Reports of sexual assault are increasing amid the #MeToo movement.
KATC spoke with law enforcement and a legal expert on how one should report sexual assault and what the legal ramifications are for accusers and the accused.
Law enforcement officials urge anyone who experiences or hears about a sexual assault to report it immediately.
“It’s the preservation of evidence. You know, I would tell you that when a person has been sexually assaulted, the first thing they want to do is cleanse themselves, because they just don’t want to feel that way and it’s the fact of being violated. Unfortunately, at the same time, the theory, the take on it from our aspect is there is physical evidence that could link a perpetrator to this and help with the criminal prosecution of a case,” explained Acadia Parish Sheriff K.P. Gibson.
If friends and family are afraid to go to law enforcement, Gibson says report anyway.
“I would try to encourage that person that was assaulted. Maybe I’ll accompany you, maybe I’ll go with you to law enforcement, we need to go. And, if that person refuses, my theory is that it still needs to be reported,” said Gibson.
In Louisiana, old cases from decades ago can still be prosecuted.
“Under the law of the state of Lousiana, there is no statute of limitation for any crime that is punishable for life imprisonment or death. If it is a case that deals with what is called a first-degree rape, used to be known as aggravated rape, which is punishable by life imprisonment, there is no statute of limitation for that crime. There is no statute of limitation for what is called a second-degree rape or forcible rape,” explained former St. Martin Parish Chief Prosecutor Chester Cedars.
Cedars who is currently the St. Martin Parish President, but was once chief prosecution for the parish, says that in the context of a criminal case, it’s not always about what happened, it’s about what the prosecution can prove happened within the court of law.
“Beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt simply means that the evidence firmly convinces a person not beyond all doubt, but beyond all reasonable doubt that the offense did in fact occur.
That means having strong corroborating evidence: which means other people who were told about the assault being able to back-up the assailants very specific details about the assault. And, hopefully, also DNA to prove what happened beyond all reasonable doubt.
However, for a person found of falsely accusing someone of sexual assault either by lying on a police report or perjury under oath, there will be consequences if found guilty.
“If it’s a major case than the penalties can be very severe, it can be hard labor sentences imposed,” said Cedars.