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Deputy DA: Many sex assault cases tough to prosecute

By Jennifer Karapetian, Santa Barbara County, Calif. Deputy District Attorney

Sexual assault cases are some of the most difficult to prosecute. Part of this difficulty stems from preconceived notions, or "myths" associated with rape.

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When many people think of rape, they often think of the perpetrator as someone who is a stranger to the survivor. Although stranger rape is very real, even more staggering is the prevalence of non-stranger rape. Over 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone whom the survivor knows.

Due to the embarrassment, trauma, and fear that many survivors experience, over 60 percent of sexual assault cases go unreported. When a survivor finally gains the courage to come forward, they are scrutinized for everything that they did - before, during, and after the crime.

In cases of delayed reporting, key pieces of evidence like DNA will be lost. There are often no independent witnesses because most rape happens behind closed doors.

The case will boil down to the survivor's account of what happened versus what the perpetrator says occurred. When a survivor is intoxicated or unconscious at the time they were raped, it becomes difficult if not impossible to prosecute the case. As a result, 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

There are many misconceptions about rape and what it means to consent. In California, like most states, the law takes into account whether a survivor was intoxicated or unconscious at the time she was raped. Most of these sexual assaults occur at high school parties or college campuses, where there is easy access to alcohol, drugs, and vulnerable victims.

When a woman is unconscious, she is legally incapable of consenting to sex. This may seem like common sense. But similarly, when a woman is so intoxicated that she is unable to resist, she is also legally incapable of consent. When a perpetrator knows this, and takes advantage of her anyway - that is rape.

Statistics show that one out of four college women will be the victim of sexual assault during their academic career. Over half of these cases will involve victims who have consumed alcohol. Some of these women will come forward and report their crime to campus administration.

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The evaluation of complaints in the disciplinary process has historically focused on whether a victim said, "No" during the assault, or whether she physically resisted her attacker. This type of process is inconsistent with the legal definition of rape.

California's recent "Yes Means Yes" law is a game changer because it requires colleges and universities receiving public funds, to shift their focus from whether a survivor said, "No," to whether she said, "Yes." Although a small victory, this law helps pave a road towards eradicating the many myths associated with sexual assault.

Jennifer Karapetian is a Deputy District Attorney for Santa Barbara County, California. She specializes in domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

Survivors of sexual assault will tell their stories Saturday during "'48 Hours' Live to Tell: I Remember Everything." The episode airs Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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