Victims key in bringing rapists to justice - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Victims key in bringing rapists to justice

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

One in three women will be violated by a person they know, and half of them won't report it.

"After the assault, he threatened to kill my family," said "Joyce" a victim of sexual assault. "He threatened to force me out of the military, just to keep his story from getting out. When I did report it, I gave his name, I gave his complete description, but due to the fact that I waited 36 hours, no one believed me."

This story is like many others, where women who know their attackers don't report or wait to report the crime.

One rape makes it a big issue.

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap makes sure rapists go to jail, but she said the victim is key.

"If a victim doesn't report, we can't hold the person who raped or sexually assaulted them accountable," said Heap.

Statistics show last year the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police investigated 49 rape cases. That number is nearly double the rape cases from 2012.

SCMPD spokesman Julian Miller said the stigma associated with rape has changed.

"In talking to our Special Victims Unit detectives, they don't feel that more rapes are occurring, they just feel people are a little bit more willing to come forward and report the rapes," he said.

Reporting it, telling the police, restores a victim's power.

Heap said the collaborative effort between prosecutors, law enforcement and victim advocate organizations like the Rape Crisis Center do, too.

"We want to pursue those cases," said Heap. "We want justice for them."

Last year, the Chatham County District Attorney's office cleared 19 rape cases. Heap credits that progress to a Major Crimes division in the court system created last year to handle serious crimes.

"The faster pace in terms of bringing justice to these victims at a faster clip also means we don't lose evidence," said Heap. "We don't have witnesses who move away, we cannot find, and victims are more willing to testify and come to court."

Police said the amount of time it takes for a rape to be reported makes a difference.

"Joyce" was raped 14 years ago on a Navy ship in Guam. She said her attacker, a superior officer, threatened to kill her if she told. It wasn't until she started to have panic attacks that she did, almost 36 hours later.

"Since they could not prove it due to the lack of evidence and the amount of time and the location of where the assault happened, they said they could not prove it," she said. "So yes, he walked free. There was no prosecution."

Although she would not have investigated "Joyce's" case, Heap said a delay in reporting a rape can hinder the prosecution.

"I'd still report the crime," said Heap. "Make a police report, seek medical attention."

Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Kesha Gibson-Carter wantd to send a clear message; don't ever let your guard down.

The highest number of rape cases are between people who know each other, and they can happen at any time and anywhere.

"We don't want to wait until the next serial rapist rapes two or three women to get our attention," said Gibson-Carter.

That is a sentiment echoed by a district attorney working to stop rapists from going free, one case at a time.

"If I could stop it, that's what I would love to do," said Heap.

The Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire and Hope Haven of the Lowcountry in Beaufort also serve as advocates for rape victims.

Copyright 2014 WTOC. All rights reserved.

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