By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) – The #MeToo movement has overwhelmingly swayed the court of public opinion and some of the state’s top sex crimes prosecutors say it could go a long way toward holding sexual predators accountable in the court of law.
“These cases are not easy and they’re very traumatic for people involved,” Michael Dougherty, who’s prosecuted sex crimes for 20 years, said.
There are thousands of reports every year in Colorado but only a handful of Colorado’s district attorneys have sex crimes units dedicated to prosecuting them. Dougherty, who works in the Jefferson County DA’s office and is running for Attorney General, says that needs to change for there to be real accountability.
“These cases often come down to credibility, Dougherty said. “We need to have people with experience to figure out what actually happened and what we need to do about it.”
Not all of the reports on social media are criminal, but Maggie Conboy, who oversees sex crimes at the Denver DA’s office, expects a surge in criminal complaints.
“I would not be surprised to see a corresponding spike in some of the reporting,” Conboy said.
As #MeToo has opened the floodgates, Conboy hopes it will also foster more open-minded juries.
“People will hopefully understand that there are compelling reasons why people don’t talk about these things for many, many years,” Conboy said.
As public awareness grows, Caryn Datz, who heads-up the sex crimes unit at the Boulder DA’s office says, stereotypes and victim blaming are being exposed.
“I think that what we’re finally seeing is that this is very prevalent and crosses all societal boundaries,” Datz said.
She says just by empowering victims to break their silence and make a report, it can make a difference.
“There is recidivism in this area, we know that, and so maybe this particular case can’t go forward but if that person ever comes back again, we would want this on record,” Datz said.
Dougherty says just as #MeToo has resulted in more accountability in the workplace, it can change how sex crimes are treated in the criminal justice system too.
“I think we should take advantage of this opportunity, of this conversation, of this crisis to make real, positive change,” Dougherty said.
Among the changes, Dougherty says he would make as Attorney General are to increase training for law enforcement and create a sex crimes unit in the Attorney General’s office to help prosecute cases, especially in rural areas, statewide.
The state legislature changed the law last year to extend the statute of limitations for sex crimes. Victims now have 20 years to make a report. Crimes before 2016 must be reported in 10 years.