‘Nobody Believed Me’: How Rape Cases Get Dropped

Cammy Duong awakened in a Manhattan resort room in July 2017 and, dazed, known as a good friend she was supposed to satisfy later that morning: “I think I was raped,” she stated, crying.

The police investigation lasted months. But when the case reached the Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace, prosecutors shortly declined to deliver costs, information present. It could be seven extra months earlier than Ms. Duong obtained an evidence.

“I remember leaving and crying and feeling helpless,” stated Ms. Duong, now 32. “I felt like nobody believed me.”

The Me Too motion led to heightened consciousness of the prevalence of sexual assault, a rise in stories to police, and a brand new hope that folks accused could be extra steadily held accountable. But in New York City, statistics and the accounts of ladies who say they had been attacked recommend that little has modified about the best way the legal justice system grapples with rape accusations.

Most New York City prosecutors’ workplaces rejected a better share of intercourse crime circumstances in 2019, the final yr for which dependable knowledge is offered, than they did roughly a decade earlier, earlier than the case in opposition to Harvey Weinstein touched off a nationwide reckoning.

In the Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace, prosecutors dropped 49 % of sexual assault circumstances in 2019 — among the many highest price within the metropolis, and a rise from 37 % in 2017, state knowledge exhibits. Only the Bronx rejected a better share of circumstances. The knowledge excludes most intercourse crimes in opposition to kids, and sure nonviolent offenses like stalking.

The low prosecution price partly displays the inherent challenges of prosecuting sexual assault, significantly circumstances like Ms. Duong’s, during which the attacker shouldn’t be a stranger and alcohol is concerned. For circumstances that aren’t dropped, conviction charges for sexual assault circumstances are usually a lot decrease than for different violent crimes: 44 % in Manhattan in 2019, in contrast with 79 % for first-degree homicide.

“There aren’t really any third-party witnesses to these things,” stated Carl Bornstein, a former state and federal prosecutor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “This is tough sledding. The prosecutor has to assess: is this going to hold up under the scrutiny of 12 people?”

But some who research the matter consider the excessive drop price additionally displays prosecutors’ unwillingness to sort out these challenges. The difficulty grew to become a spotlight of the race to succeed the district legal professional, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who didn’t run for re-election.

Mr. Vance, who heads one of many largest and most distinguished district legal professional workplaces within the nation, has confronted harsh criticism over his workplace’s dealing with of intercourse crimes, together with the 2015 investigation into Mr. Weinstein, the previous Hollywood producer who was convicted final yr of rape and sexual assault, and the no-jail plea deal in 2016 for a Columbia University gynecologist accused of molesting dozens of sufferers.

Some who’ve sought justice in Manhattan, like Ms. Duong, stated their stories had been handled dismissively by Manhattan prosecutors. Others stated they had been dismissed, or berated.

Cammy Duong stated prosecutors waited weeks to clarify why they weren’t pursuing a case in opposition to the person she stated attacked her.Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

“Prosecutor negligence is often part of the problem,” stated Jane Manning, a former intercourse crimes prosecutor and the director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project. “There’s a long disgraceful legacy in our criminal justice system of not taking rape seriously.”

Alvin Bragg, a former federal prosecutor who gained the Democratic main for district legal professional, making him the heavy favourite to succeed Mr. Vance, has promised to revamp the workplace’s beleaguered intercourse crimes bureau.

Mr. Bragg, in an interview, stated he deliberate to “reboot” the intercourse crimes bureau “from the ground up,” by assessing its management and employees with enter from survivors. He stated he additionally meant to guage why sure circumstances are rejected, and that the probability of a conviction shouldn’t be a figuring out issue.

Though the variety of rape stories made to the police jumped round 20 % after Mr. Weinstein’s conduct was uncovered, it’s tough to find out how sturdy or weak these extra circumstances had been. The variety of circumstances closed by Manhattan prosecutors — by successful convictions, dropping the circumstances, or securing pleas to lesser costs — has not deviated a lot every year from the common over the previous decade.

Facing protests over his workplace’s dealing with of sexual assault circumstances, Mr. Vance commissioned a research of his intercourse crimes bureau by AEquitas, a nonprofit that gives prosecutors with sources on violence in opposition to girls.

