Sexual Predators Often Avoid Prosecution

by Kirsten May
Courtesy of A-State Department of Media

Out of every 1,000 rapes, very few ever lead to a conviction. That is partly because less than 350 are reported, leading to an average of 63 arrests, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Of those, only 20 percent of cases are referred to a prosecutor. ASU TV’s Kirsten May spoke with a prosecuting attorney to find out why those numbers are so low.

JONESBORO, Ark. — When a victim of sexual assault comes forward, they face many questions. If an arrest is made, the victim must decide with law enforcement if they want to press charges.

The prosecuting attorney for the second judicial district of Arkansas, Scott Ellington said that is not always a straightforward process.

“When it is a forcible rape where there is an unknown perpetrator, those are easier to prosecute. Because it’s a foreign situation,” he said.

Ellington said things can get more complicated when it is assault by a friend or acquaintance.

“Where is the level of consent? That is the primary issue is where is the level of consent. And those issues are looked at closely,” the prosecuting attorney said.

He said victims can decide not to press charges for various reasons, including the fear of going public with such a private violation.

“We do have cases where victims decide they would prefer not to prosecute, and understandably so, because generally they make a report and they maintain pretty much anonymity,” Ellington said.

A licensed professional counselor in administration at Mid-South Health Systems, Matthew Knight said some victims just cannot stand to keep retelling their story to lawyers, judges and jurors because they are just trying to move forward in their life.

“‘And I don’t think I want to go through the public part of this again, I will just heal with myself,'” he said victims tell themselves.

But Knight said, in his experience, those victims often get stronger and decide they do want to tell somebody.

“They don’t want that person who has been the perpetrator to continue to do that with other people,” he said.

Whether or not a person decides to follow through with charges, Ellington said there is one important thing to do as soon as you discover the assault.

“Collect the evidence, collect anything that might have DNA on it,” he said.

Ellington said time is very important because if a victim changes their mind a few days later, that evidence might already be gone.


Ellington also said he understand victims are often scared or nervous while going through the prosecution process, so his office does have a designated victim-witness coordinator who visits with victims and helps them through the process.

Learn more about how the system helps sexual assault victims in this previous installment.