Sex assault cases increase at lake |

Sex assault cases increase at lake

by Gregory Crofton, Tribune staff writer

Music is pumping and alcohol is flowing. It’s a party.

A 16-year-old girl is stumbling drunk and some guy is hitting on her.

The girl, not used to drinking, is so drunk she passes out. She wakes up and discovers she’s being raped.

South Shore law enforcement agencies say this summer they have seen an increase in the number of sexual assault cases that involve underage drinking.

“This summer there’ve been three cases that I can think of,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Detective Donna Kingman. “Last summer we didn’t have this influx. I’m getting more cases, especially kids under 18 involving alcohol. The victims are either passed out or so intoxicated they are not aware what’s going on.”

Two rapes, one in March, the other in July, both involved alcohol consumption. In July, a 17-year-old girl and a female friend went to party at a 24-year-old man’s apartment near the “Y.” Vodka was consumed and two couples paired off into separate rooms. The 17-year-old told police she was alone in the room with the 24-year-old when she told him to stop his sexual advances. She claims he didn’t stop. Instead he raped her, police reported. El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office has not yet filed charges against the 24-year-old.

In March, a 16-year-old girl claimed she was raped. She reportedly told investigators that an 18-year-old from South Lake Tahoe raped her. The girl went to a house party where she reportedly drank beer and hung out. Around midnight couples broke off and went into different bedrooms, but the 16-year-old girl and 18-year-old man stayed and started kissing on the living room couch. After fooling around, the girl reportedly told the man to stop his sexual advances. She went to the bathroom, came back to the couch and passed out because she was drunk, police said. The girl came to and found the man on top of her. She reportedly told investigators that she knew her attacker from school. Charges against the man are pending, police said.

In general, Kingman said teen-agers don’t realize there are consequences to certain actions. Someone’s intoxication is not an excuse to commit a crime.

“People have to make sure the act is consensual,” Kingman said. “When the person says no, stop immediately otherwise there will be consequences for your actions.”

The consequences for rape range from probation to eight years per count in prison.

“I’ve never seen a rapist get probation,” said Deputy District Attorney Peter O’ Hara. “They usually do time.”

In the eyes of California law, no one under the age of 18 can legally consent to sex. “If they have sex they can’t legally give consent until they are 18,” Kingman said. “They may not be charged with rape, but they may be charged with unlawful sexual intercourse.”

El Dorado County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Johnston is investigating a felony case that involves consensual sex between a 13-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy. The act occurred in South Lake Tahoe sometime during winter, he said.

“The consequences can be pretty severe,” Johnston said. “The seriousness of the case is based on the very young age of the female. Normally sex with a female 13 or younger is considered to be a lewd act with a child and it’s a felony.”

Robert Dougherty, a statutory rape investigator for El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, said alcohol is a contributing factor in many of the cases he deals with. Statutory rape is defined as anyone 18 or older having sex with a minor.

“A lot of times adults make use of alcohol to get girls to submit to them,” Dougherty said. “Younger girls start to drink and don’t know their tolerance level and you have an older guy sitting back and waiting. There are older guys who prey on kids.”

Dougherty said, under the law, age does make a difference.

“Somebody under the age of 18 can’t consent to have sex with an adult,” he said. “A lot of times you hear ‘She’s 16 and I’m 19. She said it was cool.’ That still doesn’t make it right. Ignorance is no excuse.”

These days, in addition to being wary of the effects of alcohol, young girls have to watch what’s put in their drinks.

Sara Raskie, a 23-year-old who’s worked for the past year on the Tahoe Women’s Center sexual assault prevention program, said South Shore has seen a rise in assault cases that involve the drugging of girls. Raskie said, this year, hospital exams have found Gamma-Hydroxybutyrate (GHB), an odorless, colorless and tasteless chemical often put into drinks to drug women, in the blood of several South Shore women. If you’re the victim of an assault, Raskie said the most important thing to do is contact the police, even if you’ve been drinking and you’re underage.

“They (police) are more concerned with your safety,” she said. “A lot of people call three days later and say ‘I’m only 17 and I didn’t want to get a ticket or have my parents called.’ And by then the evidence is gone. It’s ‘he said, she said,’ but if there’s physical evidence it can solidify the story.”

Ways to stay safe:

n Make sure you know what you’re drinking and how much

n Don’t drink out of control especially around people you don’t know

n Handle your own beverage and make sure no one puts anything in it. If you do suspect something, dump it out

n Trust your instincts

n Women should make boundaries clear when engaged in sexual activity

n Don’t be afraid to go to police if assaulted

source: Tahoe Women’s Center

other stats

n California has the highest teen birth rate in the U.S.

n 70 percent of babies had by teens in El Dorado County are fathered by adults

n 3 of 4 teen-age births are fathered by adults in the state of California – (source: El Dorado County District Attorney’s office)

n FBI says 90 percent of sexual assault cases are committed by someone the woman knows ( source: Tahoe Women’s Center)

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