Some juvenile sex assault cases never make it to court

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Last July, a young girl told San Juan County investigators that she was sexually molested for the first time when she was 10 or 12 years old. Her mother had given her pills to help her sleep on the night in question, according to a criminal complaint, but she awoke when she felt something touch her leg.

Her mother's boyfriend was on top of her, holding her hands above her head. She was naked from the waist down. She said she does not know what happened, but he left after she began to struggle.

Rebecca, not the girl's real name, was 14 by the time police were alerted to the alleged abuse, which she said occurred twice more after that first night. She described one incident in her diary, which was discovered by a family member and turned over to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

As horrific as that experience was, the case never went to trial. U.S. Department of Justice data indicate some 60 percent of rape cases go unreported. And parents of children who say they suffered sexual abuse sometimes refuse to cooperate with prosecutors even when there is evidence of a crime. San Juan County is no exception.

A dairy entry detailed one of Rebecca's experiences.

"Just earliyer my step dad (name omitted) almost had sex with me I tried to kik him away like get him off of me but he was to strong for me he tocht me and almost or he did Put his finger in ... I used to not know What he was doing he probably started a few munth later after my mom interduct us ...," she wrote.

She told investigators that a year before that, her mother's boyfriend raped her in his car after they dropped off some rented movies.

Rebecca's grandmother, Nona Hogue, took custody and pressed for charges.

"She is hurting now," she told The Daily Times. "She is different. What he did to my grandbaby, I am so upset with him."

Nona Hogue said her daughter is quiet now, whereas she was once outspoken. Rebecca's mother told detectives she found evidence that Rebecca was cutting herself.

The boyfriend was charged in September 2013 with three counts of criminal sexual penetration, a second-degree felony that carries a sentence of three to 15 years in prison per offense.

In a response to a motion to reduce the boyfriend's $70,000 cash-only bond, Deputy District Attorney Ronald Brambl wrote that the evidence against him was "overwhelming."

Detectives were able to corroborate the times and dates Rebecca said the assaults occurred, and the defendant, while he did not confess to assault, did "indicate guilt" in his statements to police, Brambl wrote.

The boyfriend had also told Rebecca that he was attracted to other minor girls, Brambl wrote.

Despite the prosecutor's confidence, the charges were dismissed in January and the boyfriend was released from jail.

What happened?

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said the charges were dismissed after the mother, who regained custody of her child, refused to cooperate with the investigation.

"At the second preliminary hearing, the mother seemed to be on board," he said. "Ron, our attorney, found a counselor who was willing to see them for free and also testify."

However, the mother failed to appear in court on three separate occasions and did not take her daughter to the scheduled counseling session. By October, the contact number prosecutors had for the mother was disconnected. The prosecutors issued a subpoena, but there was no response.

"It is very difficult to overcome a parent's desire to hamper a prosecution," he said. "It's all well and good to say you are going to grab the child and make her testify, but we can't do that."

Hogue said she believes her daughter still sees the boyfriend, but Rebecca is kept away from him.

"Why would you do that to your daughter?" she said. "I tell her (if she takes her there), I will refile charges."

The mother told detectives that she did not believe her daughter had been abused and suggested that Rebecca cut herself because of a breakup. She said if her daughter was abused, she would have said something.

She did not respond to requests for comment. The boyfriend could not be reached for comment.

Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Washington, D.C.,-based Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network, or RAINN, said there is very little data on parents or caretakers who refuse to cooperate with prosecutors or hinder investigations, but he said, anecdotally, that it seems more common in cases involving family members.

"When the abuser is a family member, they are very reluctant to make it public at all," he said. "If it is a stranger, they are much more willing. Probably for acquaintances, for coaches or teachers, it's somewhere in between."

According to RAINN, 93 percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attackers and 34.2 percent of attackers were family members. And one in three American Indian women report that they have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape, almost twice the rate of the general population.

Berkowitz said one reason parents refuse to cooperate is that "they don't want to expose the attacker to punishment."

O'Brien said that in his experience, parents who refuse to cooperate do so for either emotional or financial reasons. Mothers may fear that if their husband or boyfriend is imprisoned, they will lose their financial support. Sometimes, the mother refuses to believe their child because of jealousy or resentment, particularly in cases where the child is a teenager, O'Brien said. He said distrust of government and the criminal justice system can also play a role.

O'Brien said his office is currently prosecuting two cases where the mother has shown a reluctance to cooperate. In one of the cases, the victim's mother told prosecutors that she wanted to move back in with the accused, despite a court-order that prohibited him from having contact with the child. In the other case, the mother said she did not want her boyfriend to be punished for the alleged abuse.

O'Brien said his office can, in some cases, have a child removed from the parent's home, but they need solid evidence of abuse or neglect to do so. The office can also put positive pressure on parents to cooperate, but threatening the parent is both unethical and can sully testimony in the case.

"We can't be there all the time, to encourage the parent to do the right thing," he said.

Nona Hogue said she drives past her daughter's house, to make sure Rebecca is not near the boyfriend.

The girl's aunt, Christine, who asked that her last name not be used, said that Rebecca told her that the boyfriend had also made a lewd comment about her daughter.

"I am watching my girls like a hawk," she said. "I am constantly checking to see where they are going, what they are doing."

Warning signs in children of possible sexual abuse:

•Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation

•Seems distracted or distant at odd times

•Has a sudden change in eating habits

•Refuses to eat

•Loses or drastically increases appetite

•Has trouble swallowing

•Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues

•Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places

•Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child

•Writes, draws, plays, or dreams of sexual or frightening images

•Talks about a new older friend

•Suddenly has money, toys, or other gifts without reason

•Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad

•Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge

Information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Justice

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.