LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Prosecutors in Kansas are dropping all charges against a University of Kansas student accused of falsely reporting a rape, saying they feared publicity surrounding the case could discourage sexual assault victims from coming forward.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a statement Monday that the three felony counts of making a false report were dropped after much discussion. His office believed in the merits of the case, he said, but the "cost to our community and the negative impact on survivors of sexual violence cannot be ignored," reports The Kansas City Star.
"We are concerned this case, and the significant amount of misinformation surrounding it, could discourage other survivors from reporting their attack," Branson said. "That is unacceptable."
Cheryl Pilate and Branden Bell, attorneys for the woman, said that although they were pleased their client could "finally put this nightmare behind her," they were "disappointed that the DA's office continues to promote the fiction that this case was supported by the facts." The statement added: "It was not."
Police first spoke to the woman in September 2018 outside a Lawrence hospital before she went inside to undergo a rape examination, according to court records. The woman said she had been raped by the friend of her ex-boyfriend, but the details were fuzzy because she was drunk at the time. She also said she didn't want to press charges but allowed officers to look through her phone.
Police interpreted the texts as an acknowledgement that the sex was consensual, according to court records. District Attorney Charles Branson says the woman fabricated being raped out of regret and to get revenge.
However, the woman's attorneys argue in court documents that she is innocent and that her text messages made light of what happened because she wasn't yet able to admit she had been raped after waking up in a strange bed with no memory of how she got there with unexplained bruises on her legs, neck and arms. They say police decided to investigate her rather than the man whom she alleged attacked her. The man, who also was a university student, was never charged.
The woman's legal fees were covered in part by the Times Up Legal Defense Fund, an organization founded by celebrities during the #metoo movement.
The student's attorneys said she never told officers she wanted to pursue charges, though she did say she might consider it at some point. The police investigation began in October 2018 after the student asked for a detective to be present when she made a formal statement to Title IX investigators at the university, according to testimony from a motions hearing. The student ultimately decided not to meet with the university, and her attorneys say she never told officers she wanted to pursue charges, though she did say she might consider it at some point.
Patrick Compton, a Lawrence Police Department spokesman, said police have the latitude to determine whether to proceed with a case even if the reporting party declines to press charges.
Going forward, Branson said in his statement Monday, he planned to work with police to update his office's guidelines for investigating and prosecuting sexually violent crimes. Law enforcement will provide multiple options for "survivors to report crimes on their terms," he said.
The Star isn't naming the woman because she says she is the victim of a sexual assault and the paper has a policy of not naming sexual assault victims. The felony false reporting charge carried a maximum sentence of up to 23 months in prison.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com