Gross Sexual Imposition is a blanket term for rape and sexual assault charges in North Dakota.
The Burleigh County State’s Attorney estimates that about 100 cases of GSI were charged in the state in 2018. But the startling statistic is sexual assault goes unreported 63 percent of the time.
KX News set out to find how the state is charging sexual assault cases, and why each case is so different.
Just a few weeks ago in Burleigh County, a 29-year-old Bismarck man accused of three counts of Gross Sexual Imposition, was sentenced to three years probation.
Sentencing guidelines for his three AA felonies should have been a maximum of life in prison, a minimum of 20 years in prison. But in this case, the defendant cooperated, dropping his case to a B felony through a plea deal.
State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer explains, “The defendant takes responsibility, pleads guilty and gives, basically, a full disclosure. Then they can get the five-year mandatory minimum.”
GSI can also be charged as an A felony, meaning the victim is not capable of consent due to age or intoxication. Or, it can be charged as a B felony, if the victim was talked or threatened into sexual acts.
Lawyer adds, “I couldn’t give you an average sentence. It’s always on a case-by-case basis.”
Ambree Schmidt with the Abused Adult Resource Center sees well over 50 victims a year, and she’s been to trial with them before.
Schmidt says some victims feel like they got justice, others didn’t. And that’s all after reliving the experience and feeling totally vulnerable in front of a court that may not understand.
Schmidt, the AARC Human Trafficking Project Coordinator shares, “I’ve heard defense attorneys say things like, ‘Well, what were you expecting to happen when you crawled into bed with this person?’ Questioning the truthfulness, like ‘How could you…while you were sleeping, how could you not notice that your pants were being pulled down?'”
Lawyer adds, “What were you wearing? How much did you have to drink? And focusing on every single thing that victim did during the evening, to try to mitigate what their client did.”
But the nature of these cases is ‘he said, she said’. Plus, the evidence is generally scarce to non-existent.
Lawyer says, although there are a couple of exceptions, the victim has to testify for charges to be made.
Schmidt says, “And that’s a big part of the reason victims don’t come forward is that they feel that they aren’t going to be believed. And the interesting thing is, too, everyone wants to point their finger and say, ‘Oh this is a false reporter’. When actually, in the national statistics, there’s only about two percent of the time that we find that people are false reporting.”
Last year, 51 clients from AARC were seen by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. Of the victims seen, evidence of assault was found in every case.
Schmidt says they saw a lot more sexual assault survivors in 2018, but 51 decided to go forward with evidence collection.
This year they’ve already had 17 women go through this process. That is almost double the number of women who came forward by this time last year.
Of those 51 cases from 2018, only four suspects were charged with rape or sexual assault.
Schmidt shares, “I think it gets to be a really long process for people, and they’re ready to move on and go forward. And it’s hard to keep re-opening up those old wounds.”
She says a few cases from 2018 are still pending.
The latest numbers available are 2017 State crime statistics. They show there were nearly 1,000 cases statewide of sex offenses.
Less than 250 of those cases were cleared of wrong doing.