Unlike TV shows, justice for sexual assault survivors can be slow, elusive

Local News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – TV dramas like “NCIS” and “Blue Bloods” show case after case solved with DNA evidence.

In real life, justice is often slow and sometimes elusive.

That’s especially true for sexual assault survivors who chose to report.

“It was someone that I considered a good friend,” said Andrea Cooper.

Cooper was attacked by a neighbor in April 2017.

“When my roommates told me to just look at myself in the mirror, I had a big mark across my face,” said Cooper. “My neck was already starting to bruise from being strangled.”

Initially unsure what to do, she reported the sex crime to the Raleigh Police Department.

“If he could do that to you, someone he knows, imagine what it could be like for someone else that he doesn’t know,” she said.

That night began a two-year journey for justice.

However, some survivors are still waiting for answers.

According to records obtained from RPD by CBS 17, a total of 153 rapes or sexual assaults were reported in 2018.

Police made an arrest in 19 of those cases. 

Investigators are still working to solve 91 of them – while 43 were closed with no action.

According to RPD, there are several reasons for cases to close in that matter. 

Sometimes a victim decides not to pursue the case, and sometimes there is not enough evidence to present to a prosecutor.

“The look on someone’s face tells you right away. The body language, the whole nine. It’s like this absolutely happened. Let’s get investigating,” said David Kellner.

Kellner spent 27 years with the NYPD and nearly a decade with the Special Victims’ Division. 

He said investigating an assault case isn’t as cut and dry as it appears on those TV dramas.

“We try to walk the path of the victim from where she left the house, left the restaurant, left the store to the crime scene where they ended up. Constantly looking around to see if there are cameras,” Kellner said.

Kellner said it can sometimes take years to gather enough evidence to make an arrest and even then jurors expect video and DNA evidence.

“It’s like ‘what do you mean you don’t have DNA? Every case has DNA. Every time I watch SVU they have DNA.’ It doesn’t always happen,” said Kellner.

Cooper’s case went to trial more than two years after the assault.

“I knew losing the case was a possibility. They found him guilty of assault by strangulation,” Cooper said.

The case ended in a mistrial for the rape and assault charges. 

Cooper’s attacker pleaded guilty to sexual battery.

“He is on the registry now. That was really my main end goal, so that it would hopefully prevent it from happening to someone else,” she said. “I did eventually get some justice in that sense.”

Cooper said she was supported through the investigation and trial by the prosecutor handling her case, the detective investigating it, and the staff at InterAct and the Solace Center.

“It’s different for every person. You have to decide what is going to empower you the most and find a way to take the situation back and not let them overpower you and define you,” said Cooper.

As Wake County’s only comprehensive service provider for victims of domestic and sexual violence, InterAct brings together eight community partners – three crisis lines, law enforcement, legal services, group and individual counseling, case management, court advocacy, and NC’s first and only community-based sexual assault forensic examination center (Solace Center) – all under one roof.

Visit InterAct at www.interactofwake.org.  

Crisis lines are available 24/7/365 at:

  • Sexual Assault: 919.828.3005
  • The Solace Center: 919.828.3067
  • Domestic Violence: 919.828.7740
  • Spanish: 844.203.8896

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