Don’t fear the stranger in the darkened parking lot, but be wary of that cute guy you just met at the party.
In the past two years, most sexual assaults in Payson occurred by the hand of a friend or acquaintance — usually at parties when people have been drinking.
A survey of police reports by the Roundup show that most assaults occurred when substances were involved.
Finding the truth can be difficult police say, when you combine drinking and often opposing stories from those involved about what occurred and who is at fault.
It is clear that when alcohol or drugs are involved, the probability of assault grows.
Between January of 2009 and June of 2011, Payson police received 40 reports of sexual abuse or assault, which includes rape, said Police Chief Don Engler.
But those cases are just the tip of the iceberg, most assaults are never reported, Engler said.
Of those reported, 15 resulted in arrest charges through the police department. The other cases were either dismissed or sent to the county attorney’s office. As with any case, police determine if an arrest is warranted, but it is up to the county attorney’s office whether to prosecute. However, if police cannot determine charges, they can still send a case to the attorney’s office who will decide whether to go ahead with an indictment.
So even when a woman’s and a man’s stories do not match, the county attorney’s office can still file charges.
Police and the county attorney aggressively pursues any case, especially those involving sexual assault, Engler said.
In a future installment, the Roundup will cover the Gila County Attorney’s Office’s take on sexual assaults and how they go about prosecuting them.
Of the sexual assault cases since 2009, at least 85 percent involved alcohol, drugs or both, Engler said. Strangers very seldom commit assaults. Especially among teen and young adult cases, the alleged attacker is commonly a boyfriend or friend.
With defenses down, there is often an opportunity to take advantage of a person’s trust, but that does not make it right, Engler said.
At no time, even when a girl is drinking underage, is assault OK.
Several local cases illustrate the trend of drinking and assault.
While police and prosecutors crack down on these cases, for true change to occur, a whole community needs to support sexual assault education and change, said Betty McEntire, training coordinator with Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In part three of this series, the Roundup will address what local school districts, shelters and counselors are doing to better educate teens on healthy relationships
The Roundup does not publish the names of sexual assault victims, so all names have been changed.
In 2009, Stephanie, a 14-year-old girl still attending Rim Country Middle School, headed to a party with friends for a night of fun. After a few shots of whiskey and a couple of beers, Stephanie felt the effects, but because she was inexperienced with alcohol, continued drinking.
At some point, Stephanie notices her cell phone is missing and finds out a 16-year-old boy she texted earlier in the week has taken it. She kind of likes this boy, so when he escorts her into a bedroom, she obliges. They sit on the bed and she later tells police they kissed and “tried” to have sex. At first, Stephanie didn’t say anything to stop the boy, but when she got uncomfortable, she told the boy “no,” she said.
But the boy doesn’t stop and instead asks her “Why? Why? Why?” all the while assaulting her. Afterward, Stephanie ran out of the bedroom crying, telling her friends that the boy had raped her.
When police arrived and questioned people at the party, several said that they overheard what they thought were moans, not screams, coming from the room. Furthermore, they said, the girl flirted with a lot of guys at the party. The boy claimed he thought the girl wanted to sleep with him and promptly stopped when she said “no.”
Despite conflicting reports, police arrested the boy on a charge of sexual conduct with a minor.
Among sexual assaults, cases like this are common.
In January 2009, a 17-year-old told police he thought an 11-year-old girl wanted to sleep with him. It didn’t make any difference she was drinking and underage — she wanted it, he said.
Just because a girl doesn’t scream and fight, simply saying “no” once is enough to commit assault, Engler said.
According to Arizona statute, a sexual offense occurs when a person intentionally engages in sexual conduct without consent. With a minor, any sexual conduct is considered an offense since they are not of age to give consent.
Anna said she never wanted to sleep with the boy; she didn’t even want to kiss him because she didn’t like him like that. But he was friends with her friends, so she hung out with him.
On the night of the assault, Anna had been drinking with the boy after her mother had supplied them alcohol from Circle K.
After her mother went to bed, Anna and her friends continued talking and drinking in her room until the early hours.
When two of her friends left to go talk on the porch, Anna was left alone with the 17-year-old. The boy leaned over and kissed the girl several times, but each time Anna said “no.”
The situation escalated when the boy took Anna’s pants off. Before anyone came back into the apartment, he raped her.
When police were called, the boy said Anna had kissed him several times and wanted to have sex. When she had asked him to stop, he promptly did so. The boy said he had no idea the girl was so young and thought she was at least his age.
When re-questioned, Anna admitted she had kissed the boy, but she never wanted to sleep with him.
The case was forwarded to the county attorney’s office for charging due to the inconsistencies in the stories.
Debra Shewey, program director at Rim Guidance Center, said she commonly councils teenage girls who report being sexually assaulted while drinking.
Because most of the girls are young, they don’t know when to stop drinking. When they wake up the next morning with their underwear off, they wonder what happened, she said.
And because they thought they were with friends, many teens don’t report the incident because they don’t want to get anyone in trouble.
Some even think because they weren’t able to say “no” after passing out, their attacker did nothing wrong.
Although a girl may initially engage in a sexual act, the second she says “no,” it needs to stop. Men need to understand that “No” means “No” and they can face charges if they don’t listen, Engler said.
In January 2009, a 14-year-old girl came forward after a friendly outing with a boy she liked went too far.
After hanging out at the bowling alley for much of the afternoon, the girl and boy went outside and waited on the front steps for their parents to pick them up. While waiting, the boy grabbed the girl’s bag and ran around the side of the building where no one could see them from the street. Although they had flirted throughout the day, the girl was not amused. She followed, demanding to her bag back, but the boy grabbed her and forced himself on her, saying, “I am going to rape you.”
When police later spoke with the boy, he said he had kissed the girl, but denied he forced himself on her.
The girl said the boy had held her down and wouldn’t let her go.
Police charged the boy with sexual conduct with a minor. While this girl came forward, in most cases like this they don’t, Engler said.
Either they think they deserved it, they didn’t do enough to stop it or they were drinking at the time — victims often take some of the blame.
Especially in drinking cases where they think they can get in trouble, Engler said it is hard to get girls to report. Although they may be underage, police are more concerned with the assault than the drinking. While police say they do not hold using alcohol against a victim, it often complicates determining what happened.
“The sexual assault is so much greater,” he said.
Assaulting someone when they are incapacitated is a crime, Engler said.
Anyone who suspects she has been assaulted should immediately contact police.
“I know it is hard to come forward, but hopefully they do because if they don’t report it, it could happen again and there will be more victims.”
Remember, anytime consent is not given, it is abuse, he said.