Prosecuting cases of rape and sexual assault don’t often end in convictions, despite evidence or even a victim’s willingness to testify against their alleged attacker. And experts say society’s view toward sexual assault is partially to blame.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) conducted an analysis of sexual violence data and found that out of every 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported. Of those, only 57 result in an arrest and only seven end with a felony prosecution.
Three years ago, Venesa Brakes was held against her will for 11 hours, beaten and sexually assaulted. After her perpetrator released her, she immediately called police and went to the hospital for a rape kit. Despite her willingness to testify, prosecutors ended up recommending a plea deal for her alleged attacker, Rata Hill, to which she agreed.
“We needed a conviction,” she said. ”I had to look at the bigger picture.”
As part of the plea deal Hill, who remains in custody, will be required to register as a sex offender once released.
“Jurors want a perfect victim,” said Christine Evans with Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, who represented Brakes on her case.
Evans said society tends to believe sexual assault only happens, “with a stranger jumping out of bushes.”
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office told NBC 5 only 15 percent of the cases they try involve strangers attacking strangers. In 85 percent of the cases, the victim knows their attacker.
Evans also points to the process in Cook County of getting to a sexual assault charge -- a process called “felony review.” It requires the alleged perpetrator and the victim be brought to a police station at the same time. A victim may have to tell his or her story three to five times over a period of several hours.
First a detective, then two prosecutors will then determine if the case goes forward.
Rape cases can also take four to five years to prosecute, according to Evans. This, she says, can cause a victim to lose heart.
“They believe they are never going to see justice,” Evans said.
They often don’t. Evans says many cases are dropped or reduced to a charge like battery with no mention of sexual violence.
NBC 5’s Carol Marin followed a case that was a stark example of that.
Nikki Saez accused LB Joseph of rape in 2012. Saez says her detective yelled at her.
“He didn’t believe me,” she said.
Joseph was charged with battery and a judge found him not guilty of that crime.
But in January, a judge sentenced LB Joseph and his brother Leondo to 147 years in prison for raping several women, with cases dating back to 2003.
Brakes thinks laws need to change.
“It’s time for someone to look at the process when someone comes through the door and says, ‘I’ve been raped,’” she said.