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Monday, February 23, 2009

S.F. Rape Counselor Paints Bleak Portrait for Women Who Come Forward

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge Ryan Caskey, far left, has pleaded not guilty to raping four fellow USF students. - HTTP://WWW.USFCA.EDU/ROTC/
  • Ryan Caskey, far left, has pleaded not guilty to raping four fellow USF students.
Here's a statistic that stops you dead in your tracks: 94 percent of rapists don't spend a day in jail.

How's that work? Here's the breakdown from the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network: First, consider that 60 percent of rapes allegedly go unreported. If a rape is reported, then there's a 51 percent chance of an arrest. If an arrest is made, there's an 80 percent chance of a prosecution. And if there's a prosecution, 58 percent of alleged rapists are convicted.

Still following? This analysis reads eerily like explanations of why only five cents of your charitable dollar actually end up helping starving refugees. Continuing: If a rapist is convicted of a felony, there's a 69 percent chance he or she will be jailed. So, for the estimated 39 percent of attacks that do get reported, then 16.3 percent of those alleged rapists will be jailed. And if you factor in the unreported rapes, then only 6 percent of rapists will do time.

Now, stringing together statistics like this is like creating ever more complicated combination pool shots -- the chance for an error that fouls everything up grows with each additional link of the chain. Still, the underlying message remains: The ratio of rape convictions to rapes is rather low. Julie Baltzley is a rape counselor in San Francisco and she'll tell you as much.

"When a survivor comes forward, just the fact of knowing that, for the most part, nothing is going to end up really happening with her case is so deeply and personally humiliating. That ends up being the barrier," she says. "Most of the survivors I have worked with, most of the time their case does not end up going forward. There is not enough evidence."

Baltzley noted that the case of USF senior Ryan Caskey, who last week pleaded not guilty of raping four fellow students he knew, epitomizes many of the difficulties women face in confronting their alleged attackers. "Acquaintance rape" does not leave any telltale marks and DNA evidence is useless -- it's all about proving consent, which is often the ultimate he-said she-said. In the case against Caskey, however, multiple women have come forward and claimed to have been raped.

When asked how society -- or, on a smaller level, a university -- could prevent acquaintance rape proactively instead of allowing legions of alleged victims to mount and then depend upon their coming forward en masse, Baltzley was unable to offer an answer. And that's not surprising: She'd like to see society changed, but society is not an Etch-A-Sketch. You can't just shake it up and start anew. 

"When you come forward, you run the risk of not being believed. And the burden is on the survivor to prove this happened. And bringing such a humiliating story to the criminal justice system ends up being overwhelming for most people. Even if the case goes forward, you're talking about months and possibly years of having to relive the experience," she says. Baltzley didn't mention that any good defense attorney will attempt to cast doubt into a jury's mind by questioning the believability or morals of the accuser -- but that happens too.

So, considering the hefty majority of reported rapes do not result in a conviction and, even if they do, weeks, months, or years of personal trauma are almost a dead certainty, what reasons can Baltzley give to victims to come forward and report the crimes perpetreated against them? When we posed that question, the pause on the other end of the phone was long enough we worried she'd hung up on us. After about half a minute, she replied.

"I don't know what reason to say why you should come forward. I don't know. I certainly couldn't advise anyone to come forward given the circumstances. It's so disapointing to report a rape and have nothing happen.

"I'm not discouraging anyone -- but I want to acknowledge the realities. And I can't change that."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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