Juneau police say only one of four reports of rape that led to publicized investigations since October may be prosecuted. A women's advocate is worried about the message that sends victims.
"It takes so much courage for a woman to come forward and say she was raped," said Saralyn Tabachnick, executive director of AWARE, Juneau's shelter for abused women and their children.
"When the police or district attorney are unable to proceed or prosecute this violent crime, it sends the message that the system is unable to support you, there is no justice," she said. "It leaves women with a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and anger. They've been victimized by the perpetrator, and now also by the system set up to protect them and their rights."
According to police, recent alleged rapes include a woman claiming she was sexually assaulted after she passed out while outdoors downtown Oct. 11. Another woman said a man broke into her Mendenhall Valley home Oct. 26, put a towel over her face, threatened to kill her and then sexually assaulted her.
On Nov. 11, a resident of a corrections halfway house in the Lemon Creek area claimed another resident came into her room and assaulted her while she slept. On Nov. 30, a woman claimed she was raped while she and her infant child were asleep in their downtown home.
In the Nov. 11 incident, Ryan Hendrickson has been charged with second-degree sexual assault, a felony, according to court documents.
"It just seems to be a stronger case all around," police head of investigations Sgt. John Boltjes said last week. He said so far, the other three cases lack substantial evidence.
"We get enough of these cases involving alcohol that some victims can't remember what happened or in some cases the victim's not telling the truth," said Boltjes.
"In other cases you get one story from the victim and a different one from the suspect. Without some kind of evidence, we can't put that in front of the jury. ... We'll send them to the (district attorney), but my guess is that charges won't be filed because there's not enough evidence."
Boltjes said examples of evidence are physical injury from a forcible rape or witnesses coming forward who heard the victim say "no." He said police have other ways of obtaining evidence, but declined to detail them.
He said in the Oct. 11 and Oct. 26 cases the women can't remember or identify their attackers. But Boltjes said in the Oct. 26 case, police are waiting for results of a DNA test from the state crime lab in Anchorage. He said police have a suspect, but if the samples don't match the case also may lack the evidence to prosecute.
In the Nov. 30 case, he said the alleged victim and the suspect were the only people in the room, and their stories conflict.
Boltjes said the police don't minimize an assault if the victim has been drinking.
"We are absolutely not blaming victims for drinking," Boltjes said. "All we're saying is that when people drink too much they often don't remember. In that case it is tough without some kind of evidence. It works against the victim in those cases, but we are not blaming them."
In an imperfect criminal justice system, Tabachnick encourages women to be safe and to speak out by calling AWARE and reporting violent crimes against women.
"I would ask men to not let other men get away with this and to hold their friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives accountable whenever they see or hear of acts of violence against women," she said.
"Clearly, the system is not always able to hold perpetrators accountable, and that's where our whole community must step in with zero tolerance for rape and other assaults against women and children."
Melanie Plenda can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.