Justice for victims of sexual battery? Advocates say it's rare in Richland and Kershaw Counties

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - What happened when Rebecca Shea was just 13 years old is something she's lived with ever since.

"I have cried more tears than I have ever imagined," Shea said.

Decades later, she came forward to tell authorities about the trauma of sexual assault.

"I couldn't live with the fact that, if I kept silent, other children could be hurt," Shea said.

Shea shares her uncomfortable story to prove a point: Tuesday's election to decide the next prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw Counties is an important one.

"You don't expect to have to fight the prosecutor like the prosecutor is like the defense attorney," Shea said.

But Shea said she had to fight to get Solicitor Dan Johnson and his staff to try her case and she feels she's not alone.

"This community deserves better than what it's getting, and it's not just me saying that. It's documented," Shea said.

For the most recent year available, 2015, SLED data shows that just 13% of sexual battery cases were resolved in Richland County and 8% in Kershaw County – two of the lowest clearance rates in the state.

Shea asked Solicitor Johnson about those rankings during a recent forum.

"Clearance rate is not related to the prosecutor's office," Johnson said in response. "Clearance rate is actually the rate at which law enforcement makes an arrest during an allegation."

Mary Dell Hayes, the executive director of the Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, isn't so sure about that explanation.

"The reality is – is that if you report a sexual assault, it is not likely to lead to an arrest of the perpetrator, and it is not likely to lead to the prosecution of that perpetrator," Hayes said.

Hayes hopes whoever is elected Tuesday will take a more aggressive and active approach to save victims like Shea from feeling like a victim twice.

"I just want kids to be safe," Shea said. "I don't really care whose fault it is, but I demand that it be fixed, and I do think — with a new solicitor — we have a much better chance than we do now."

On Monday, Johnson said he believes the data from SLED is seriously flawed and said he has no control over the stats. While he said his office does give legal advice to law enforcement on cases, officers and deputies sometimes make arrests regardless of that advice. He said his professional staff of solicitors has done a good job of prosecuting sexual assault cases and doesn't believe a new strategy is needed.

"I have no control over the rate at which law enforcement clears cases.  We give legal advice when asked.  We are not asked all the time for every case.  My staff has done a good job of prosecuting sexual assault cases," he explained. "A clearance rate is also known as the rate at which law enforcement solves cases."

Meanwhile, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews had some concerns with the accuracy of SLED's numbers, but both said they've made investigating sex crimes a priority.

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