Just looking at the research it’s easy to see, Utah has a sexual assault problem. According to the FBI, Utah has the 17th highest rate of sexual assault in the nation. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are working to improve these statistics, but they say the few cases that actually make it to the courtroom rarely find justice. We wanted to find out why.
Amelia Dennie runs every day to escape from reality.
“I’m able to be happy again for a little bit,” she explained.
Since October 14th 2014, happiness has been hard to come by for Dennie.
“I just really lost a lot of the love and compassion I felt for the world because I was just so hurt,” she said.
Hurt from a first date, she said, took an awful turn. Just two days after that date, Provo police recorded this conversation between Dennie and the man.
Amelia Dennie: “I can’t focus on anything, to be honest. I’ve had a really hard couple days.”
Man: “I’m sorry I feel like such an idiot. I can’t tell you how bad I felt for literally the past like two days.”
Amelia Dennie: “like I said “stop” multiple times; did I not?”
Man: “well, you did. I know you did. You have every reason to be at a loss for words or hate me or worry about anything because that should have never happened. A no is a no, that’s 100% on me.”
Amelia Dennie: “like I don’t think you necessarily understand like if I said “no,” like you realize that you raped me, right? Like I said “no.”
Man: “I know. I seriously, that’s gone through my head multiple times, and it freaking — it makes me hate myself. It seriously makes me hate myself.”
Dennie’s case went to trial. Despite hearing this phone conversation the jury found that man not guilty.
“I don’t know why. I’ve thought about that a lot. I don’t know,” said prosecutor Ryan McBride.
“She reported it to police that night. She had a medical exam that corroborated her story and then we had a recorded interview with the suspect. When I see that evidence I say we’ve got everything here,” he said.
As shocking as the outcome may seem, Alana Kindness, Executive Director of Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is not surprised.
“It’s unfortunately not that uncommon. It’s actually uncommon for cases to even get that far,” Kindness said,
It’s shockingly true when you break down the numbers. According to McBride, 28% of women in Utah claim to have been sexually assaulted. Of that 28%, only 11% report the attack to law enforcement. And only a small fraction of that number will end up in prosecution.
“When we first hear of someone that’s sexually assaulted our first reaction is why didn’t you do this? We have these stereotypes. What were you wearing? And we start to criticize the victim. I think the initial response we should have is, are you ok,” McBride said.
Dennie said she personally experienced those stereotypes in the courtroom.
“The jury should have cringed hearing his attorneys say my shorts were too short and they didn’t they agreed. It doesn’t matter what I was wearing or what I did, I said no and that’s all that matters,” Amelia said.
Clothing is just one of several rape myths McBride addressed. Another myth, all victims should fight their attacker.
“It would be better to die fighting than to be raped and that’s not how we act as humans,” McBride added.
According to research, in a moment of trauma, our brains revert to a primitive mode; fight, flight or freeze. Up to 50% of victims freeze and can’t fight back. It’s called tonic immobility.
McBride also points out; rape is very rarely committed by a stranger. In nearly 90% of the cases in Utah the victim knows their attacker making these crimes harder to report.
The final misconception is that many rape cases are false reports.
“Yeah, that happens, but it’s extremely rare, extremely rare,” McBride said.
According to research only 2 to 8% of reported rapes are false. This would mean 92 to 98% of victims are telling the truth.
“We’ll have a safer community if we start by believing,” Kindness said.
“I wish a jury that represented my society could have known that and could have believed that enough to take my no’s for what they’re worth and they didn’t. Just like he didn’t,” Dennie cried.
While the case is now closed healing has come slowly for Dennie.
“I just really want to get to a place where it’s not the first thing I think about every morning. Want to get to a place where I can go a couple days, a couple weeks, a month without thinking about it,” she said.
Until then, Dennie runs to find those moments of happiness. She runs to forget her pain.
We reached out to the man accused in this case as well as the judge, neither wanted to speak about the trial. Because the man was found not guilty, we have withheld his identity.
Dennie has written a blog detailing how her life has changed since this experience. To read it, click here.