Orders, and Other Protections for Sex Crime Victims.
almost all sex crime cases where the victim and perpetrator
know each other, sooner or later the perpetrator starts harassing
the victim in any one of a myriad of ways. This may also occur
when the perpetrator is someone unknown to the victim. If
police are serious about protecting their cases, they need
to be extra vigilant about protecting the victims. But with
astounding frequency they are not.
In addition to
the common problem of police ignoring sex crime victim safety,
there can also be legitimate reasons police want to hold off
on having the victim obtain a restraining order, as we'll
explain further on. This further exacerbates issues of victim
are a couple things to always keep in mind. The ultimate decision
about if and when to seek a restraining order rests with the
victim. And, second, even though a victim may not have a restraining
order, there is still much that police can and should do to
protect the victim.
Protective Orders and Domestic Violence Restraining orders:
Because about 50% of sex crimes cases are perpetrated by a
family member or a domestic or dating partner, you might expect
that officers in these particular cases would seek an emergency
protective order or suggest that the victim obtain a domestic
violence restraining order, just as they do in domestic violence
cases. But right away you run into a common dilemma in sex
In order to make
any protective order viable, the suspect has to be served
with the order. But in many sex crimes investigations, officers
don't want to alert the suspect that he's being investigated.
Additionally, many investigators are hesitant to carry out
pretext calls while the suspect is under orders of restraint.
There is a legitimate concern that defense attorneys may object
to introducing this kind of evidence when obtained while the
suspect is restrained. The obvious downside is that this means
sex crimes victims, even when the suspect is a domestic relation,
are often unprotected by restraining orders during the investigation.
This is also one
more reason police should carry out their investigative steps
promptly, so victims can obtain appropriate restraining orders
as soon after reporting the crime as possible.
Protective Orders: Criminal protective orders can't
be issued until a criminal court has jurisdiction over the
defendant, and this doesn't occur until charges are filed.
Sex crimes charges usually aren't filed until after completion
of the investigation. Since sex crimes investigations often
take weeks, or months, this, again, often leaves victims unprotected
during what can be a lengthy investigation.
Once a sex crime
is charged by the prosecutor, all sex crimes victims should
be protected with a criminal protective order.
Other Forms of
Most states have
civil harassment restraining orders that are available to
victims of any and all forms of harassment, including, of
course, sexual assault. However, these orders are generally
weak and difficult to enforce. Some states, like Texas and
Wisconsin, have recognized the restraining order gaps that
exist for many sexual assault victims, and provide a stronger
protective order specifically for sex crimes victims.
The American Bar
Association has put together a state-by-state summary of the
kinds of restraining orders available to sexual assault victims.
This summary can be seen at the first link below. The second
and third link below describe in more detail the specific
restraining orders that are being made available to sexual
assault victims in Texas and Wisconsin.
Bar Association, Sexual Assault Restraining Order
Orders for Sexual Assault Victims
Things Police Can and Should Do
to Protect Sex Crime Victims:
police should not allow their investigation to drag on.
Police go on and on in public proclamations about how rape
is the most serious crime after homicide. Yet when it comes
to investigating these crimes, they notoriously drag their
feet, letting days, weeks, and even months go by without taking
the most obvious steps to move the case along.
As the victim's
advocate, one of the most important things you can do in sex
crimes cases is to make sure the investigation keeps moving
forward. Barring mass disaster, there is just no excuse for
police to let even days go by without moving the investigation
police can pick up the phone and coax and warn people to cease
and desist. Sex crime perpetrators frequently marshal
other people to their side and turn them against the victim.
These people usually aren't criminals themselves, and are
often being swayed by the perpetrator's manipulations and
intimidations. When this starts, a police officer who is willing
to pick up the phone and make a simple call to these people
is usually very effective in stopping the dynamic.
When people see
that police care enough about the victim to give them a call,
that alone is usually enough to at least keep them from ganging
up with the perpetrator. And if police won't make those calls,
there's no reason you can't do it as the victim's advocate.
Don't underestimate the power of your own persuasion to help
people see that they at least need to let the process proceed.
So don't hesitate to pick up the phone yourself and call anyone
from family members to co-workers to school officials to get
this dynamic in check.
police can and should enforce the law that makes dissuading
a witness a crime. Any attempt by anyone to get the
victim to withdraw from the criminal justice process is committing
the crime of 'dissuading a witness'. No force or threat of
force is required to make this a crime. The most simple verbal
attempt to dissuade the victim is a crime.
Police should not
only act promptly to write up new crime reports when this
occurs, they, and you, should also inform the victim about
this law ahead of time. Tell her police need to know immediately
if anyone is attempting to dissuade her from pursuing the
Work, and Housing Civil Rights Obligations
If the victim is being harassed about the assault in
her school, work, or housing environment, school, work,
and housing officials are obligated under federal civil
rights law to stop it. Harassment of a victim
regarding the sexual assault constitutes sexual harassment.
Under federal civil rights law, it is not sufficient
for school, work, or housing officials to try and stop
the harassment. They are obligated to stop it, in fact.
Federal civil rights law makes this absolutely clear.
If the victim
is being harassed about the sexual assault in the school,
work, or housing environment, the victim should make
the complaint in writing and request an immediate investigation.
She should keep a copy of the written complaint.
it's crucial to make these complaints in writing is
because school, work, and housing officials have a very
strong tendency to protect the rapist and sacrifice
the victim. Like police, these officials will also frequently
claim the victim didn't make such a report, hence the
importance of making these complaints in writing, and
keeping a copy of the original complaint.
Sex Crime Victim Interview
too common problem with sex crime victim interviews is that
the detective fails in multiple ways to get the victim's full
story, and as such, valuable evidence and evidence leads are
lost. The most immediate prevention of this problem is good
preparation of the victim.
Very few officers
have the combination of skill, thoroughness, and sensitivity
to help sex crime victims fully tell their stories. As the
study referenced in the introduction to this text demonstrates,
many sex crimes detectives quickly suspect the victims of
lying. Add to this the possibility of clumsily phrased questions,
officer discomfort, judgemental comments and body language,
sexist stereotypes, disregard of victim needs, or overall
cluelessness, and any and all of these common police faults
frequently result in a victim interviews that not only miss
critical evidence leads, they so upset the victim that she
withholds information, or, not infrequently, fully withdraws
entirely from the case.
Making the problem
worse is the fact that sex crime victims usually arrive at
these interviews quite understandably anxious and uncomfortable
themselves. This mix of biased and inadequate investigators
with anxious victims easily sets off a vicious cycle of the
victim shutting down, leading to an increasingly judgemental
detective, to an increasingly withdrawing victim. Truly, it's
hard to think of a more disastrous mismatch than current law
enforcement culture and the needs of sex crime victims.
Short of changing
police culture on the spot, good preparation of the victim
can make a world of difference in helping to turn this dynamic
around. If the victim goes into the interview feeling strong,
with an understanding of common investigator limitations,
and a willingness to offer information, deficiencies of the
investigator's interview skills can usually be overcome.
the victim ahead of time:
that she may get a perfectly competent, sympathetic detective,
but in the likely case she does not, you're going to help
her prepare for that. A good place to start is to
tell the victim that police often don't do well on meeting
victims' emotional needs. They are usually much more receptive
and comfortable just getting the facts and evidence they need.
So if the victim
can adopt a frame of mind of partnering with the detective,
it can help set the stage for a more satisfactory interview
for both the victim and the detective.
the importance of being accompanied, and her right to be accompanied.
Prepare her for how to handle a possible police refusal of
that right. It's especially important that victims
be accompanied during the main victim interview. There may
be some victims who want to do the interview alone. But, for
most, having a friend and advocate present not only makes
the victim feel strong, it also serves to put the officer
on his or her best behavior.
Many states have
laws giving sexual assault victims the right to be accompanied
throughout the criminal justice process. The reason these
laws have been passed in the first place is because so many
police, left to their own devices, have a strong tendency
to isolate victims from their support, and then use that isolation
to shortchange the case.
The reasons police
usually give for wanting to interview the victim alone are
bogus. Police may say they don't want the victim to be embarrassed
by personal questions, or they say it will make whoever accompanies
the victim into a witness in the case who will then have to
testify, and other such nonsense.
