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Data reveals few Utah rape cases prosecuted


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SALT LAKE CITY — Statistics from the Rape Recovery Center show that as many as one in six women in Utah will be raped in their lifetime. Many victims say they're victimized a second time by the justice system after their cases go nowhere.

Heather Frost said she was raped but that her attacker was no stranger.

"My friends all thought he was great and charming and so funny, and so did I," said Frost.

She said she met the man through a mutual friend. They hung out a couple times, then went on a date. When they went back to his apartment to get her purse, when Frost said she became a prisoner.

"It was like he turned from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde," Frost said. "He trapped me in there. He wouldn't let me leave."

Frost said her date began to threaten her and she froze.

"He's 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. I'm 5-foot-5 and I'm 140 pounds on a good day. He's ex-military," said Frost. "Just get through this, because you might be raped tonight, but at least you're not going to be severely beaten, killed and raped. That was what was going through my mind."

After that, Frost thought she did everything right. She called police, she went to the hospital to have a rape test done, and she thought her attacker would be charged. She was wrong.

A month after the alleged attack, Frost got a letter from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, saying her case was declined because of "evidentiary concerns."

Frustrated with the system, Frost called the KSL Investigators. After months of research, they analyzed data from every police department in Salt Lake County.

In the last five years (Jan. 1, 2009-Dec. 31, 2013), 2,318 forcible rapes were reported to police. Only 760 were sent to the District Attorney's Office to be screened for prosecution. Which means two-thirds of those cases went nowhere.


Nobody's making a determination, those are bad people or those are bad cases or we don't want to help these victims. We're really trying to identify what resources do we have and how do we use them the most efficiently.

–Sheriff Jim Winder of the Unified Police Department


KSL went to the two agencies with the highest number of rape cases, Unified Police Department and Salt Lake City Police Department.

Unified Police serves nine cities and towns in Salt Lake County. Its data show 644 forcible rape cases were reported in five years, but only 15 percent went on to the D.A., the lowest percentage of all the police departments.

"It sounds disturbing," said Sheriff Jim Winder of the Unified Police Department. "It's really the way the justice system works."

The Salt Lake City Police Department had 399 cases. It sent 35 percent to the D.A.

"Numbers are numbers and they're not reflective of everything," said Chief Chris Burbank of the Salt Lake City Police Department. "We have, in the past, done a poor job with victims in this particular crime. And when I say we, it's not just the police department. It's the entire process and in fact it's the public in general."

Both Burbank and Winder say rape is difficult to investigate for a number or reasons; an unknown suspect, an unwilling victim, a lack of evidence, and many times, a lack of manpower.

"You cannot do everything," Burbank said. "There's just not enough resources."

"Nobody's making a determination, those are bad people or those are bad cases or we don't want to help these victims," said Winder. "We're really trying to identify what resources do we have and how do we use them the most efficiently."

So what about the cases that do make it to the district attorney? According to its own numbers, Sim Gill's office declined more than 500 forcible rape cases and took on about 200 in the past five years.

The good news is it won about 60 percent of those cases. The bad news is that's only 5.5 percent of all forcible rape cases reported. The big question, are they only taking cases they believe they can win?

If you talk to police and victims, it certainly seems that way.

"They evaluate things on the likelihood of success at trial," Burbank said.

Holly Mullen is the director of the Rape Recovery Center. She deals with rape victims who feel ignored.

Heather Frost said she was raped, but that her attacker was no stranger. She said she met the man through a mutual friend. They hung out a couple times, then went on a date. When they went back to his apartment to get her purse, when Frost said she became a prisoner. (KSL TV).
Heather Frost said she was raped, but that her attacker was no stranger. She said she met the man through a mutual friend. They hung out a couple times, then went on a date. When they went back to his apartment to get her purse, when Frost said she became a prisoner. (KSL TV).

"Does it seem like the D.A.'s office is only taking cases where they know they can win?" asked Mike Headrick, KSL Investigator.

"Yes, it has seemed that way to us," said Mullen.

"They (victims) feel a complete lack of respect," Mullen said. "They feel a complete lack of understanding and cynicism and concern about where is this American justice. Why can't I have it?"

The buck ultimately stops with Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. KSL Investigators asked him the question that seems to be on everyone's mind.

"Do you only take cases that you believe are slam dunks?" asked Headrick.

"If that is the way historically we've done business, then that's something we should not be doing," said Gill. "Those cases where there is a victim, there is evidence, there is probable cause, but there is not the certainty of conviction, we should not shy away from those."

"And you don't believe you've shied away from those?" asked Headrick.

"I think we have sometimes shied away from that to our own fault," answered Gill.

Gill said bottom line, rape cases are complicated. They can be difficult to investigate. They can be difficult to prosecute. But Gill said he hopes there will be meaningful change in the future.

"I think that rape victims can get better justice. They deserve better justice. And we can always do more for them," said Gill.

KSL Investigators also did some digging into the background of the man who Frost said raped her. There are no sex crimes on his record in Utah. However, he did plead guilty to fourth-degree sexual assault in Wisconsin in 2000.

Gill said prosecutors do look at background information when investigating rape cases, but the problem is, information doesn't often get shared between agencies, even in the same state. That is one of the changes he hopes to make.

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