- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

BEAUFORT, S.C. (AP) - Just one man charged with a sexual assault against an adult in Beaufort County the past seven years has bene convicted of that same charge, according to court records.

Of the 56 adult sexual assault cases closed in the county since 2010 more than half were dismissed completely. Twenty-two were part of plea deals to non-sexual charges, while four ended with not guilty verdicts, according to the records reviewed by The Island Packet of Hilton Head (https://bit.ly/2qDvy48 ).

Solicitor Duffie Stone said he sees similar numbers across South Carolina, where only about 32 percent of sexual assault cases with adult victims end in a conviction of some kind, including plea deals to non-sexual misdemeanors.

“I think if you look at those statistics and you say, ‘OK, wow, there are not very many convictions.’ No, there are not. But that’s true anywhere,” Stone said. “So I wouldn’t look at those convictions and think I need to go to my guys and say, ‘What are you doing wrong?’ “

The biggest hurdles in the cases are lack of evidence, Stone said.

Advocates said sexual assaults often don’t leave behind physical evidence, and even when there are DNA or injuries, in many cases the victim knows the attacker and juries struggle with consent.

“When that attitude permeates this society, it makes it very difficult for our systems to make people accountable. And when you consider a rape victim and everything they’ve been through, entering a court system can really retraumatize them,” said Sara Barber, executive director of the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Prosecutors need to keep trying these cases because they are important to the community, said Shauw Chin-Capps, executive director of Hopeful Horizons, a rape crisis center serving Beaufort, Jasper, Allendale and Colleton counties.

“There’s also something to be said about practice makes perfect. The more you prosecute these cases, the better you’re going to get. It sends a message to our community that we take these cases seriously,” Chin-Capps said.

Stone said a plea deal shouldn’t be seen as a defeat because a suspect is still being punished.

“When you sit down with a victim and tell them - ‘Look, I believe you, but we don’t have enough evidence to go forward’- it’s not something anybody wants to do,” Stone said. “But if you don’t have any evidence, you don’t have any choice.”

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Information from: The Island Packet, https://www.islandpacket.com


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