The research, accomplished in November and supplied to The New York Times by Mr. Vance’s workplace, discovered that prosecutors “do not always fully explore alternative ways of achieving a just result,” like bringing totally different costs or looking for extra proof.

The research, based mostly on interviews with prosecutors, police investigators, victims and others, described a notion that selections about which circumstances to pursue had been based mostly on the probability of a conviction, and that tougher circumstances — corresponding to people who concerned acquaintances or intoxication — had been typically rejected. The report additionally discovered that some of these interviewed believed that prosecutors “default to disbelieving victims” till they show their credibility.

Based on that view, the report stated, the tradition inside the workplace “creates an expectation” that prosecutors win circumstances, and that they have a tendency “not to pursue cases that they believe to be especially challenging.”

Responding to ongoing public criticism, Mr. Vance has applied trainings for the bureau centered on the consequences of trauma on victims, in addition to on sexual assault within the L.G.B.T.Q. group, and on alcohol-facilitated rape, stated Audrey Moore, a primary assistant district legal professional. The intercourse crimes unit additionally has new management.

Mr. Vance, in an interview, stated his workplace should reckon with its dealing with of people that report sexual assault.

“At the end of the day, if the perception is that lawyers in our office are short, or in anyway disrespectful to victims — that’s unacceptable,” Mr. Vance stated. “We as an office need to deal with it and educate our assistants on how to be better at their interactions with survivors and victims.”

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district legal professional, has been criticized for his workplace’s dealing with of rape and sexual assault circumstances, together with a 2015 case once more Harvey Weinstein. Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

The experiences of ladies like Ms. Duong increase questions for prosecutors like Mr. Bragg and lawmakers, who’ve been reconsidering New York’s rape legal guidelines. How ought to prosecutors strategy circumstances the place victims’ accounts are credible, however could also be tough to show in courtroom? Should the state’s legal guidelines make convictions in such circumstances simpler to win? And how ought to the legal justice system stability the rights of the accused with a contemporary understanding of sexual violence?

The Times reviewed three circumstances from 2017 during which prosecutors finally determined to not pursue costs in opposition to the lads accused of rape, interviewing greater than two dozen witnesses, pals, kin, legal professionals and investigators — in addition to reviewing police paperwork, medical information, emails and audio recordings.

The Times realized in regards to the circumstances from an advocate for victims of rape and a Manhattan protection lawyer troubled by a case’s end result. Ms. Duong contacted The Times instantly about her case.

The girls who reported being raped stated prosecutors appeared overworked, had been unresponsive, and handled preliminary conversations like cross-examinations. Their circumstances additionally demonstrated the inherent problems in prosecuting circumstances past an inexpensive doubt — even when the accuser herself has little doubt in any respect.

Too a lot of a hurdle

Prosecutors acknowledged they didn’t comply with leads that might have substantiated a Fordham University pupil’s accusation in opposition to a City College pupil who was finally suspended over their encounter.Credit…Alexia Webster for The New York Times

It was Sept. 30, 2017, and the girl, then a graduate pupil at Fordham University, had been consuming closely at her sorority’s occasion at a venue in Brooklyn. She stated she recalled attempting to assist a drunk good friend within the rest room, when, she stated, a male good friend got here in and raped her. (The Times doesn’t publish the names of rape victims except they select to be recognized.)

Later that night time, she stated, she woke as much as the person raping her once more whereas choking her in his room at City College in Manhattan, the place he was a pupil. She stated that she didn’t keep in mind how she obtained there from the occasion, and that the person was recording her together with his cellphone.

When she realized what was occurring, she stated, she grabbed the cellphone and bumped into the toilet. She then confirmed the video to a different pupil, Carlos Colon, who had been within the subsequent room. After seeing the video, Mr. Colon fought with the person, and was later charged with assault. Mr. Colon stated in an interview that the girl had seemed to be unresponsive within the video.

Soon after the encounter with the girl, the person spoke by cellphone with certainly one of his fraternity brothers, who recorded the decision and supplied it to The Times. During that decision, the scholar admitted to filming the girl, and stated that was the place he had “messed up.” He later instructed his fraternity brothers that he had had intercourse with the girl whereas she was asleep, two of them stated in interviews.

