ROCKLAND — A woman who was the victim of a sexual assault said the criminal justice system failed her after she reported the crime.

The woman, whose name is not being used because she was the victim of a sexual assault, talked about her experience after her assault on New Year’s Day 2019.

Eventually her assailant, Christopher A. Ray, 40, of Lincolnville, was arrested and charged with gross sexual assault. Multiple delays followed, both because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on court scheduling and medical issues for both the defense and prosecution.

Ray ultimately entered a no contest plea and on March 18, 2022 was given a 3 year suspended jail term to be followed by 2 years of probation for the conviction of gross sexual assault. Ray was also ordered to undergo an evaluation to determine whether he needs sex offender counseling and also was be evaluated to determine whether he will need substance abuse treatment.

Ray will also be on the state’s sex offender registry list for 25 years.

The woman said, however, that the system failed her throughout the process.

The 24-year-old woman was spending the night at a friend’s house in Owls Head after a night at bars in Rockland on New Year’s Eve and into New Year’s Day. Ray stopped at the house early in the morning and entered the owners’ bedroom to complain about being left in Rockland without a ride.

The victim said she awoke to find Ray on top of her, sexually assaulting her. The woman said she told him to stop and she tried to get up, but he kept his weight on her and told her he was not hurting her.

She was eventually able to get away from Ray and took a taxi to the Rockland Police Department, where she met with a sheriff’s deputy. She then went to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport for a sexual assault examination.

The failures began soon after. She said police did not interview Ray for several days even though they had his address.

On Feb. 1, 2019, she got a call from the district attorney’s office. She was informed the office would not be prosecuting the case but instead they suggested she seek a protection from abuse order.

The woman refused to take that decision and demanded that the district attorney herself review the case. In March 2019, Ray was arrested and charged with gross sexual assault. He was released on $2,500 cash bail.

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Maine a year after Ray’s arrest and led to reduced schedules and the end to jury trials for more than a year. When jury trials were set to resume, the trial was postponed twice because Ray’s defense attorney’s wife was giving birth and one time by the district attorney giving birth. Another time, the defense attorney asked for a continuance to deal with the terminal illness of a family member.

The trial was eventually set to be held in April 2022 but Ray came to the courthouse on the day of jury selection and said he had a sore throat. Ray was not allowed in the courthouse due to COVID-19 protocols and the trial was delayed again.

Throughout the years leading up to the trial, the woman said multiple prosecutors were assigned to handle the case and every time there was a change she had to meet the new people and retell the events of the night she was assaulted.

In 2020, the victim’s mother saw in a news article Ray had been caught hunting without a license. The victim contacted the district attorney’s office to see if his bail would be revoked, but nothing was done. Ray was eventually fined $100 for the hunting violation. She had also heard that Ray had been drinking, which was a violation of his bail conditions on the sexual assault charge. Eventually, police performed a bail check and Ray was found to have been drinking and spent 48 hours in jail.

In May 2022, Ray agreed to plead no contest (which results in a conviction but does not require him to admit guilt). On the day of the sentencing, the woman said she had been assured Ray would plead to a Class B gross sexual assault, which would result in 3 years probation and being registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life. However, as the hearing was set to start she was informed by the victim witness advocate within the district attorney’s office that it was being lowered to a Class C gross sexual assault. This would only allow 2 years of probation and 25 years on the sex offender registry.

The woman said she told the advocate this was not acceptable, and she was told to just accept it so it would be over and she would not have to testify at trial. The woman said she finally said, “Whatever.”

The woman agreed that she was not seeking a jail sentence but said the lifetime registration as a sex offender was a requirement she had wanted all along and the prosecution knew that.

“I’m honestly at the point of wanting to make changes to the system/help others who have experienced this. I want changes made. I want people aware that this is the process. I am outraged with how the DA’s office and police handled the entire case,” the woman said.

She said she has connected with many other people who have been assaulted over these last few years, and they have said they did not bother to report because they were scared of the process or they were told no charges would be pressed or it would be a slap on the wrist.

District Attorney Natasha Irving  said she had a new policy instituted after the case was initially declined for prosecution. Irving said all sexual assault cases where a prosecutor was considering declining to prosecute would have to be approved by her.

In addition, the district attorney’s office changed its policy and now will move forward on cases that had traditionally been declined as too hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt if the victim wants the case pursued.

Irving said the victim’s bravery in the Ray case brought to light systemic and institutional issues with prosecution of sexual assault in Prosecutorial District 6.

“Her community should be grateful for that bravery.  We certainly are,” Irving said.

The district attorney acknowledged the case took too long to resolve. She said all the continuances were out of the control of prosecution, including the pandemic which resulted in the suspension of jury trials and a back log of serious cases requiring trial. Both the defense and prosecution brought new children into the world and were unable to conduct a trial in the immediate weeks after the birth of their children.

“At the district attorney’s office, we insisted on putting our best trial prosecutors on this matter, and we were poised and ready for trial until the defendant agreed to plea to the charge of gross sexual assault with a sentence that the victim had advocated for, which included no jail pursuant to her stated interest of sex offender registry, sex offender counseling and probation,” Irving said.

She pointed out Ray will have to register as a sex offender until he is 67 years of age.

“The criminal justice system does not produce quick results, and often does not achieve the ultimate results that victims need for healing, and what the community needs for safety. As prosecutors, we are dedicated to fighting for victims, fighting for community safety and health within this very imperfect system. My staff and I will continue that fight, and we appreciate survivors that push this system to progress against the tide of history,” the district attorney said.