Sexual Assault in Iowa: Not Even Wrong
February 27, 2016 (Fault Lines) — The police often get a bad rap when it comes to sexual assault investigations. A lot of times, itâ€™s because of articles like this one, where the headline blares â€śJustice Denied In Some Sex Assault Casesâ€ť:
Hannah Hatfield didnâ€™t tell Waterloo police she was sexually assaulted until four years afterwards.
â€śI think Iâ€™ve always told myself that if I just didnâ€™t think about it and I just kept moving forward, it would all go away.â€ť
But it didnâ€™t. It nagged at her until she finally called Waterloo police in January 2015, thinking sheâ€™d finally get closure and justice for what was done to her.
There are a couple of different things going on here. If she didnâ€™t want to report being sexually assaulted, thatâ€™s her decision. What is not her decision is the burden of proof necessary to sustain a conviction. As a society, we decided that a long time ago.
Regardless of her desire for â€śclosure and justice,â€ť at some point 12 good people would have to retire to the jury room, consider the evidence, and decide whether the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
To her credit, Hatfield seems to realize this:
â€śI still blame myself for waiting so long, but I remembered everything still,â€ť she said.
Hatfield decided to speak to the police based on a Facebook post by Chloe Cumberland, a woman from the same area whose post went viral:
Early in the morning on December 4th, 2016, I was intentionally and maliciously sexually assaulted by a former friend of mine. With the help of one of my sorority sisters, I picked up the broken pieces of my heart, and we made our way to the Cedar Falls Police Department. After being questioned by one of Cedar Fallsâ€™ finest, I concluded that I wanted to press charges. I then proceeded to write an official (four page, single-spaced) statement.
On January 6th, 2017, one month and two days after my assault, I finally heard back from [the investigating officer]. She told me she scheduled an interview with my offender for the week of January 9th. She explained that he was very hard to get ahold of, and that we needed to tread lightly so we wouldnâ€™t scare him off.
So far, so good, right? Unfortunately, the accused wasnâ€™t playing along with the script.
A week and a half later I had heard nothing about the interview. I then contacted my officer and asked what was going on. I was told my offender got an attorney involved, and she could in no way do anything. Once the attorney got involved, the department essentially gave up.
Which, from the defenseâ€™s perspective, is exactly whatâ€™s supposed to happen. If the accusedâ€™s lawyer had two brain cells to rub together, his first phone call would have been to the detective, to explain that his client wasnâ€™t going to say anything.
One month and 18 days after my assault, I once again emailed [the investigating officer] and didnâ€™t hear back until two emails and 24+ hours later. [â€¦] In response to my email she called me, and essentially told me the county attorney, who gets paid regardless of helping me or not, dismissed my case. They dismissed my case after, not trying to get in contact with his attorney to gain more evidence.
Thereâ€™s a story of a brilliant theoretical physicist named Wolfgang Pauli, who had a reputation of not suffering the less brilliant very gladly. Legend has it that a hapless grad student once brought him a page of calculations, in response to which Pauli tersely snapped â€śThatâ€™s not right. Thatâ€™s not even wrong!â€ť If Pauli were a defense lawyer in Iowa, his retort would apply perfectly to the above paragraph.
Start with â€śthe county attorney gets paid regardless of helping me or not.â€ť To begin with, the county attorney isnâ€™t there to help Chloe Cumberland. Doctrinally speaking, he or she is there to represent the State of Iowa, and to punish violations of the criminal law. Practically speaking, he can only do that if the evidence is there.
Regardless of pay, there isnâ€™t a prosecutor in America who wouldnâ€™t love to put a rapist away. But thereâ€™s also not a prosecutor (not to mention a police officer) in America who wants to lose at trial.
As for â€śnot trying to get in contact with his attorney to gain more evidence,â€ť sheâ€™s been watching too much Law & Order. What exactly was a call from the prosecutor to the defense attorney going to do?
Was the prosecutor going to give his best Jack McCoy impression, threatening to charge the defendant with the murder of John F. Kennedy unless he took a plea? It doesnâ€™t work that wayâ€¦calling the defense was about as likely to result in â€śmore evidenceâ€ť as would consulting Ms. Cleo.
Today, January 24th, 2017, one month and 20 days since my assault, the Cedar Falls Police Department wiped their hands clean of me and pushed my assault under the rug. Their actions clearly portray to me and the other who know the details about my case, that sexual assault is okay.
It portrays nothing of the sort. What it actually portrays is that despite investigation, the police and prosecutors didnâ€™t have enough to make the charges stick. Unfortunately, Chloe Cumberlandâ€™s posts had the effect of making another alleged victim stupider:
â€śChloe is a perfect example of why it doesnâ€™t matter if I waited,â€ť Hatfield said in a Courier interview.
Trust me, it matters. Imagine reporting a burglary to the police four years after it occurred, after youâ€™ve fixed the lock, the footprints have been washed away, and any eyewitnesses have either moved away or long since forgotten the night in question. You think maybe it would be tougher to build a case against the guy?
Terrible as sex crimes are, oftentimes the reason they donâ€™t get prosecuted isnâ€™t because of sexism. Itâ€™s because of evidence, or the lack thereof, and because the burden of proof is still â€śbeyond a reasonable doubt.â€ť But donâ€™t worry. Given whatâ€™s happening on college campuses, a proposal to take rape convictions out from under that pesky â€śreasonable doubtâ€ť requirement will be coming soon to a jurisdiction near you.