The lady reported the assault, however in the course of the three-month investigation that adopted, she stated prosecutors appeared skeptical. They requested her how a lot she had needed to drink, why she didn’t battle again and whether or not she had wished to cheat on her boyfriend, she stated.

Prosecutors instructed the girl that the intoxication she described didn’t represent being “physically helpless” beneath the state’s regulation and that they may not show that she didn’t consent, in keeping with a recording of the dialog. They by no means discovered the video.

In New York and most different states, an individual is taken into account incapacitated — and thus unable to consent to intercourse — if she or he is intoxicated, however provided that the intoxication is involuntary, corresponding to if it was attributable to a drug surreptitiously dropped right into a drink. If the consuming was voluntary, prosecutors have a tougher path to conviction: They should show that drive was used, that the particular person was unconscious or that the sufferer stated or signaled that they didn’t need intercourse.

At least 14 states — together with California, Arizona, South Carolina and Maryland — have expanded the definition of incapacitation to incorporate voluntary intoxication. Mr. Vance and ladies’s advocacy teams have known as on New York to do the identical, however a proposal to take action has stalled in Albany, over issues that such a change may criminalize a standard state of affairs — one during which each companions have been consuming, communication is impaired and recollections after the actual fact are hazy.

In January 2018, a decide granted prosecutors’ request to dismiss the case in opposition to the City College pupil. Through his public defender, the scholar declined to touch upon the case.

But the Fordham pupil was not the one lady to accuse him of rape.

In defending Mr. Colon in opposition to the assault cost, his lawyer, Nathaniel J. Broughty, filed a courtroom movement in January 2018 saying that the scholar confronted one other rape accusation, and that City College campus police had discovered movies on his cellphone that confirmed him having intercourse with unconscious girls. But the movies had been gone by the point prosecutors searched the cellphone. Citing privateness issues, faculty officers didn’t reply to questions from The Times in regards to the movies and their investigation.

The Times additionally interviewed one other lady, Maria Guzman, who stated that she and a good friend had been consuming on the man’s dwelling in Queens in 2016. Ms. Guzman, now 25, stated she awoke in ache to him raping her. While out and in of consciousness, she stated, she noticed him rape her good friend, who was utterly unconscious.

Ms. Guzman, after studying by means of pals in regards to the alleged rape in 2017 at City College, stated she reported her assault to the police in Manhattan, who instructed her to talk with detectives in Queens. Feeling dismissed, she dropped the matter.

Though the City College pupil was by no means charged in relation to the opposite accusations, prosecutors may have used their testimony to attempt to bolster the case they’d in opposition to him.

Karen Friedman Agnifilo, the previous Manhattan chief assistant district legal professional, acknowledged that the workplace had erred on this case by not following investigative leads.

“It was a missed opportunity, and we can do better and we will do better,” Ms. Friedman Agnifilo stated, including that the workplace revamped its case administration system to require that a second set of senior prosecutors overview circumstances to make sure investigations had been thorough.

A 2018 investigation by City College discovered that the scholar had engaged in “nonconsensual sexual intercourse” with the girl whose case had been dropped by the district legal professional. The pupil was suspended for 4 years, college information present.

But the one particular person convicted criminally was Mr. Colon, now 27. He pleaded responsible to assault.

‘A broken system’

Rachel Lesser stated she was raped in a Manhattan resort room by an ex-boyfriend who wished to reunite. They dated for a yr earlier than breaking apart in 2016, she stated, however they agreed to spend a platonic weekend collectively the next yr.

While she was napping the primary night within the mattress they shared, Ms. Lesser woke to him kissing her, she stated, and he or she instructed him she was not fascinated about him sexually.

On the second night time, after she drank a number of glasses of prosecco and took NyQuil for a chilly, Ms. Lesser stated she woke to him shaking her.

Her underwear was on the ground and her anus was bleeding, she stated. She had a obscure recollection of sexual exercise, however couldn’t recall particulars. But the person, in a weird cellphone name to Ms. Lesser’s mom, instructed her he had had intercourse with the girl, her mom stated.

Doubtful she would get justice, Ms. Lesser, now 30, stated she waited two days to go to a hospital and contacted the police a month later.

