Drop in sex offense cases
Vail CO, Colorado
Samantha was allegedly raped by the father of her child for almost four years before she told police.
“I told him no, I don’t need you coming around,” Samantha said. “It was always, ‘No, leave me alone.'”
Then in November 2006, the ex-boyfriend followed her home from work. He got out of his car and choked and raped her in her driveway, she said.
She decided she had had enough. She filed a report with police.
Samantha, who has accused a local man of sexually assaulting her, asked the Vail Daily not to publish her first and last name.
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Reports of sexual offenses to several police departments in the Vail Valley have decreased in the last few years. Police don’t know if a decrease in reports means there are fewer sex crimes being committed or if more people are refusing to report the crime.
Sexual assault victims refuse to report incidents to police because they fear that no one will help them, among other misconceptions, victims’ advocates say.
Samantha reported her assault because she was tired of letting her alleged assailant control her, she said.
“If he can run my live, then I don’t have a life,” she said. “The only person that can run your life is yourself.”
If a victim broke the law at the time of the sexual assault, she is less likely to report the assault, said Deena Ezzell, victim services coordinator for Eagle County. Illegal immigrants fearing arrest or deportation and underage drinkers are less likely to report the crime, she said.
Generally, police won’t arrest victims for their immigration status or for underage drinking, said Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert. The District Attorney’s Office would drop an underage drinking charge if an officer gave one to a victim of sexual assault, he said.
Victims also blame themselves for the sexual assaults rather than the person who violated them, said Bev Christiansan, executive director of the Eagle County Resource Center.
Samantha acknowledged that she blamed herself ” that’s why she refused to report the alleged assaults for so long, she said.
Victims also fear their loved ones will abandon them, advocates said.
At first, Samantha thought no one would help her. However, her family supported her to a greater extent than anyone else, she said.
Confounding her situation, Eagle police failed to act when Samantha reported a sexual assault in August 2006, she said.
Eagle police have since reinvestigated that incident, said Chief Rodger McLaughlin of the Eagle Police Department.
“We did not believe it had been fully investigated,” McLaughlin said.
After Eagle police failed to resolve the incident, Samantha thought no one would help her, she said. She has changed her mind since she reported November’s alleged assault to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, she said.
“There are people out there who do care that can help you,” she said.
The Resource Center’s program, Advocates Against Violence, provides victims with an emergency shelter in a secret location for sexual-assault victims, Christiansan said. Advocates also accompany victims to the hospital and during police interviews, she said.
Advocates won’t tell victims to call police, she said.
“We do tell them they could be helping stop this person from hurting another person,” Christiansan said.
Advocates at the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office also may accompany victims of sexual assault to the hospital for a rape kit test, Ezzell said. They might connect victims with counselors to provide emotional support, she said.
Despite a lack of reports to police, more women like Samantha are willing to work with prosecutors on sexual assault allegations than in years past. Hurlbert’s office prosecuted about 70 percent more sexual assault cases in 2006 than in 2004, the year charges against Kobe Bryant were dismissed.
In Samantha’s case, Lissandro Almaraz, 25, has been charged with sexual assault, first-degree criminal trespass, both felonies, and misdemeanor false imprisonment, Hurlbert said. His next court hearing is Friday.
Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or email@example.com.
* These numbers represent sexual offenses such as indecent exposure, inappropriate sexual contact, sexual assault, rape and incest.
Sources: Eagle County Sheriff’s Office and the Avon, Eagle, Minturn and Vail police departments