The crimes are unthinkable.
But they are the crimes that prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Division address every day in hopes of bringing some justice to victims.
The more than two dozen deputy district attorneys assigned to the Sex Crimes Division review nearly 1,000 cases of rape, sexual assault and the sexual abuse of children each year for possible criminal filing.
These cases are some of the most challenging to prosecute for a variety of reasons, which include a lack of corroborating evidence when the victim is the only witness to the crime. Drugs and alcohol often are involved, or the suspect insists the encounter was consensual.
In some cases, child victims of assault, in which the perpetrator is a relative, will recant their allegations -- sometimes under pressure from other relatives who support the perpetrator. Victims, particularly those caught up in human sex trafficking, sometimes break off contact with prosecutors and cannot be found.
“In these cases, there is sometimes fear by victims that they won’t be believed,” said Christina Buckley, the Sex Crimes Division head deputy. “It’s the job of prosecutors to work with them."
Successful cases typically involve a combination of factors, such as the victim reporting the crime quickly to authorities, cooperative witnesses and the presence of physical evidence and DNA evidence, Buckley said.
Like all criminal cases, to file charges prosecutors must have sufficient credible evidence to prove the defendant is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unfortunately, that is a difficult legal standard to meet in sex crimes. Three out of four cases are declined for filing because of a lack of evidence and lack of cooperation by victims and witnesses.
When charges are filed, however, the vast majority of cases end with a conviction.
Even when charges are declined, Sex Crimes Division prosecutors let victims know that their accounts may help later if additional criminal allegations arise against their assailants.
Buckley said that these cases are emotionally taxing for prosecutors: “It requires a thick skin and a lot of empathy.”