No UA date rape cases prosecuted since 1985

When I was the Wildcat crimes and court reporter for both semesters in 1993, a lot of things surprised me. The dean of students getting arrested for drunk driving. A prostitution ring run by a group of students. Strange happenings in library restrooms. But one thing shocked me then and still holds true now. One figure amazes me despite all the hype and discussion about the issue. In the past decade, no case of date rape reported to the University of Arizona police has been fully prosecuted by the Pima County Attorney's office.

Over the past months with the candlelight vigil and the Delta Chi controversy, there has been an increase in discussion concerning date rape on campus. I am not going to get on a soapbox and lecture about the evils of rape or alternately question the studies or figures that indicate one in four women are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. These arguments have been drilled into our heads time and time again. But with all the debate, seminars, discussions, etc. why has not one single date rape case been prosecuted?

It is not that there have been no rape cases reported to the UA police there were 16 reports from Fall 1985 to Spring 1994. But only one of those cases was prosecuted. That case was a 1991 stranger rape case in which a UA employee was beaten and assaulted after she caught someone breaking into Steward Observatory. The rapist in that case was sentenced to 84 years in jail. Of the other 15 cases, the Pima County Attorney's office declined prosecuting five of them, six cases were deemed as not having enough suspect information to proceed, and in the other four cases the victims declined to prosecute. Twelve of those 15 cases were date-rape cases. The last date rape case reported to UA police prosecuted was in 1985 and the charge of sexual assault was eventually plea-bargained to simple assault.

There is no one cause why these cases are not being prosecuted. On one level, 75 percent of the rape cases between 1985-94 involved alcohol and/or drugs. Anytime alcohol and/or drugs are involved, the words of the victim are called into question. On another level, the County Attorney's office has declined five cases in which the UA police completed investigations. As UA Assistant Chief Harry Hueston said in a previous Wildcat article, "The County Attorney's decision is the most powerful one in the process. Only prosecuting attorneys can charge people." The Pima County Attorney's office could not comment specifically on any of the cases they declined in the past.

Something which has always mystified me is the lapse of time between the UA police completing an investigation of a date rape case and the Pima County Attorney's office deciding whether to prosecute or not. I remember that in September 1993, there was a reported date rape at a campus residence hall. The UA police completed the investigation within a week or so after the incident and gave the information to the Pima County Attorney's office. October went by. No charges pressed. November went by. No charges pressed. Ultimately the case faded away and the attorney's office never pressed charges. Sometimes cases take time because of follow-up investigations and lab work, but in that case the UA police were not asked to provide any more additional information after the initial investigation.

The Delta Chi case was reported close to three months ago. The Pima County Attorney's office has asked the UA police for follow-up information involving the case, but still no formal charges have been filed. I understand the County Attorney's office is buried in cases, but the lapse in time between the initial investigation and the decision to press formal charges is hard to reconcile. It leaves both the suspect and the alleged victim in limbo. These cases are not like wine they do not age well.

Candlelight vigils increase awareness about the issue. Speeches and seminars increase awareness. The question is "Is awareness the problem?" The "No Means No" slogan has become a mantra, just like "Say No to Drugs." It is clear that there can never be too much awareness, but now people have the tendency to zone out anything they hear about "date rape" because they think they know everything about it already. I think while awareness is part of the problem, we should be spending an equal amount of time examining the structure of the system. Before debating if 10 or 20 or 30 percent of women are victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assaults, we should first look at why cases that are being reported are not being prosecuted. Is it because most of the cases have involved drugs and/or alcohol? Is it because the UA student population is more transient than the population as a whole? Why?

What's the solution? I wish there was an easy one. Should a committee be formed to discuss the prosecution rate of date rape cases? Well, I doubt another committee would do any good. Whatever happened to the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Gender Issues Committee to address rape preventive measures and education? Whatever happened to the urgent recommendations made by the Student Union Task Force Committee? More often than not, committees at this university have no teeth and their calls for actions largely go ignored. The only idea I have is that the dean of students office, the UA police, county attorneys and student representatives need to sit down and hash out these issues. Then they should issue a statement why the "zero" figure exists. Students need to know.

I just can't escape the feeling that something is seriously wrong here.

Jon Burstein is a senior in political science and journalism. Like it or not, his columns appear every Tuesday.

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