No other serious
crime is treated more poorly by the criminal justice system
than rape and other sex crimes. As the victim's advocate,
friend, or family member, you may to be all that stands between
police disregard and the victims' urgent need for protection
and justice. Nowhere is your skillful advocacy more needed,
and nowhere can you make more of a difference, both for the
individual victims and for their communities.
The good news is
that with a few tips and some basic knowledge, you can almost
always get a better response from police, and you can often
get a bad police response corrected. This text aims to help
you do exactly that. In addition to helping you support the
victim through the process, it should help you monitor and
evaluate the police response, prevent abusive police behavior,
and help you intervene effectively when things aren't going
as they should.
First, you need
to understand the environment you're working in, and what
this means for your role as advocate:
Over the last four
decades, sex crime laws have been modernized. Specialized
investigation techniques have been standardized, police have
been trained and retrained, and media have trumpeted the progress.
Yet, numerous studies, both in the U.S. and in other developed
countries, reveal that, even today, no more than between 2
to 6% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. In terms of meaningful
enforcement of sex crime laws, there has been little or no
real improvement over the last forty years.
Old and New
given for this wrenching discrepancy only add insult to injury.
These cases, they say, "are difficult to prove",
"are 'he said, she said'", "have uncooperative
But a recent 2010
National Institute of Justice study** of sex crime detectives
and frontline officers from multiple police agencies puts
the blame squarely where it should be, and confirms what most
advocates already know to be the reality.
The NIJ study
finds that, indeed, police have learned to give "politically
correct" answers, but, as the following excerpt from
the study abstract makes clear, the mind set of most police
is still locked and loaded against sex crimes victims, and
stubbornly unwilling to change.
From the NIJ study
the findings from administering the rape scale to the officers
indicate that despite many years of training, a large number
of police officers still hold attitudes and opinions that
undermine their ability to treat rape victims well. The
officers were almost unanimously opposed to changing to
a system of investigation and case processing that gives
priority to protecting victims." ........
the police officers in this study, there was virtually no
interest in and some strong resistance to examining innovative
and improved ways of investigating and managing rape cases.
The dominant theme in current investigative techniques
is the presumption that victims are lying and the initial
job of the investigators is to expose it." (emphasis
Investigation of Rapes - Roadblocks and Solutions,
scroll down linked page for study abstract and link to
What's new then
is that police have learned to cloak their sexism and misconduct
in rhetoric that will make the public think they've progressed
while, at the same time, police are continuing to deny protection
and justice to sex crimes victims. On the one hand, this 'politically
correct' rhetoric can sometimes make it more difficult to
see the police abuse as it's happening. On the other hand,
police desire to appear progressive on sex crimes can often
be used to leverage needed corrections.
Your Role as
It isn't every
police officer who responds badly. But, given that every sex
crimes victim has a right to protection and justice, and given
that sexist attempts by police to ditch these cases is more
the norm than the exception, the critical nature of your job
as advocate is clear. The victim needs to be prepared for
a range of possible police responses. The police responses
need to be monitored and evaluated at every step, and advocates
need to be willing to intervene when officials get off the
can coax and cajole officials into doing things right. Other
times you have to apply escalating pressures to break through
the police rigidities and roadblocks. But in almost any case,
your skillful advocacy can greatly improve the system's responses
to sex crimes victims, either by preventing abuses in the
first place, or by responding quickly to get corrections made.
This text certainly
won't cover every circumstance you might encounter. But it
should give you enough orientation to feel confident in standing
strong for sex crime victims and their rights. Naturally,
it's assumed that you won't take any action on behalf of a
victim without first fully informing them of their options,
and making sure that your actions are always in accord with
the victim's wishes. If the victim is a child or teen, it's
hoped that you'll find ways, if appropriate, to work together
with the victim and a protective parent or guardian.
Though this text
can be useful in cases of sex trafficking and commercial sexual
exploitation, it doesn't cover the special additional skills
and information needed for advocating on those cases. For
more detailed help and resource lists for those cases, see,
Guide for Mothers, Grandmothers, and Others for Helping a
Girl Caught in Prostitution or Sex Trafficking
Also, though it's
important to remember that both females and males are victims
of sex crimes, we sometimes refer to the victim as "she"
for ease of language.
This text focuses
on advocating for victims during the police investigation.
