 2005, the University of Arizona Police Department received two reports of sexual assault at the UA, but UAPD officials said that number is not reflective of the actual number of sexual assaults on campus each year.

    Unreported assaults: Alcohol’s impact and the legal process

    The number of sexual assaults reported to UAPD on campus has decreased since 2003, when UAPD received six reports of sexual assault, but this drop in numbers most likely signifies that victims on campus are not reporting these crimes, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, UAPD spokesman.

    And with 37,000 students at the UA and only two reported rapes, “”you know people are suffering in silence,”” said Mary Koss, founder and principal investigator for the Responsibility and Equity for Sexual Transgressions Offering a Restorative Experience Program, known as RESTORE.

    About 45 students went to the UA’s OASIS Program for Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence for counseling in 2005, said Tina Tarin, a violence prevention specialist for OASIS.

    One of the primary reasons college victims do not report rapes is because alcohol is often involved.

    A 2004 study revealed that in three out of four cases of rape on college campuses, one or more persons were drinking when the rape occurred, Koss said.

    Oftentimes, victims feel guilty for getting drunk and friends blame them for the assault, Tarin said.

    Mejia also blamed alcohol as the main catalyst for sexual assault on campus. Most cases of rape occur during freshman year because many women who overdrink at parties do not know how to react to advancing men, Mejia said.

    Students refrain from reporting because they do not want to be cited for underage drinking, Mejia said.

    “”I don’t want to encourage underage drinking, but we know it happens and we want you to be safe,”” Mejia said.

    Mejia stressed UAPD wants students to feel comfortable about talking to them regarding a sexual assault, even if alcohol was involved in the assault.

    “”The attacker must face the consequences of his act,”” Mejia said.

    But Koss said alcohol does not cause the rape, even though victims feel guilty for being intoxicated.

    But regardless of UAPD’s reassurances, victims refrain from reporting the crime in fear of the complex legal processes and the delving into personal history that accompanies a prosecution, said Gary Ford Spector, a UA alumnus who has worked as both a defense and prosecuting attorney for sexual assaults in Tucson.

    First, the student must go to OASIS or UAPD, who investigate to see if there is probable cause for prosecution.

    Next, a county attorney must issue a complaint, which is sworn to a judge. A warrant is issued for the arrest of the person accused of sexual assault.

    But when the arrest is made, victims face additional, daunting challenges.

    Difficulties in prosecuting

    Cases of sexual assault are often difficult to prosecute if the victim knew the assaulter personally and did not immediately report the crime, Spector said.

    Studies during the past 20 years consistently show that 80 percent of victims know their assaulter, Koss said.

    Spector said he had a young client who was assaulted by a neighbor, but a case could not be established because there was not enough evidence, and the assaulter was charged with a misdemeanor.

    The low number of reported sexual assaults at the UA does not shock Spector.

    “”It is very difficult to establish that consent did not take place if you were on a date and you wait a few days (to report the crime),”” Spector said.

    Consequently, victims are afraid police and attorneys at law will not believe their case and do not report the act, Spector said.

    “”Studies in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. have reported high levels of police disbelief of rape complaints, with officers’ estimates of false reporting ranging from 10 to 70 percent,”” according to Koss’ article “”Restoring Rape Survivors: Justice, Advocacy and a Call to Action.””

    “”I’m pretty blown away sometimes at the responses of some law enforcement,”” said Cannon, who now works as a crisis advocate at the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault. “”There are a few people who should not work with victims of crime.””

    Cannon now tells her story to inmates of Arizona prisons, gives presentations to law schools and facilitates the process of reporting to law enforcement.

    Cannon said one of her clients did not shower after reporting a rape, and an officer called her a prostitute because she decided to walk instead of drive to the station.

    “”I’ve seen a lot of people not believed by law enforcement,”” Cannon said.

    Even if police believe the victim, they often refuse to pursue a case if the victim has a reputation for sexual promiscuity, wears revealing clothing or was extremely intoxicated – factors that indicate the case will be difficult to win, Koss said.

    The definition of rape is also often misunderstood among law enforcement.

    After a content analysis, 31 percent of police officers defined rape primarily on consent and penetration rather than the reformed rape statutes, according to Koss’ article.

    Seeking justice

    People accused of sexual assault in Arizona may face between five and 14 years in prison, but the UA offers alternative justice for victims and offenders.

    The RESTORE program at the UA is the only program in the country that provides a restorative justice system for cases of nonviolent date rape and misdemeanor offenses like public exposure or masturbation, said Lesley Beach, director of the program.

    The program can be a better option for victims because it protects them from slander from the offenders if they have to testify against their attacker in court, Beach said.

    The RESTORE program has handled about 39 nonviolent date-rape cases and 20 misdemeanor cases since it was founded in 2004, and unlike the legal system’s approach, the process is almost entirely victim-driven, Beach said.

    Cases are referred to the program by the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Tucson Attorney’s Office, and the victim and offender choose whether or not to participate in the program, Beach said.

    In a conferencelike setup, the victim, UAPD officers and five chosen community members develop a legal contract that outlines what the offender must do for 12 months with the program.

    The offenders’ requirements usually include community service, therapy, financial restitution and sometimes alcohol or drug rehabilitation clinics, Beach said.

    Financial restitution often pays for things like bedding and clothing, which police take as evidence in sexual assault investigations. Beach said.

    Beach said one of the victims who is a part of the program recently received her first restitution check from her offender, which was a great relief for her. She said it shows the offender took responsibility for the crime.

    When offenders successfully complete the program, they can apologize and read a clarification letter to the victim, then charges of rape can be dismissed and the offender’s record remains clean unless he or she re-commits the act, Beach said.

    Beach said most of the student offenders are not bad people, but could have been on their way.

    “”People used to think flashers and peeping toms were funny, but these guys get worse, from public masturbation to break-in rape,”” Beach said. “”They know it is not OK to have sex with someone who is passed out, but they often don’t know it’s a felony,”” Beach said.

    Beach said the program usually provides victims with a sense of empowerment and healing because they remained in control of the process, and she often sees immense change in the offenders because they get to see first-hand how their act negatively affected the victim.

    “”Every woman in the world has the right to get drunk, take their clothes off and pass out on Fourth Avenue, but nobody has the right to touch you,”” Beach said.

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