And People Ask Why Rape Victims Don't Report To Police

If you needed to ask, this week you got your answers.
Baltimore Police couldn't care less about sexual assault victims, a federal investigation found.
Baltimore Police couldn't care less about sexual assault victims, a federal investigation found.
Baltimore Sun via Getty Images

This week, two incidents played out in the news that seemed to confirm some of the worst fears about how America’s criminal justice system handles sexual assault.

In one corner, the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing report about the Baltimore Police Department that showed rampant problems with how sex crimes are handled in the city.

A day after that DOJ report dropped, a campus rapist from the University of Colorado-Boulder who was convicted of sexual assault in May received his sentence ― and it did not include any prison time.

Brenda Tracy, an Oregon woman who frequently speaks about how her sexual assault case was mishandled in 1998, summed up in a tweet the frustration that many survivors express:

If you aren’t sure why Tracy would say the real question is “Why would you report it,” let’s recap what’s happened lately.

  • Officers routinely questioned sex crime victims in a way that put the blame on the victims themselves, like suggesting they were responsible. Detectives would ask “Why are you messing up that guy’s life?” and suggest the victims were lying by not reporting the assault immediately.
  • A prosecutor handling a sexual assault case wrote in an email to a BPD officer that the woman who reported the crime was a “conniving little whore,” and the cop responded “Lmao! I feel the same.”
  • Detectives made “minimal to no effort to locate, identify, interrogate, or investigate suspects,” the DOJ said. BPD sex crimes unit officials would complain that all of the sexual assault reports were false, saying at a social event, “In homicide, there are real victims; all our cases are bullshit.”

The DOJ noted that just 17 percent of rape reports to the BPD resulted in an arrest. That’s about half the national average of 38 percent, according to the FBI.

Just think about that: Baltimore has a problem. But even the national average is pathetically low. Americans can rest assured that the majority of criminal reports of rape never lead to an arrest, let alone prosecution.

Baltimore’s failings are hardly unusual. The DOJ unearthed similar problems in Missoula, Montana, a couple of years ago.

In Missoula, the DOJ found routine victim blaming, such as a detective telling a woman that because “there was no video of the incident,” prosecutors “wouldn’t see this as anything more than a girl getting drunk at a party,”

Then-Chief Deputy County Attorney Kirsten Pabst attended one campus adjudication in 2011 without invitation to defend the student accused of rape in the case. Her office had declined to press charges, but Pabst later told HuffPost that the accused student in that case deserved to be expelled.

Pabst was later elected Missoula county attorney.

And what happens to, the campus rapists who are arrested? Well, we got a glimpse with a couple cases this week.

In Boulder, Colorado, Austin Wilkerson was sentenced to two years of work release, along with probation, after being convicted of sexually assaulting an freshman drifting out of consciousness. Wilkerson won’t spend a day in prison, while his victim struggles to even get a full night’s sleep.

Meanwhile in Arizona, Charles Jensen Rivers got three years probation and no prison or jail time as part of a plea deal this week, after facing 16 criminal charges on accusations he sexually assaulted two female students. He pled guilty to two counts of aggravated assault with a sexual motive, though he was originally indicted on three counts of attempted sexual assault, four counts of sexual assault and four counts of sexual abuse, along with drug and alcohol charges.

Rivers was accused of providing drugged wine to two women, and then sexually assaulting both of them in a Northern Arizona University dorm while they drifted in and out of consciousness.

Austin James Wilkerson is shown in this booking photo released by the Boulder County Sheriff's Office in Boulder, Colorado.
Austin James Wilkerson is shown in this booking photo released by the Boulder County Sheriff's Office in Boulder, Colorado.
Handout . / Reuters

These two cases come after the highly publicized Brock Turner case, where a judge handed down a six-month jail sentence for a male athlete who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman on Stanford University’s campus.

Last month in California, former University of California, Davis student Lang Her was sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation after he pled guilty to assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, down from his original rape charges.

But after agreeing to plead guilty, Her sued his victim and her family for defamation over comments they made on Facebook describing him as a rapist. He may be going to jail, but he’s is not dropping the defamation suit at this point.

And in June, John Enochs got probation and no prison term as part of a plea deal after he was charged with raping two women 18 months apart. Enochs, a fraternity member at Indiana University in Bloomington, pled guilty to a charge of battery with moderate bodily injury, and the judge ruled it a misdemeanor, even though it is a Level 6 felony in the state. He spent one night in jail throughout the case.

All this isn’t to say that nobody goes to prison for rape.

For one, 20-year-old Kyle Vo got six to 12 years in state prison for raping an unconscious female student from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, which he also attended.

In Tennessee, four Vanderbilt football players stand accused of participating in a gang rape of an unconscious woman, and two of them have been found guilty. So far, Cory Batey is the only one sentenced, and he got 15 years in prison. But it’s also been three years since the assault, and two of the men haven’t even gone to trial yet.

The truth is that research funded by the Justice Department found that just 18 percent of rape reports lead to convictions. And for every 100 rapes, it’s estimated that only five will result in an assailant going to prison.

And people wonder why so few women ever report their rape to police.


Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers sexual violence, and is based in New York. You can reach him at, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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