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Officials: Sex Assault Report Outlining Investigative Flaws Does Not Apply in Centre County

by on January 23, 2014 4:32 PM

State College police and the Centre County District Attorney's office defended local officials' investigations and prosecutions in sexual assault cases Thursday in response to a report released by the White House that, in part, blames poor police work for low arrest figures.

The White House Council on Women and Girls released a report this week that says one in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college.

"Despite the prevalence of rape and sexual assault, many offenders are neither arrested nor prosecuted," the report states.

The report argues that low arrest rates are in part due to police biases, such as some officers believing that victims lie about rape for attention. Those biases "may account for some officers' unwillingness to make an arrest," the report states.

Additionally, the report says prosecutors are often reluctant to take on sexual assault cases, and, in some jurisdictions, the backlog of untested forensic rape kits is also a factor in low prosecution rates.

"Unfortunately, however, many rape kits are still sitting on the shelves, either ignored or waiting to be tested," the report says.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says those findings do not apply locally.

"That is not the case here. We don't have any rape kits sitting around and we are not reluctant to prosecute cases," she told StateCollege.com via email.

State College Police Lt. Keith Robb also says the report's findings do not apply in Centre County where the law enforcement community, including State College and Penn State police, has a "very well" trained Sexual Assault Response Team in place. The team includes forensic nurses trained in collecting evidence following a sexual assault.

"We've broken many cases based on their (the nurses') performance," Robb says.

The response team also includes victim advocates from the Women's Resource Center who support victims throughout the investigation and prosecution.

"I think we're moving in the right direction," Robb says. "I'm pretty proud of our department's response to this problem."

In terms of prosecuting sexual assault cases, Robb says the biggest challenge is when it becomes a "he said, she said" situation.

"It's a matter of a jury believing the victim over the suspect," he says.

Robb says the White House report is accurate in that it says sexual assaults are under reported. He says victims often do not report the crime to police out of embarrassment, fear and self-blame.

Robb says it takes "incredible courage" for a sexual assault victim to report the crime to police because it is followed by an invasive medical exam and the scrutiny of a defense attorney in a public courtroom.

"We try to do everything possible to get them through the process with as little trauma as possible," Robb says. "We try to overcome that, to convince them that it's not their fault. ... That is a very big challenge for us. We would love to do more."

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government. jenn.miller@statecollege.com
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