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Study: Misperceptions Hamper Resolution of NH Sexual Assault Cases

March 14, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. - Turn on just about any of the hundreds of channels available to TV audiences today and you are sure to find a crime drama... and by the end of the episode, the bad guy is caught and the crime is solved. When it comes to sexual assault crimes against women in New Hampshire, however, the realities are not so neat.

Dr. Sharon Murphy, assistant professor with the Department of Social Work at the University of New Hampshire, is the lead researcher on a study of the way the criminal justice system handles such cases in the state. She says few reported cases are resolved, and many are difficult to track, because of a lack of coordination between various agencies.

"It is a serious problem in our state that we do not have a mechanism in place by which all law enforcement agencies across the state collect and record the same data."

Murphy adds that the same is true with county attorneys. Of the 231 law enforcement agencies contacted for the study, she says only 153 were able to provide data, and only two of the ten county attorneys' offices provided information.

Murphy, who is also a board member of the National Association of Social Workers' New Hampshire Chapter, believes that old stereotypes about what constitutes rape stand in the way of rapes being reported and successfully prosecuted.

"Most often, the person is raped or sexually assaulted by someone they do know. So that's also part of the myth, that it's the stranger who jumps out from behind the bushes, and that lots of evidence, forensic evidence, can be collected."

According to the report, only 13 perpetrators were known to either have been convicted or to plead guilty out of 344 cases reported in a single year in New Hampshire.

The study, "The Reality of Sexual Assault," is available online at

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH