Discussion of rape cases opens in Roanoke

Comments in city council meeting on victims' choices and consent

ROANOKE, Va. – There was an unscheduled discussion about rape at a recent Roanoke City Council meeting that has opened up a conversation about the choices victims make.

Police Chief Tim Jones presented recent crime statistics at a Feb. 19 meeting that show there were 32 reported rapes last year -- 10 more than the 22 in 2017 and near the 2015 mark of 29.

Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd wanted to know more.

“The number to me is important because there are so many that are not reported,” she said.

Jones responded, talking about the victims’ choices.

“All too many young women put themselves at risk when alcohol and social behavior goes bad, and that’s what we are seeing the greatest in our investigations,” Jones said.

Councilwoman Djuna Osborne made a later comment to emphasize the importance of consent.

“Consent can change at any time. What may be consensual can turn non-consensual very quickly,” she said.

10 News went to SARA, a local group helping victims of sexual violence, whose name stands for Sexual Assault Response and Awareness.

Director of Crisis Services Laura Guilliams also stressed a focus on giving and asking for consent.

She said most of the time victims know their assaulter, and victims have every right to make the “risky” choices that take place before an assault.

“Just because somebody goes out and drinks, or just because somebody goes out and participates in certain social activities, does not mean that they deserve to be sexually assaulted,” Guilliams said.

She said the blame should be placed on the people accused.

“It’s really important that we continue to put the responsibility and the blame on the people who actually are the ones out there assaulting people,” Guilliams said.

Chief Jones declined an interview for this story. A spokeswoman said he does not want to add to the comments he made in the council meeting.

10 News was able to speak with Captain Stephen Keatts -- who heads investigations at the RPD -- about prevention. He recommended people being in pairs if they’re going out at night.

“At all times be aware of your surroundings and the situations that you find yourself in,” Keatts said.

Keatts said RPD officers always begin the investigation by believing the victims.

He said there are many difficulties when it comes to prosecuting these cases, particularly if victims, after coming forward, later decide not to testify in court. Keatts said that outcome happens more often than investigators would like.

Back at SARA, Guilliams also noted that she helps victims navigate the criminal justice process if they’d like to come forward. She acknowledged that sexual assault cases can be difficult to prosecute.

“Law enforcement has a difficult job in investigating these cases,” she said.

She wants victims to know that SARA is a resource that can help them. There’s a 24-hour hotline available with assistance from local trained staff members.