But as critical as protection and justice are for the victim,
the criminal case itself is unlikely to succeed if the victim's
other vital needs aren't being met.
So at the same
time as you're dealing with the complexities of the criminal
case, it's equally as important to keep an eye out:
victim has support from family and friends. If the victim
wishes, help her bring these friends into the process.
In addition, keep a special watch out that any social
circle the victim shares with the perpetrator isn't
being turned against her by the perpetrator and his
friends, whether it be at school, work, family, church,
victim's housing, job, and/or school are safe and secure.
victim is connected to appropriate counseling that is
working for her.
victim is getting good communication all around and
has good sources of information.
victim has help in starting and keeping a notebook.
It's very difficult for traumatized persons to keep
track of details, especially regarding the complexities
of an unfamiliar legal process. Helping a victim start
and keep a notebook not only helps the victim keep track,
it helps put them back in control.
- That you,
yourself, have multiple ways to contact the victim. Sex
crimes victims often move to other places or stay with
friends when they feel unsafe. They forget about keeping
cell batteries charged, and bills paid. Their voice mail
often isn't cleared. Or they just become too immobilized
to keep in touch. Always ask the victims if there is one
person they will likely always be in touch with, and ask
if you can contact that person if the need arises.
a Victim Comes to You
Prior to Reporting to Police
When a sex crimes
victim comes to you prior to reporting to police, you have
an excellent opportunity to prepare the victim and prevent
many of the pitfalls that so commonly occur at the beginning
of police investigation. In addition, you can help arrange
that the victim is accompanied by an advocate and friend of
her choice. You can explain the process, it's common early
problems, her rights, and you can address her specific fears
In short, when
a victim comes to you prior to reporting to police, you have
the opportunity to get the criminal case off to a good start.
don't want to overload someone with more information than
they can handle. As always, your careful listening will help
you taylor the information to what the individual most needs.
But, the following are some of the points to consider.
that there will likely be points in the police handling of
the case where one officer or another may be sexist, judgemental,
inappropriate, or attempting to shove the case aside.
Explain that things have gotten better for sex crimes victims,
but they definitely aren't perfect yet. If she feels that
she or the case isn't being treated properly, it's not her
fault, and it's not time to panic. It's time speak up and
get help immediately.
The good news
is most bad police responses can be corrected, especially
when caught early.
these common early stumbling blocks in sex crime cases.
Most police departments don't allow sex crime victims to report
directly to a detective, even though it's a detective who
will likely be doing the investigation. Victims are usually
required to report first to a patrol officer. This patrol
officer, however, will only take a cursory, 'just the basics',
report. When victims aren't made aware of this ahead of time,
this cursory initial response can sometimes leave them feeling
that their case is not being taken seriously.
After taking a
'just the basics' report, or during the process of taking
the report, the patrol officer will generally call an on-call
detective to consult on what to do next. It may be that the
detective will ask for a medical rape exam, at which point
the detective may or may not meet the victim at the hospital
to do the in-depth interview there.
However, if a medical
exam is not ordered, or, if the detective does not meet and
interview the victim at the hospital, the victim will generally
be told to go home and wait for a detective to call her in
the next couple days. The victim usually isn't even given
the name of the detective. This is because, absent a medical
exam, there generally won't be a detective assigned until
the patrol officer's case gets sent to the detective unit
where the case will ultimately be assigned. This can take
a day or two, but shouldn't be longer.
Imagine how frightening
this is to a victim who doesn't understand this protocol ahead
of time. She has just reported one of the worst events of
her life to police. She's told to go home and wait for a call
from an un-named detective, and she doesn't know when. She's
scared and anxious and beside herself. Left to flail in limbo,
quite understandably, many victims panic.
bureaucratic police hurdles are unforgiveable. Explaining
the protocol to victims ahead of time doesn't remove the exasperation,
but at least it keeps the victims from panicking. Another
thing that can help is giving the victim the number of the
detective unit so that she, or you, can take the active step
of calling in to find out if the case has been assigned yet,
and to whom.
that sex crimes suspects usually are not arrested right away,
and that this doesn't mean the police don't believe you.
Interrogating and/or arresting the suspect is usually the
last thing police do in a standard sex crime investigation.
Unfortunately, unless you explain the usual delay in sex crimes
arrests, victims often conclude that police don't believe
in the case.
