MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - He said, she said.
President Trump keeps fueling the fire of uncertainty from last week's Senate hearing on the sex abuse allegations against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Maricopa County sex crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell's memo to Republican senators after being called to question Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford said no reasonable prosecutor would take this case.
Critics say that’s only because any criminal case would first require a full and impartial investigation.
We talked with local detectives to see what it takes to build a case when we're talking about claims that are years, even decades old, and to also get to the bottom of that buzzword we keep hearing, "corroboration."
“I have been a judge, prosecutor, defense attorney and here's what I'll tell you. When it comes to where it happened, I still don't know. I don't know when it happened. Based on what I heard, you could not get a search warrant or an arrest warrant because you don't know the location, the time and you don't have any corroboration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R- SC).
There’s no argument. It's hard to pursue an allegation when there's no physical proof.
Mesa police detective Nik Rasheta worked in the sex crimes division for five years, investigating hundreds of cases.
“The distinction between being believed and having enough evidence to press charges, those are two separate things,” Rasheta said.
“With an older case, if you have someone making a disclosure and someone denying that disclosure, there’s not a lot to work with at that point,” he said.
Sadly, that's the reality and majority of sex abuse investigations.
Winged Hope, a local nonprofit advocacy group for victims of sex abuse and domestic violence says 64 percent of victims never report their abuse to police.
Most wait seven to 15 years to tell someone, and even then it’s not always law enforcement.
Rasheta says about half his cases were delayed disclosures.
“It's hard to move forward in some cases where all we have is memory,” Rasheta said.
And of those cases, he said only about a third ever got forwarded to prosecutors for criminal charges, and from there, only about a third of those cases ever make it to trial.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said in the last year, their two sex crimes bureaus filed 877 cases for prosecution and secured 643 guilty dispositions, a 73 percent guilty plea or conviction rate.
“I had a case that involved a delay disclosure victim that said something happened a long time ago. There was no evidence for me to work with, but I was able to do some research on the person and found there were multiple victims that had come forward in different jurisdictions,” Rasheta said.
That was one of his less than a dozen convictions for sex cases involving abuse that happened years or decades earlier.
Rasheta says while not all victims will get justice, it's important to come forward because your disclosure could be someone else's corroboration.
“Every person’s disclosure that didn’t work alone, worked together and we were able to close multiple incidents with multiple victims into one case,” he said.
He says the #MeToo movement is healthy, encouraging victims to come out of the shadows and harmful because it appears to be swaying the court of public opinion to the default that sex abuse suspects are "guilty until proven innocent."
“Whether people believe you’re innocent and you are guilty, or you are guilty and people believe you’re innocent, both of those are harmful,” he said.
False reports are rare varying stats report them at 2 to 7 percent of sex assault cases. Sex abuse advocates say the true numbers skew even fewer because some victims who recant their stories are counted as false reports even though they only dropped their allegation off pressure from family or friends.
Rasheta says his biggest message for any victim is to confide in someone, write about it in your journal, all that can be evidence later on even if it takes years for you to report it to police.
He says while justice for victims might not come from the courts, it could ultimately come in the form of protecting other victims.
A local call center manager tells us sex abuse crisis victim calls to their hotline doubled last week then shot up 500 percent Friday after Ford’s testimony on Capitol Hill.
Here in Arizona, you only have to worry about the statute of limitations for abuse that happened more than 17 years ago.
One thing worth noting is the 51-page Maricopa County Sexual Assault Protocol Manual mentioned in the Kavanaugh hearings gives specific guidelines for handling victims who seek help in the first 120 hours.
There's next to nothing on what to do with the majority of sex abuse and assault cases that are overwhelmingly delayed disclosures that have exceeded the window for collecting evidence.