Date rape is an incredibly difficult criminal offense to prosecute; It typically boils down to a “he said, she said” situation, and evidence in these cases tends to be largely circumstantial.  Additionally, existing romantic entanglements between parties can muddle the facts and lead to an abundance of reasonable doubt.

Why Date Rape is So Difficult to ProsecuteMeeting the burden of proof: reasonable doubt

Rape and sexual assault are considered criminal offenses globally.  In the United States, any unwanted physical sexual contact is classified as a felony, and therefore prosecutors must meet the burden of proof in order to get a conviction.  This means that the defendant’s guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Date rape cases generally have only two witnesses: the perpetrator and the accuser. Additionally, date rape cases rarely have physical evidence that can prove anything other than that sexual contact occurred; consent or lack thereof almost always comes down to the word of the defendant against that of the accuser.  Given these facts, the very nature of date rape cases makes that burden of proof very challenging to meet.

Romantic entanglements muddy the water

Courtship has existed as long as humans have, but dating as a concept is relatively new, the term only having been coined in the late nineteenth century.  As society has gradually moved away from patriarchal gender roles, more and more women have increasingly gained independence and the ability to choose her own suitors and eventual lovers.  In today’s world, casual dating culture is constantly shifting the landscape of social, romantic, and sexual guidelines. When two people are dating, either casually or committed, the implication is that sexual intimacy is a large part of their relationship.  The very premise of a date rape accusation is not disputing that sexual contact has occurred; it is arguing that said contact was carried out without the informed consent of both parties involved. If the accuser has previously consented to sexual intimacy with the accused, it can be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a specific incident was not consensual.

Lack of physical evidence

A basic and critical component of all criminal court proceedings is the presentation of evidence.  In assault cases, physical evidence is often the most crucial type of evidence to prosecutors. Sexual assault cases in particular usually will involve the presence of DNA evidence, which can be a very strong piece of evidence in the eyes of a jury.  However, this is not as cut and dry as it may seem. In order for physical evidence in a sexual assault case to be used, it has to be collected promptly and correctly. Many date rape accusers choose not to come forward for several days, if not weeks after the incident occurs, at which point any physical evidence will be long gone or at the very least unusable.  Additionally, the memory becomes unclear with time, so the details may become muddled, leading to an unreliable narrative regarding the incident. Unreliable testimony also makes it difficult to prosecute these types of cases.

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