In fact, if police
immediately go out and interrogate the suspect before doing
a thorough investigation, this should be a red flag to you
and the victim that police may be throwing the case.
Explain the importance of telling the whole truth as soon
One of the
most common and serious faults in police response to
sex crimes is that so many officers believe a hugely
exaggerated percentage of victims are making false reports.
As the NIJ study abstract referenced in the introduction
states, "The dominant theme in current
(rape) investigative techniques is the presumption that
victims are lying and the initial job of the investigators
is to expose it."
situation even worse is the fact that when sex crimes
victims come to police they are usually much more tentative
and guarded than victims of other crimes. Sex crime
victims know instinctively that, one way or another,
they're likely be judged, blamed, disbelieved or shamed.
As a result, many try to tell their stories in a way
to get around details they feel might trigger those
judgements or disbelief.
predictable result, of course, is that the moment the
police sense they're not getting the whole truth, they
jump to their sexist conclusions that the victim is
probably making a false report. And as soon as the victim
senses this judgemental response from police, the victim
withdraws and withholds even more. The vicious cycle
spins ever downward, and the case all too often goes
changing police mentality, which clearly needs to be
done sooner rather than later, the immediate solution
is to help the victim understand this dynamic, and then
help her find ways to tell her full story comfortably,
truthfully, and hopefully the first time around.
this problem to the victim. Talk with her about some
of the things other sex crimes victims often have trouble
talking about; use of drugs or alcohol, the amount of
drugs or alcohol, having disobeyed parental or school
rules, being out of a probation zone, going out on another,
prostitution, minor illegal activities, or just the
usual personal or sexual things normal people want to
keep secret, but are almost always part of a sex crime
victim that whatever part of her story may be difficult
to tell, it will almost certainly come out in the end.
Tell her that you will help her deal with whatever fallout
may result. And that even if she was doing something
illegal, police will almost always ignore a minor crime
when the individual is a victim of a major crime like
a sex crime.
SAY 'NO' TO POLYGRAPHS!!!!! Sex crime victims
should not be asked to submit to polygraphs, and should
not submit to them if asked. Still, there are many police
departments that continue to routinely ask victims to
take polygraphs. Victims should refuse to take these
tests. And as the victim's advocate you should stand
by her and argue her case to the requesting officer,
and all the way up to the chief or DA if necessary.
that may be helpful to discuss before the victim calls the
a) The importance
of being accompanied by a friend and advocate at all justice
system interactions. Offer to help her arrange this, either
by brainstorming with her who she might call, or by directly
making some of the calls yourself to encourage her friends
b) The importance
of getting all her questions answered, and of speaking up
right away when things don't feel like they're going right,
and especially if she's being harassed on any front.
c) Her rights
- her statutory right to be accompanied by a friend and
advocate throughout the process, her right not to be harassed,
her right to be protected by police, her right to refuse
parts or all of the medical exam, in particular, her right
to refuse blood and urine tests, her right not to talk to
any member of the defense team, etc.
d) Help her
to begin thinking about the evidence and evidence leads
in her case. If she's willing, it's often very helpful to
go through her story with her and point out the kinds of
things that can be evidence, a process we detail in the
section on the victim interview.
e) The importance
and benefits of the victim keeping a notebook on her case.
f) Explain basics
of Cop-Speak. It's hard to think of two communication styles
that are more mismatched than that of the average police
officer and the victims of sex crimes. Police communicatio
style is usually authoritarian, in control, hardened and
concrete. The sex crime victim communication is often frightened,
fragile, emotional, and fragmented, all of which makes too
many police just want to get back out on the streets as
fast as possible to do 'real crime'.
It's the cops
of course who need to change and who have the duty to respond
appropriately. But often it's the victims who are quick
to adapt when given an idea ahead of time of what to expect.
the Initial Police Report
if some time has passed since the offense, make the initial
call to 911 or to the police dispatch line. There
are a number of reasons for making the first call through
911 or through police dispatch. These calls are taped and
preserved, and can be a significant source of evidence. In
addition, if police later excuse their downgrading or mistreatment
of the case by saying the victim didn't report a rape, the
dispatch or 911 tape comes in very, very handy to prove otherwise.
thousands and thousands of rape cases, in police departments
large and small around the country, are ditched by police
in exactly this way; i.e. by police filing the report under
a lesser crime category and then saying the victim was only
reporting a simple assault or an argument, not a rape.
