Without a doubt the most emotional cases that are prosecuted in this county, state, and country are sexual assault crimes. Murders and other homicides are certainly emotional, but sexual assaults are more frequent, and in sexual assaults, unless it is coupled with a homicide, the victim is alive.
While the fact that your victim is alive in a sexual assault case as opposed to a homicide is certainly a good thing, during the prosecution of the case, that victim will have to re-live the incident, usually the worst moment of their life over and over again. As prosecutors, we relive those moments with the victim. We hold their hands, feel their pain, dry their tears, and we want to convict the criminals that committed the crime.
Unfortunately, prosecuting sexual assault crimes are some of the most difficult crimes to prosecute. Many victims don’t want to relive the crime or talk to investigators. That is certainly understandable. Many don’t want to go through the invasive procedure that brings about a rape kit. Sadly, many feel and many are unfairly judged for the actions that they took or failed to take in the minutes and hours that follow the assault. Judging the decisions made by sexual assault victims before and after the crime occurred is not part of the case, but it does happen – we are all human, and sometimes that means cases cannot be prosecuted.
If you ever find yourself to have been a victim of sexual assault, the most important thing you can do is go to the nearest hospital and have a rape kit performed. Speaking candidly, the rape kit will not be fun. It will be invasive. It is, however, the best mechanism that we have to successfully prosecute that case. DNA will be collected. Your story will be taken. You will be medically treated for any injuries that you may have suffered.
If you ever have a friend, family member, or acquaintance that tells you that they have been sexually assaulted, the first question that you need to ask them is whether they have been to the hospital. If the answer is no, take them. Do not let them change clothes. Do not let them take a shower. They need to be seen at the hospital as soon as possible.
At a recent jury trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of sexual battery. In that case, the victim was at the hospital within two hours of the assault. DNA was taken from her, and after testing, DNA of the perpetrator was found during the sexual assault exam. We were then able to use that DNA to prove at trial that a sexual assault occurred. Victims of these crimes feel dirty and used and want to literally wash themselves of the event. Doing so, though may in fact wash the DNA of the perpetrator off of the victim. At that point the case can be one of he said/she said, and we may not even be able to prove that a sexual event, let alone a sexual assault occurred.
Myself, and the other prosecutors at the office, want to help victims of rape, sexual battery, and other types of sexual assault. We want to put the people that commit those crimes behind bars. Waiting to report may cause justice to be delayed or denied. Please help spread the word and help us convict the criminals that commit these crimes. Thank you!
Jess Weade is the Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney.