Victim’s choice leading reason for dropped sexual assault claims

Victim’s choice leading reason for dropped sexual assault claims

By Kayli Plotner, @Kayplot

Editor’s note: The following story stems from Freedom of Information Act requests obtained by the Daily Egyptian and data acquired from the Jackson County State’s Attorney’s office.

When an SIU student reports a sexual assault, there is little likelihood the alleged attacker will be punished. That lack of punishment is often a result of the victim deciding not to pursue the complaint at the victim’s request. 

At least 77 percent of sexual assault or abuse cases handled by the Jackson County state’s attorney since Mike Carr took office belong to SIU students.

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Between Jan. 1, 2013 and Jan. 1, 2016, Mike Carr’s office handled 73 sexual assault/abuse cases. In that same timeframe, SIU Department of Public Safety submitted 32 cases, and Carbondale Police submitted 24 cases in which the victims identified themselves as SIU students in their police reports.

Of those 73 cases submitted, 12 ended in dismissals, 18 in convictions and 43 in declinations. Declination is when the prosecutor decides not to file charges, often because of lack of evidence. 

“Declinations are often decided because the victim or witnesses fail to cooperate after the police report has been referred to our office,” said Justine Lamke, Carr’s paralegal, via email. “Dismissals are almost always decided by our Sexual Assault/Sexual Abuse team and the State’s Attorney on behalf of the victim’s request in each case. It is very seldom that our office dismisses charges that have already been filed for any reason other than the request of the victim.”

When SIU students choose to report a sexual assault, they have four ways to do so: Carbondale Police, SIU police or the office of Diversity and Equity. Students may also confide in the campus counseling center to report an assault, but no investigation will be opened.

Sgt. Chad Beights, the university’s Clery Act compliance officer, said if a report is made to SIU police, they investigate and hand their report over to the state’s attorney’s office for possible prosecution.

“Our job is to prove the allegation that is made. We aren’t working to negate what a victim is coming to us to say,” he said. “In the end, the goal is prosecution. The goal is to make the victim whole again, with whatever that may be.”

MORE: SIU under U.S. Department of Education investigation for handling of sexual assault cases

Reports made to SIU police that involve students also get forwarded to the Office of Diversity and Equity, which offers to carry out an investigation regarding violations of the Student Conduct Code.

“Every report goes to [the ODE] because the university has to do its own investigation,” Beights said. “We’re not investigating to see whether or not you violated policy. We’re investigating to see whether or not you violated the law.”

Reports of sexual assault can also originate in the Office of Diversity and Equity, but only get forwarded to police for investigation at the victim’s request. However, the number of dropped cases when pursuing a university investigation is also high.

From 2013 to October 2015, SIU investigated 71 cases of alleged sexual assault, 83 percent of which were dropped. More than one third of those dropped cases were at the victim’s request.

Casey Parker, the campus’ Title IX coordinator, said most of her cases drop because of a lack of information brought forward by the reporting parties.

“I don’t want bad people on campus any more than the next person,” Parker said. “But we are limited by the information we receive.”

MORE: Basketball player’s sexual assault case prompted change in policy | SIU fails to redact names in sexual assault documents

Parker said there are due process rights for both the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator, and she cannot force people to talk.

“If we don’t know something has happened, we can’t make anything better,” she said.

According to Parker, the Office of Diversity and Equity is planning to hire a victim’s advocate this summer, who will sit with and assist the reporting parties throughout the entire investigation.

Kayli Plotner can be reached at 618-536-3325 or [email protected]

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