If you don't know
the number of your police dispatch line, just call the police
business number and ask.
Have the victim call 911 or dispatch and say exactly the nature
of the crime she wants to report. Help her find the right
words before getting on the call.
b) Make sure victim is accompanied when the officer
arrives. We keep repeating this point, but that's
because it's so important. Sex crimes victims should never
meet with law enforcement alone. Being accompanied prevents
many police abuses, provides witnesses to police behaviour,
and provides support to the victim.
As mentioned above, the responding officer will likely only
take a cursory report, sufficient enough to establish the
nature of the crime in advance of having a detective do the
in-depth interview later. Nonetheless, the responding
officer should treat the case seriously, should not make judgements
about the case, should call an on-call detective to determine
the next step, and should gather any and all perishable evidence.
If the victim
is reporting within 72 hours of the attack for an adult, or
if there are any possible visible sexual injuries, no matter
how much time has passed, a medical forensic should be ordered.
If the victim is a child, and there was penetration, a medical
forensic exam should be ordered no matter how much time has
leaving, the responding officer should give the victim a crime
report number (CR #) and the crime category of the investigation.
If the victim is not given this information, you or the victim
should call an on-call sergeant right away to obtain that
crime report number and the specific crime category under
The reason it's
critically important to obtain the designated crime category
under investigation is because one common way police departments
get rid of sex crimes cases is by filing the case under a
lesser crime category.
The crime category
under investigation is always designated on the face sheet
of the police report. As such, it is information police must
give out to any member of the public.
If the case hasn't
been given a CR #, or if it's being filed under a crime category
that is lesser than what the victim is reporting, it's a strong
indication the case is likely being intentionally ditched.
If you can't get this corrected with a phone call, don't hesitate
to go quickly up the ranks to the chief, the DA, or city council.
Such attempts to bury the case need to be corrected immediately.
Remember, thousands upon thousands of sex crimes are discarded
in this way by police departments around the country. Don't
let this happen to your client!
responding officer should also inform the victim of what's
going to happen next. If a medical exam has not been
ordered, the initial report will usually be sent to the detective
unit where a detective will be assigned to investigate the
case. This may take a day or two, but it should not take any
longer than that.
If it does take
longer than a day or two for a detective to be assigned, again,
go up the ranks immediately! This is another common way police
ditch sex crimes cases. They drag their feet for days, weeks,
or even months, knowing most sex crimes victims find it extremely
difficult to complain. Then they only work the rare cases
where the victims do complain. Don't let any unnecessary time
delay sink your client's case or cause her to suffer unnecessary
exasperation! Pick up the phone and complain!
f) A sexual
assault medical forensic exam of the victim, commonly called
'the rape exam', may or may not be requested by police.
The medical forensic exam is a police evidence exam and can
be a valuable source of physical evidence in sexual assault
cases. These exams are usually conducted by a specially trained
nurse examiner in a hospital or clinic setting. Usually, in
the case of adult victims, if the case is reported within
72 hours of the assault, police should request the exam. If
there are significant injuries, or if the victim is a minor,
a medical forensic exam should usually be ordered even when
the victim is reporting the attack after 72 hours.
As important as
these exams can be to the successful prosecution of sexual
assault cases, victims may find these exams to be intrusive
and should know that they do not have to consent to these
exams. On the other hand, a completely different dilemma can
result from the fact that these exams are expensive. Police
may fail to request the exam, when, in fact, the case circumstances
indicate the exam should be carried out.
As such, there
are a number of things victims and advocates should be alert
to in regard to the medical forensic exam:
* Evaluate whether
the police decision to request, or not to request, a medical
forensic exam is the best decision for the case.
* Inform the
victim of her right to be accompanied by an advocate and
support person of their choice throughout the exam.
* Inform the
victim that she should not be charged for the exam. Police
should pay for the exam. (At present, in most all states,
police do automatically pay for these exams.)
* Inform the
victim she has a right to refuse to consent to the exam
in whole or in part. In particular, the victim should carefully
consider whether or not to give blood and urine samples
to the examiner as this gives police unlimited search and
chemical testing access to the victim's blood and urine.
The victim also has a right to refuse consent to be examined
by an examiner of a given sex.
* Even if the
victim has signed a written consent to the exam, she can
withdraw that consent at any time during the exam, simply
by telling the examiner that she doesn't want them to do
x,y, or z.
* If a victim
exercises the right to refuse to consent to the exam in
whole, or part, or under certain circumstances, police should
never threaten the victim with refusal to investigate the
case because the victim won't submit to the exam. If an
officer does make that threat, you and the victim should
immediately complain to the officer's superior
* At the same
time, in making her decisions, it's important for the victim
to take into account that refusing to consent to the exam
can mean the loss of significant case evidence.
* Following the
exam, the victim and advocate should closely monitor whether
or not the sexual assault evidence kit is being processed
in a timely manner. This is especially important because
in the last few years literally tens of thousands of rape
kits around the country have been found to be stashed away,
unprocessed, in police warehouses.
Up the Phone! Stay in Touch with the Investigating Officer!
And Don't Forget Email!
act of staying in touch with the investigating officer
can often make a tremendous difference in improving
the quality of the investigation, and preventing police
from trying to shelve or ditch the case.
'stay in touch' calls to police, such as to ask about
the CR #, the detective assignment, what happens next,
or just 'how's it going', do much more than just get
you information. When you, the advocate, make these
calls, it sends the strong message to police that someone
else cares about the victim, and is watching over her
and the case. When the victim makes these calls, it
sends a strong message to police that this isn't a victim
who can be easily rolled over.
the investigation of the case, pick up the phone frequently,
and encourage the victim to do the same. If possible,
establish an easy going working relationship with the
detective. Express enthusiasm for progress made. Mix
appropriately with any requests for improvements. And,
when needed, make it known that, one way or the other,
you're determined that the victim and her case will
be handled properly.
forget email! In addition to the obvious conveniences,
email communication between sex crimes victims and law
enforcement has significant advantages. It maintains
what can be an all important record of those communications.
And it helps overcome the frequent clash of communication
styles between sex crime victims and law enforcement.
The written words usually tend to even out the differences.
advantage, of course, is that email makes it possible
to have open three way communication between the investigator,
the victim, and the advocate, and with as many other
people as the victim wishes to copy in.
the Client Has Already
Reported to Police
If a client seeking
your help has already reported to police, she may be coming
to you merely to seek additional services, such as counseling
or other victim services. Or, it also may be that she's coming
to you now because she senses things aren't going right with
the case. Sometimes victims will tell you this outright.
when a sex crime victim senses things aren't going right with
the case, they can't believe it's happening. It was hard enough
to report the crime in the first place. If things didn't go
well, victims now feel so unsure of themselves, so conflicted
and confused, they find it near impossible to turn around
and complain about the police.
In addition to
feeling newly retraumatized, they don't know exactly who you
are, or where you fit in the system. So start by taking some
extra time to build some trust, explain your role, listen,
and ask some basic questions.
the victim, or the victim's parent, basic questions about
the status of the case. What's the case crime report
number? Who is the detective? Does she know how to get a hold
of him or her? Where is the case in the process? And what's
going to happen next?
If the victim
doesn't know the answer to those questions, explain that it's
not her fault. Explain that it was the investigator's role
to make sure the victim is informed, particularly in sex crimes
b) If she's not
informed, start by picking up the phone and finding
out the answers by calling the police sex crimes
unit and/or the district attorney's office. Getting that information,
alone, is often a big relief to victims. Explain how you're
getting the answers so she knows how to do it for herself
at any time in the future. Make sure she has all the needed
phone numbers written down.
you can start from the beginning, step by step, going through
the police responses and timeline. What are the victim's
major concerns? How did the victim feel about the response
she got from the police? Did they take the case seriously?
Did they follow up on evidence leads? Did they express concern
for her safety? Give feedback on your thoughts.
Here's a form that
should help you and the victim evaluate the case investigation:
for Evaluating Police Response to Rape and Sexual Assault
d) If there
seem to be problems with the way the case has been handled,
it's so important to tell victims that it's not their fault,
and it has nothing to do with the case itself. It
usually helps victims tremendously when you tell them that
police, in general, do not handle sex crimes well, and that
many victims have the same problems she's having. At the same
time, tell her that one way or another, the mistakes can probably
e) Go over
options for getting problems corrected. See the last
section of this text. When
Push Comes to Shove; How to Make the System Fly Right
Go To: Part
2, Advocating for Victims of Sex Crimes During the Police
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