Rape Victim Advocates Say System Failed Nikki Saez - NBC Chicago
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Rape Victim Advocates Say System Failed Nikki Saez

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    no description (Published Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014)

    In September 2014, L.B. Joseph and his brother were charged by Cook County authorities with rape. DNA matches allegedly connected them to six assaults dating back to 2003. They have entered pleas of not guilty and are being held without bond. 

    In March of 2012, Nikki Saez alleged L.B. Joseph assaulted her. Prosecutors declined to press a felony rape charge in her case, and Joseph was ultimately found not guilty of misdemeanor battery.
             
    Saez says she will never forget the early morning hours of March 24, 2012. 

    "He would punch me or hit me or choke me. Anything to get me to stop struggling," Saez said. Then he would rape her again.
             
    Though police and prosecutors strongly disagree, rape victim advocates say the legal system failed Saez. And they say it happens all too often, where a single, credible claim of rape is rejected and not prosecuted.
             
    That night Saez told police who responded that she was raped repeatedly and beaten. The Original Case Incident Report filed by officers on the scene cited “severe swelling and brusing (sic)” in her face.
             
    “I was in so much pain,” she said. “My head hurt so bad.”
             
    The man responsible, she said, was L.B. Joseph. 
             
    The two met, police and court records show, on an Internet dating website. They traded emails, then texts, and agreed to meet at a Northwest Side bar.  Saez, 27, said she was buzzed but not intoxicated.
             
    When the bar closed, Saez said she asked Joseph to drive her home. He didn't.

    “He took me to an apartment that I had never seen before,” she said.
             
    Saez says she was forced out of the car and into the apartment on North Seeley Avenue in Chicago where she was repeatedly assaulted. Afterwards she made her way outside and called police, who responded, according to the police report, to a Criminal Sexual Assault. A rape kit was requested, and Saez was transported to Swedish Covenant Hospital.
             
    Saez was 24 at the time, working at Walter Payton High School on Chicago’s Near North Side. An accomplished softball player, she graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C., with dreams of becoming a cop.
             
    Three days after her alleged attack, she says she identified a police photo of Joseph. But Joseph was not arrested, police confirm, until six months later.
             
    The trial occurred on June 25, 2013. But the charge was not rape -- it was battery, a misdemeanor brought by the Chicago Police Department. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said it could not meet the “burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” to charge rape but aggressively prosecuted the battery charge, even asking about the alleged rape.
             
    “I said, 'no, no, no,' repeatedly,” Saez said, according to the court transcript.
         
    “And how did it make you feel?” Assistant State’s Attorney Radhika Verma asked.
         
    “Awful,” Saez replied.
         
    “Did you ask him to stop?”
         
    “Yes, repeatedly … He told me to just take it. He called me a stupid b---- (expletive) repeatedly. ”
             
    In a recent interview, Saez maintained forcefully, “I said 'no.'”
             
    Joseph argued the sex was consensual and in a one-day bench trial at the Leighton Criminal Courts building Judge Peggy Chiampas found him not guilty of battery.
             
    When asked if Saez’s testimony was credible, Kaethe Morris Hoffer, Executive Director of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation responded with a single word: “Absolutely.”
             
    When asked if the criminal justice system protected Saez, Morris Hoffer replied, “No, it didn’t.”
             
    In a 2009 letter to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, advocates, including Morris Hoffer, challenged the office to “more aggressively charge and prosecute rape.”
             
    And while Morris Hoffer says the State’s Attorney’s office has made many positive steps, from police to prosecutors to the judiciary, she and other rape victim advocates say the criminal justice system is failing women like Saez.
             
    “It’s hostile to believing women’s accounts of being sexually assaulted until or unless there are four, five, six more women telling the same thing,” she said.
             
    “He shouldn’t have been charged with battery, he should have been charged with rape," Saez said. “I wanted justice for myself and I feel like I deserve it.”
             
    The Chicago Police Department released this statement: “Crimes of a sexual nature are particularly heinous and traumatic for victims. In addition to conducting thorough investigations of any reported sex-based crimes, we partner with advocacy groups, prosecutors and other government agencies to ensure a coordinated approach on preventing sexual assault, responding to those incidents that do occur and seeking justice for victims. Additionally, CPD recently enhanced training to ensure detectives are equipped as strongly as possible to investigate criminal sexual assault complaints.”
             
    The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office provided this edited statement: “The State’s Attorney’s Office did not approve felony charges in the case that you are inquiring about following a comprehensive review of the facts and circumstances of the case. There is no specific 'standard' that is followed in the evaluation of sexual assault cases. Each and every case is evaluated independently and on its own merits. This office considers ALL evidence that is available to us including all statements made by victims, the accused or any potential witnesses. In addition, we consider all physical evidence including DNA and rape kit evidence as well as any available circumstantial evidence.”
     
    Judge Chiampas did not respond to our phone calls.