More sex assaults going to trial
Vail, Co Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” Jane wants to prevent women from being sexually assaulted and, she says, if more women reported rape and sexual assaults, she would get closer to her goal.
“Guys might think twice about doing something like that if they know there’s a possibility they might go to jail for it,” Jane said.
Jane, who has accused a local man of sexually assaulting her, asked the Vail Daily not to publish her first or last name, or where she lives. The suspect has been arrested but fled after being released on bail.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said more women like Jane are willing to work with prosecutors on sexual assault allegations than in years past. His office prosecuted about 70 percent more sexual assault cases in 2006 than in 2004, the year charges against Kobe Bryant were dismissed, Hurlbert said.
“I think that after the Bryant case, people did not want to report,” Hurlbert said.
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The prospect that women will receive justice is high, but sexual assault prosecutions can be traumatic, Jane said.
In March 2006, Jane says, her alleged assailant climbed onto the balcony of her second-floor apartment and broke the sliding glass door. He then allegedly sexually assaulted her.
Jane could not fight him off because of a knee injury, but fortunately, the alleged attacker could not get an erection, she said.
Since then, Jane has struggled. “You keep thinking about it and you think that once it’s prosecuted it’s going to end,” she said.
The suspect made bail but then failed to appear in court.
Tyra Forbes, a victim’s advocate from the District Attorney’s Office, has accompanied Jane to pre-trial hearings, explained the proceedings and helped her deal with health problems, Jane said.
Forbes also helped Jane when she lost the desire to continue to help prosecutors with their case, Jane said.
Forbes said her job is to help women gain confidence to testify successfully, because women often have difficulty telling a courtroom full of people about how someone violated their bodies, she said.
To prepare women, Forbes sits the them down in the witness chair in the courtroom before the trial and goes over questions the prosecution and defense may ask, she said.
In television court dramas, defense attorneys show hostility toward accusers, but in reality, defense attorneys act civilly to appease the jury, Forbes said.
Jane’s case hasn’t reached trial, but she has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.
Forbes set Jane up with a victim’s compensation program that paid for her therapy and medication. “You continue to go through it every day until you’re able to heal from it, and it is frustrating,” Jane said.
Few women report sexual assaults to police, said Joanne Belknap, professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Belknap recently published a third edition of her textbook “The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime and Justice.”
Even if some women report the assault to police, far fewer decide to participate in the prosecution, she said.
“It does take an incredibly courageous person,” Belknap said.
Hurlbert estimates that the majority of sexual assault cases end in a conviction in Eagle County, and every convicted offender serves jail or prison time, he said.
Victims also help decide how long the prosecutor will ask a judge to send the offender to jail.
Twelve out of the 17 cases in 2006 are still in court. Four men were convicted so far, Hurlbert said.
In Jane’s case, the District Attorney’s Office charged 23-year-old Daniel Solis with sexual assault and second degree burglary, both felonies, Hurlbert said.
Solis’ trial was scheduled for February, but he fled. His bond was first set at $50,000, but Judge Fred Gannett lowered it to $2,500. The District Attorney’s Office objected, Hurlbert said.
Solis spent three months in jail, but was released when he paid his bond, Hurlbert said.
After Solis failed to appear in court, police issued a warrant for his arrest and now he will pay a $30,000 bond if caught, Hurlbert said.
Jane knew Solis and seeing him around town at least once a week after the alleged incident was difficult for her, she said.
The pre-trial hearings she attended at which Solis was present also were difficult to endure, she said.
Jane still thinks people should report sexual assaults to police and help prosecutors with their cases, Jane said.
“These people are sick, they have an illness,” Jane said about sex offenders. “They need to be caught and helped so that they won’t do it again.”
Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org.