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SEX HISTORY OF RAPE VICTIM CAN’T BE EXPOSED IN COURT

SHARE SEX HISTORY OF RAPE VICTIM CAN’T BE EXPOSED IN COURT

For victims of rape, the assault is but one traumatic chapter in a saga that sees them victimized again by a legal system that exposes the most personal aspects of their past to public scrutiny.

In fact, the trauma of publicly reporting the rape and then prosecuting the perpetrator is cited as one reason why less than half of all rapes are ever reported to police.In what Utah Attorney General Jan Graham called "a message of hope and recovery to people who have suffered this horrible crime," Utah prosecutors and defense attorneys will no longer be allowed to use as evidence in a trial the rape victim's sexual history.

The Utah Supreme Court has approved the new rules of evidence, which are patterned after federal rules of evidence. The rule change, called Rape Shield Rule 412, was recommended by the attorney general and the Governor's Council on Victims. The change goes into effect July 1.

The rule ensures "that only relevant evidence will be heard by the court and jury," Graham said. And the sexual history of the victim "has nothing to do with relevance in court."

Utah and Arizona were the only two states in the nation without a rape shield rule, and Graham called it an embarrassment that it took Utah so long to adopt formal rules protecting rape victims.

"It is something that should have happened long ago," Graham said. "We have tried to make sure victims weren't victimized again, but sadly Utah has not succeeded in all cases."

Actually, Utah legal case law typically does not allow attorneys to dredge up a victim's sexual past, Graham admitted. But in the minds of the victim, the possibility it could happen makes many of them reluctant witnesses.

The new rule change hopefully will clarify in the victims' minds that such evidence will not be used in court. "There will be no misunderstandings," Graham said. "When a rape occurs, we will not allow them to be victimized again."

The new rule does allow for some very narrow exceptions. If either side wants to use evidence of sexual history, they must petition the court for a closed hearing at least two weeks prior to determine if there is compelling reasons to allow the evidence. The victim is not required to testify at the hearing.

While evidence of past sexual history is assumed to be inadmissible, exceptions to Rule 412 include when the defense is trying to prove someone other than the accused was the source of physical evidence, and if past sexual contact with the accused is used by the defense to prove the victim con-sent-ed.

Exceptions are also granted when prohibiting such evidence violates the constitutional rights of the accused, although the attorney general's office said such constitutional challenges are extremely rare.

Utah's record on rape is not a good one. Utah ranks third in the nation in rapes per capita at 45.6 per 100,000 people - a rate higher than in crime capitals such as California, New York City and even Washington D.C.

Graham's chief deputy, Reed Richards, said Utah's higher rate of reported rape may be attributed to the fact Utahns are more trusting of law enforcement and are more willing to report the crime. It also may be because Utah has a large population of young people, and rape victims are typically under age 18.

Add to that, "we live in a very trusting society and women feel more comfortable here going out at night alone."

Studies suggest that rape victims are reluctant to report the crimes for a variety of reasons: concern that people would believe them responsible for the rape, concern that a private matter would become public, concern that family or friends would know they had been assaulted, concern that police couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it, concern that the media would make their names public and fear of reprisal from the offender.

"Rule 412 will perhaps, in the future, help women like myself not to feel re-victimized," said Angie, a rape victim who spoke at Monday's press conference.