Mr. Breck Roesch and Nicholas Trevino: The Realities of Sexual Assault Prosecutions and Our Commitment to Support Survivors:
By Mr. Breck Roesch and Nicholas Trevino
Every 68 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in this country. And every nine minutes that victim is a child. In total, one in six American women has been the victim of an attempted or attempted rape.
Despite the huge proportion of individuals who have been and will be raped, most never disclose. Only a third of sexual assault survivors come forward. From there, these survivors take the courageous step on the journey of investigating and prosecuting a sexual assault.
âTravelâ is not a word we use lightly, but quite frankly it is a word that describes the institution we know as the criminal justice system. The ability to prosecute sexual assault cases has improved in recent years. This is due, in part, to advances in investigative techniques, which include the ability of law enforcement to examine electronic devices and social media accounts for relevant evidence. In a system where a survivor’s account of what happened has come under a microscope, advances in DNA science have also made it easier for prosecutors to identify perpetrators with physical evidence.
Here in Boulder County, many improvements have been made by healthcare providers, law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office as these cases are a priority. Additionally, Colorado law provides certain protections for those who are most vulnerable during this process. For example, Colorado’s Rape Shield Act prevents the use of evidence regarding a survivor’s past sexual behavior. Yet sexual assault prosecutions remain a traumatic process for a survivor.
It was recently suggested in this post that victims will simply lay charges until âthe template is finishedâ and they face a trial. (October 8, “Boulder DA dismisses sexual assault case against former Shambhala teacher.”)
However, the reality is often very different. The moment someone decides to share what happened to them, it opens up to a long and potentially embarrassing process. Telling their story means having to provide law enforcement with a full account of the sexual assault. This may mean an intrusive medical examination which may or may not lead to corroborating evidence. This means relaying these painful details again to prosecutors who will take the case to court. It means making the decision to testify in front of a courtroom full of strangers to retell the excruciating details. And that means having to face the aggressor during the trial and be subjected to attacks during cross-examination.
Simply put, it means re-traumatizing those who have already been severely victimized.
The realities of this experience are difficult to understand. Moreover, just because a survivor comes forward does not mean that the abuser will be held responsible. No prosecutor can ever guarantee a guilty verdict. Yet, day in and day out, we ask these survivors to speak their truth, trust the process, and meet the challenges with us on their side.
With us by their side. This is a critical point that is at the heart of sexual assault prosecutions. As prosecutors, we are committed to seeking justice for these survivors, and we are working tirelessly to achieve it. But we also seek to empower these people to tell their story in their own way.
The process should always be fair and just for everyone involved. Too often, our culture allows for false stereotypes that prevent survivors from reporting offenses. When a victim comes forward, they may be subject to public scrutiny from extremely painful events. For the process to be fair and equitable, victims need to know that they will be supported. Our office is committed to providing this support.
The decision of a survivor to testify or not to testify is a deeply personal decision. Often, it is choice that determines whether a case can go to trial. As prosecutors, it is a choice that we respect even if it means the dismissal. No survivor chooses to be assaulted, but we will respect the choices our survivors make as they play a major role in how we as an office respond to what has been inflicted on them.
In Boulder County, we are grateful to work with all of our community partners to support survivors of sexual assault. We encourage those in need to contact the following organizations:
Blue Sky Bridge: 303-444-1388
Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA): 303-443-7300
Safe shelter in the Saint-Vrain valley: 303-772-4422
Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN): 303-444-2424
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (264-5437), co4kids.org.
Boulder County Attorney’s Office: 303-441-3700
CU Boulder Victim Support Office: 303-492-8855
Mr. Breck Roesch and Nicholas Trevino are assistant attorneys for Boulder County.