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10/11 NOW talks sexual assault investigations with Lincoln Police Chief

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 6:07 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 21, 2021 at 6:18 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Hundreds of women reported rape to the Lincoln Police Department over the last five years, but only a fraction of those cases made it to court.

The Lincoln Police Department said sexual assault cases are unique and challenging, in ways crimes like robbery and thefts are not.

Data received from LPD stated in 2020, 288 rapes were reported. Of those cases, only 34 had been cleared. When a case is cleared, it means it’s been closed by either going to court, prosecution being declined, sealed or cleared by exemption.

Police Chief Teresa Ewins said officers approach each case with care while investigating, focusing on only asking the victim questions once.

“We want to be as sensitive as possible. We don’t want to re-traumatize anybody,” Ewins said.

Often, when interviewing minors, investigators work with the Child Advocacy Center to conduct interviews.

“Sexual assault is a crime you don’t want anyone to go through,” Ewins. “It’s traumatizing for the rest of your life.”

Over the last five years, LPD’s clearance rate for rape cases has remained between nine and 12 percent.

Ewins, who took over as chief in August, said she’s working to get a better idea of why this is happening.

“We’re going to look to see if it was that the victim didn’t want to come forward, is it evidence, did we not have witnesses to corroborate,” Ewins said. “It’s very important we do a deep dive.”

Ewins said getting that evidence can be more difficult in a rape investigation.

“The challenge for us is getting the victim to come forward to report the crime,” Ewins said. “If you don’t report you lose witnesses, you lose evidence. Those are things we need to go forward in court.”

For the few cases that do go to court, most result in a guilty sentence for the perpetrator.

Over the last five years, 161 rape cases have been cleared. In 63 percent of them, the suspect was found guilty.

“When you get a guilty sentence obviously that’s a good thing that they’re seeing the evidence is supporting what the victim is saying. But I pause to say that’s a win because no matter what, the victim is forever changed,” Ewins said.

In addition to serving the victim justice, Ewins said the department also works to bring the victims closure.

“We’re here for you,” Ewins said. “We have all kinds of resources for you. You’re not alone. It’s critical you come forward so there’s not other victims out there.”

The data showed that of the cases the department has cleared in the last five years, 65 percent involve juvenile victims.

LPD said often those cases are reported at higher rates than those involving adults. Children are also more likely to know the identity of the perpetrator.

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