Few sexual assault cases lead to arrests, convictions

Whether looking at national or local numbers, the vast majority of reported rapes never result in an arrest.

Nationally, 18% of all reported sexual assaults result in an arrest and about 7% are prosecuted.

Illinois Times analyzed crime data the Springfield Police Department submitted to the FBI for 2019 through 2021. According to the data, there were 289 reported sexual assaults in the capital city during those three years and 14 people were arrested, or just under a 5% arrest rate. Since the data does not separate child sex abuse cases from adult cases, the newspaper worked with the police department to determine the number of arrests made in cases where there was an adult victim.

There were seven people arrested in Springfield for sexually assaulting an adult during that period. But Assistant Springfield Police Chief Joshua Stuenkel said that those numbers don't tell the entire story.

Another eight people who were accused of sexually assaulting an adult were arrested on other charges, such as aggravated battery. While those arrests would not show up in the rape statistics shared with the FBI, they still had the effect of getting someone accused of sexual assault off the streets.

Most adult sexual assaults occur behind closed doors between two people who know each other, said Gillian Snider, a former New York City police officer who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She said because there are usually no witnesses, it often comes down to one person claiming he was given consent and another claiming she did not give it.

Child-victim cases are easier to investigate and prosecute because all that needs to be determined is whether sexual activity took place, not whether the victim consented, Snider said. Children cannot legally consent to having sex.

Stuenkel said another reason reported sexual assaults are much higher than the number of arrests is because some victims decide not to pursue a case.

"She may have moved on with her life and decided she just doesn't want to deal with it anymore," he said.

But while that may explain some of the reasons the city's arrest rate is low, it does not tell the whole story. Proving that consent was not given, particularly between a couple who have previously dated, is difficult.

In the case of Betsy O'Brien, she said her case was ultimately not pursued by authorities because she had a prior sexual relationship with the perpetrator.

"They said they didn't know how jurors would react to that information and they thought it would be hard to get a conviction. But how would they know how jurors would react if they have never pursued a case like mine? Societal views change over time. We could have gone to trial and we might have lost. But at least I would have had my day in court and my story would have been told," she said. -Scott Reeder

About The Author

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder is a staff writer at Illinois Times.

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