Support Independent Journalism. Donate today!

In One Pennsylvania County, Rape Victims Rarely Find Justice

Since 2015, police in Adams County have taken dozens of reports of rape, yet charges were filed in just two cases.

Activist Lacey Kohlmoos demonstrated in April outside the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where Bill Cosby was being retried for sexual assault.Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

In Adams County, Pennsylvania, at least 85 people—including 44 teenagers—have gone to the police since 2015 to report being raped, yet just one case has resulted in a conviction.

The lack of convictions in the county comes despite the fact that police and sheriff’s departments there determined that all of the rape reports were founded.

But the founding of rape complaints by law enforcement often did not result in charges being filed. A review by The Appeal of all charging records since 2015 in Adams County, which is in central Pennsylvania and has about 100,000 residents, found that rape charges were filed by the police in two cases.

“This reflects the skewed priorities of the [police] departments,” said Meaghan Ybos, a founder of People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws.

The two rape cases in which police filed charges led to mixed outcomes when they were prosecuted by the Adams County district attorney’s office. In 2015, Sergio Granados-Ruelas plead guilty to forcible rape after DNA identified him as the offender in a 2014 sexual assault. In the fall of 2016, Conewago Township Police charged Bailey Alexander Hayhurst with rape. An 18-year-old woman said Hayhurst raped her after a party, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by police. She told police that Hayhurst drove her home after a party in September 2016 then began making sexual advances toward her, and that when she told him to stop he raped her. Hayhurst, who was 19 at the time of the incident, admitted that the victim said “no” multiple times and that he “placed his fingers and penis in her vagina.” But in 2017, the Adams County DA took the case to trial and Hayhurst was found not guilty on all charges.

Yet Hayhurst’s case is considered “cleared” in the Pennsylvania State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System, giving Conewago Township Police a 100 percent clearance rate for rape in 2016. According to FBI guidelines, a crime is considered cleared if three conditions are met: an individual is arrested, charged with the commission of it, and it is turned over to the court for prosecution.

When presented with The Appeal’s data on rape prosecutions in Adams County, District Attorney Brian Sinnett said that Uniform Crime Reporting data is dependent on police departments accurately inputting information and that there could be a discrepancy between reported offenses and prosecutions. He added that his office ”has final approval authority over the filing of rape charges, and discretion is used in charging and prosecuting such cases based upon a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, the extremely high burden of proof, the availability of corroborating evidence, the victim’s desire or willingness in proceeding with charges, and the credibility of the parties involved.”

Failing to convict those who are charged with rape results in victims who are unwilling to come forward, compounding the serious problem of underreporting, according to Ybos.

Indeed, less than 23 percent of rapes or sexual assaults in the United States in 2016 were reported to police, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

“The only way to survive something like this when the police ignore you is to suppress it and go into denial,” Ybos said.

While charges have been filed in just two rape cases in Adams County since 2015, police there charged more than 340 people with possession of no more than 30 grams of marijuana, an amount of the drug effectively decriminalized in other states; in New York, for example, it is a violation—not a crime—to possess 25 grams or less of marijuana, with a penalty of not more than a $100 fine for a first-time offense. Adams County law enforcement also charged more than 290 people with non-delivery possession of other drugs during that time period.

Ybos told The Appeal that while the media and criminal justice reformers alike focus on sentencing for sexual assault defendants, like Brock Turner whose six-month sentence led to the recall of a judge, it’s front-end investigative failures in places like Adams County that matter most.  “Police have to consistently investigate rape complaints,” Ybos said, “or else penalties never even enter the equation because the cases stay out of court.”