Special Report: Anatomy of a Rape
It's a tough crime to measure and a tough crime to prosecute. But Ingham County's prosecutor says rape can be prevented with education.
Just weeks into her new reign as prosecutor, Carol Siemon was handed two cases involving MSU football players. No charges have been issued in the first case, alleged in January. Charges in the second case, alleged in early April, were announced 2 weeks later. This has many people casting doubt about the first case, asking why its taking so long for the prosecutor to investigate.
Prosecutor Siemon says it's nothing new to her. She has years of experience prosecuting sexual assault. "I think that we focus way too much on the victim, our laws do, our public perceptions do, on the victim's responsibility, and not on the person who is initiating the sexual activity." She wants to attack the problem, in schools, by educating students about what sexual assault looks like. "It's shocking to me the behavior that people are not seeing as troubling…that brings them to the attention of the prosecutor's office."
She says education can help people understand what consent is, and why its so important. "I think it's huge, unless we change public perception, about what sexual assault looks like, cause I want to prevent it. I mean I'm not looking for successful prosecutions." Successful prosecutions are not easy. According to RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, out of 310 rape cases reported to police, only six will end up with the accused behind bars. Siemon says each case is a unique puzzle. Some are more complicated than others, and at the center of each one is the victim. She says, "For some victims its very cathartic to talk about the case, they're really willing to go forward, there's they want it to be over. It's very traumatic, and it increases the trauma to keep going through it. We really have to evaluate each case based on, not just the facts, but also, what the victim's wishes are and what would be best in that situation."
Priscilla Bordayo understands that all too well. Sexually abused as a child by her father, she was a victim in a criminal case that started but never moved forward. She said, "My sister and I ended up lying to protect our family. It's something I do regret, because I think there's always a cost to a lie and on one end, there was a lot of pressure as a 12 year-old to decide, do you lie or tell the truth to protect your family? I mean that's heavyweight stuff."
Three years ago, Bordayo shared her story of survival and hope on Facebook. She's now serving her third year as a mentor to other victims seeking justice. The court process is often long, which means time away from school or work and emotional anguish. Bordayo said, "It's like wear and tear on you, you are constantly having to repeat your story over and over. I wish that the court system could set it up where its a one-time confession, so the victim is not having to continuously repeat what's been done to them so that they can start their healing process."
Prosecutors say its a balancing act, as they work with the victim to evaluate the case through a lens that can be factually proved in a courtroom before a jury. Siemon said, "We have situations where, we feel in our heart of hearts something happened, but we are not going to be able to have the ability to move forward, and there may be any number of barrier or burdens." Burdens like, will the victim be able to testify, and will that testimony intersect with other evidence in the case? Siemon said, "There's a level of blaming the victim that we, for sexual, and that's for me the most frustrating."
Siemon says the digital age adds even more elements into sexual assault cases. In many, the perpetrator may not even be aware they've committed a crime.
"We really have to evaluate each case based on, not just the facts, but also, what the victim's wishes are and what would be best in that situation."
--Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon