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In the fall, a panel of community leaders and experts convened at the UK Rosenberg College of Law to discuss a Netflix drama about a teenager who reports being raped and two detectives who search for the truth.

Blanche Cook, Robert E. Harding Jr. Associate Professor of Law, specializes in criminal law and procedure, evidence, trial advocacy and sex trafficking. The show served as a catalyst to raise awareness about sexual assault and educate the public about the things that can go wrong during sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.

“We want our students and our community to know that sexual assaults are severely under-prosecuted and under-investigated crimes,” Cook said. “For every 100 rapes or attempted rapes reported to the police, 19 cases lead to arrest, five cases end in guilty verdicts through plea deals, and one case ends in a guilty verdict through trials. As future lawyers, as a legal community, and as general members of a concerned public, we must do better than this.”  

The panel, held in the G. Chad Perry III Grand Courtroom in November, included Jenna McNeal Cassady and Rewa Zakharia, prosecutors in the Office of the Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney, who talked about changes being made in Fayette County to improve sexual assault investigations.

Cassady grew up in a small town, just like the character in the Netflix show, and was sexually assaulted at age 16 by a man in his 40s. Cassady said she “immediately became a whipping post” in her community.

Kentucky recently enacted “Jenna’s Law,” which creates a third-degree rape charge and helps protects 16- and 17-year-old victims sexually assaulted by someone more than 10 years older. Protections were already in place for victims under age 16.

In the Netflix show, the victim was forced to tell her story repeatedly to different officials throughout the investigation. In Fayette County, Zakharia said, a detective from the special victims unit stays with the case from beginning until the end, which is a step in the right direction.

The other panelists were UK faculty members TK Logan and Jennifer Cole, both of the Department of Behavioral Sciences in the College of Medicine; Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Linda Blackford and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program manager Anita Capillo.

The panelists discussed the impacts of blaming sexual assault victims who report crimes, the danger of assuming victims should react a certain way to sexual assault, and training programs for law enforcement.

 “We’ve come a long way … but we still have a long to go,” Logan said. “If someone reports to you, how you respond makes all the difference in the world.”