Detectives had her place a “controlled call” to the person, during which she confronted him over the cellphone whereas detectives secretly recorded him, she and her grandmother stated. He acknowledged having intercourse with Ms. Lesser, although he stated that he thought she had been awake, prosecutors stated. Four months later, in October 2017, the person was arrested, prosecutors stated.

“I was treated like an annoyance, a troublesome obligation, like what happened to me didn’t matter,” stated Rachel Lesser.Credit…Alexia Webster for The New York Times

But because the case proceeded, in Ms. Lesser’s recollection, the prosecutor, Justin McNabney, peppered her with questions on her relationship with the person, and questioned how she may sleep by means of a rape, she stated. The workplace disputed they’d questioned the latter, and stated that questions on her historical past with the person had been related to the investigation.

Prosecutors stated the person acknowledged throughout an interview with them that he believed she had consented as a result of she was transferring, and that he had stopped when he realized she is perhaps asleep.

Mr. McNabney suggested her to get on together with her life, Ms. Lesser recalled.

Once when she known as for an replace on the investigation, she stated, the prosecutor yelled that he had loads of circumstances on his plate, together with an tried homicide, earlier than abruptly ending the decision. The workplace disputed her characterization, and stated the prosecutor had instructed Ms. Lesser that he would reply to emailed questions.

Prosecutors dropped the case a month later due to inadequate proof, the workplace stated. With no reminiscence of what had occurred, prosecutors stated, they may not show Ms. Lesser didn’t consent.

Ms. Lesser thanked Mr. McNabney for his consideration to her case in an electronic mail, which she described sending as an try and maintain the peace and since she thought she may want his assist if she pursued a civil case.

But she stated she had largely felt dismissed.

“I was treated like an annoyance, a troublesome obligation, like what happened to me didn’t matter,” stated Ms. Lesser, who’s also called Petra. “I was poorly represented in a broken system.”

The ex-boyfriend and his lawyer didn’t return requests for remark.

‘Go Heal’

Ms. Duong instructed the police she was raped on July 9, 2017, by a good friend who invited her to journey from her dwelling in Boston to a celebration in New York, she stated in an interview corroborated by police information.

Ms. Duong remembered throwing up on the trip to her SoHo resort after an evening of barhopping, and her good friend serving to her to the room. She vaguely remembered feeling lips on her face and physique, she stated.

Then, she was pulled to the tip of the mattress and penetrated from behind, she stated. She was unable to maneuver, and saved blacking out.

Ms. Duong shared the identical account with the good friend she was scheduled to satisfy that morning, she sought assist from a sufferer’s advocate and he or she later described the ordeal to her sister — all of whom recounted varied particulars in interviews.

The police had been skeptical of Ms. Duong’s story, she stated. One feminine detective requested Ms. Duong why she didn’t battle again or scream, she recalled.

Ms. Duong stated she believed she was drugged. A toxicology report discovered she had an anti-nausea remedy in her system that may trigger drowsiness and fatigue. Ms. Duong stated she by no means knowingly took the drug, however investigators explored no additional, information present.

Detectives wished Ms. Duong to conduct a managed name, she stated, but it surely was too late. The man had moved to California, the place it’s unlawful to report somebody with out their permission.

The former chief of Mr. Vance’s intercourse crimes unit instructed Ms. Duong in an electronic mail that her case couldn’t be prosecuted as a result of she had “voluntarily ingested” alcohol.Credit…Provided by Cammy Duong

The Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace shortly declined to prosecute, investigative information present. Ms. Duong waited months for a prosecutor, Jennifer Gaffney, to satisfy together with her, and the assembly happened solely after a sufferer advocate pressed for it, the advocate and Ms. Duong stated. Ms. Gaffney instructed Ms. Duong that her allegation didn’t match the definition of second or third-degree rape, the advocate and Ms. Duong stated.

Ms. Duong stated Ms. Gaffney instructed her to go heal, and urged she sue her attacker. Ms. Gaffney didn’t return requests for remark.

The man, in a cellphone interview, stated he believed the intercourse was consensual and that Ms. Duong seemed to be taking part. He stated they had been drunk and he now believes there was a misunderstanding.

Ms. Duong stated she wished her day in courtroom and for the person to be convicted and registered as a intercourse offender. “It’s not fair that you can do that, live your life, and you get no consequences,” she stated.