In a series of recent articles, the Star-Telegram described the astonishingly high rate of rape cases that are never prosecuted. In order to reach trial, a case must first meet the standards of a grand jury. In Tarrant County, only 11 percent of felony cases are turned down at this stage, according to the Star Telegram. On the other hand, 51 percent of date rape cases are turned down.
In other words, more than half of these degrading crimes never see the light of justice. This is an urgent call to action, and one that strikes especially close to home; a university student suspected of statutory rape in August 2011 was never brought to trial.
The people who make up these numbers have been done a great disservice by the grand juries who consistently reject these types of cases. Victims afraid to report rape out of fear lose their chance to pursue legal recourse, and suspected rapists are never investigated.
The high rate of unprosecuted rapes is due to both the structure of the Tarrant County justice system and the opinions of its grand jurors.
Grand juries must decide if a case has sufficient merit to present in trial, and thus grand juries favor prosecutors; only the prosecution is able to present evidence. The selection method of jurors and presentation of evidence determines the fairness of the grand jury's decision.
Tarrant County preserves a legal structure which favors liberty at the expense of equality in a free-wheeling process known as the “key-man” system, according to the Star Telegram. Only Texas and California retain this system, in which jury commissioners select their fellow jurors, as opposed to a random selection. The Supreme Court criticized Texas’ key-man process as “highly subjective” and "susceptible to abuse" in 1977.
Furthermore, detectives rarely testify in Tarrant County grand juries, according to the Star Telegram. This weakens cases and prevents them from going to trial. In contrast, Austin courts, which permit detective testimonies, only reject 13 percent of date rape cases.
The second reason grand juries reject date rape cases is their problematic ideology. A grand jury system which favors an outdated group mentality is more likely to espouse the opinions that women “ask” to be assaulted, and that suspected rapists should be held to a double standard of accountability. But rape is always nonconsensual and psychologically damaging. This causes victims to fear the pursuit of justice.
Preventing and reporting assaults and rapes is the key to reversing these trends. Both are initiatives supported by The Women’s Center of Tarrant County, which offers education on gender stereotypes, victim blaming and signs of abuse. With a firm hand, the prevention and prosecution of date rape cases in Tarrant County can eliminate these heinous crimes.
Pearce Edwards is a senior political science major from Albuquerque, New Mexico.