Victims of sexual assault often don't report the crime to law enforcement or opt not to prosecute the offender.
A Martinez teen, now 19, chose not to prosecute a man she claimed raped her on the West Lake golf course almost two years ago. But Michael James O'Grady Jr., 43, of West Lake Drive in Martinez, was arrested July 31 after the teen changed her mind.
"It has occurred," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said, noting that victims of a variety of crimes opt not to pursue criminal charges, then change their minds later. "It is the exception to the rule, but it has happened."
The teen is still well within her rights, District Attorney Ashley Wright said.
Prosecution of rape cases must begin within 15 years of the offense, according to the state statute of limitations. But because the teen was 17 at the time, the statute allows seven years to start prosecution, Wright said.
Wright disagreed that victims rarely reverse their decisions not to prosecute.
"That's not a completely uncommon situation," she said. "People do it for a number of reasons."
Immediately after a crime, Wright said, victims of theft might get their property back and don't want the hassle of prosecution. Others know the offender and don't want to prosecute. Some victims, as well as some witnesses, simply fear the criminal court process.
"We see reluctance to come to court on all sorts of cases, and it is not just reluctance on behalf of the victims," Wright said. "Witnesses are also hesitant due to similar issues.
"When you factor in fear of the unknown, fear of retaliation, fear of how they will be treated by the court system, you can imagine why people's anxieties run high."
Anne Ealick Henry, the program director of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services at University Hospital, said she believes it's hard to determine the number of sexual assault victims who decline to prosecute or decide to later because the true number of cases is elusive.
Law enforcement officials deal with facts and figures based on the number of reported cases. But Henry said most sexual assault victims don't report the incident to police.
"More than half of all rapes and sexual assaults go unreported," Henry said, adding that 70 percent to 80 percent of victims know their attacker. "I think that is a huge piece of it. There's a relationship."
Henry said her agency is a crisis intervention service that provides advocates, emotional support and many other services to victims of sexual assault. They are contacted by hospitals in Columbia, Richmond, Burke, Jefferson and McDuffie counties when a sexual assault victim arrives for emergency treatment.
A 2005 federal law directs hospital personnel to collect forensic evidence for law enforcement, even if the victim decides not to pursue criminal charges, Henry said.
"It is clearly their decision," Henry said, adding that the evidence is stored for a specified time, different in each jurisdiction, in case the victim later decides to prosecute. "It allows the woman or man a little bit of time ... because they are in a state of crisis. A traumatic thing has happened, and this gives them a little time to process what has happened."
Henry said she does not knowhow many local sexual assault victims don't report the crime, but she said they often have good reasons for not reporting it, or reporting it and then declining to prosecute.
Reporting the crime, which can be humiliating for the victim, also brings embarrassment because they have to share intimate details of the incident with strangers.
Prosecution can mean reliving those details in a public forum if the case goes to trial. A victim might also fear that jurors will believe he or she allowed it to happen.
Wright said prosecutors do not need a victim's permission to pursue charges against an alleged offender. She also said that a decision by a victim to prosecute after initially opting not to doesn't necessarily hurt the prosecution.
"Of course, it does help when the victim is cooperative," she said.
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