(The one exception
where police have a legitimate reason to exclude a friend,
(and never the advocate), is when that friend is already a
witness in the case.)
The real reason
so many police want to isolate the victim during the interview
is because they themselves are uncomfortable, and/or because
they want to convince the victim the case is too weak to prosecute,
and/or, they want to short shrift the interview. And that's
why the laws were put in place.
In most states, victims of child sexual assault or abuse are
not granted the right to have a friend or family member present
during the interview. A victim advocate, however, should be
allowed to be present during child sexual assault and sex
abuse cases. Read your law carefully. It's critical an advocate
be present for many reasons, but in child sexual assault cases
it's especially important to catch any attempt by law enforcement
to falsely downgrade the victim's statement.
for this common scenario:
All too often the
victim will be sitting in the waiting area for her interview
with her support persons when the officer opens the door and
says he wants to interview the victim alone. This puts the
victim and her support persons in the terrible position of
either having to confront the officer right before the interview,
or else leave her support persons behind.
to go over this possible scenario with the victim ahead of
time, and to have a plan of what she can say and do so you
are all on the same page. Without preparation, most victims
suddenly caught in this situation will end up going into the
interview alone. So prepare and come to an agreement ahead
of time on what she will say in that situation, or on what
she wants you to say in that situation.
She can say to
the officer, "Look, I want to cooperate with this investigation,
but I won't be comfortable without my friends." Or, if
the victim doesn't feel like she'll be able to say this, tell
her that you, as her advocate, can say it. Even then, however,
the officer will likely turn back to the victim for affirmation.
Ultimately, even if you, the advocate, do most of the talking,
the victim will have to be willing to say to the officer that
she's not willing to do the interview without her support
enough, and the officer invites everyone in. But, other times,
you'll need to take it a step further and say something like,
"If you're not willing to accept the advocate and support
persons in the interview, we need to discuss this now with
a superior officer." That almost always works, and if
it doesn't, don't hesitate a minute to go down the hall and
knock on the door of a superior officer, or pick up your cell
phone and do the same.
of working this out with the victim ahead of time can't be
emphasized enough, unless, of course, the victim specifically
wants to be alone during the interview.
Keep in mind that
any officer that continues to insist on isolating the victim
is usually up to no good. Don't let the police manipulate
her into leaving her advocate and friends outside the door.
the specific kinds of problems police often have with these
interviews. Explain that more likely than not, she
will get a detective who is limited in one way or another.
Common deficiencies of the interviewer may be a lack of sensitivity,
judgemental and biased attitudes, an accusatory tone, officer
discomfort with sexual topics, failure to ask for sufficient
details, failure to guide and partner with the victim in exploring
evidence leads, and more.
Explain that even
though she may get a police interviewer who isn't fully supportive
or competent, if she can keep in mind this is the officer's
problem, and not take it personally, she can still get the
needed information on the record anyway.
If the victim is
interested, you can refer her to one or the other of the articles
referenced here which will give her more detail on frequent
problems with police sex crimes investigations.
Investigation of Rapes - Roadblocks and Solutions
scroll down linked page for study abstract and link to full
Sex Crime Victim Interviews, 12 Do's and Don'ts
that once in the interview, the victim shouldn't hesitate
to offer information even if the relevant questions aren't
asked. This can be really hard for sex crimes victims
to do. It's hard enough for most anyone to talk about a sex
crime even when asked the right questions in a sympathetic
way. But giving more information than you're being asked for
in these cases can feel really out of place. Nonetheless,
sex crime victims can give a major boost to the case by going
into the interview prepared to make sure all the information
the critical importance of telling the truth in all details.
Though this topic was discussed in Part 1 of this text, it's
such a common stumbling block it's worth mentioning again.
Sex crimes victims
usually have very good reasons for covering aspects of their
stories. They want to be believed. They don't want to be judged.
And they are absolutely right in anticipating a possible rash
of victim blaming that lays in wait for any but the most-virgin-of-the-virgins
victim story. As a result, it is very, very common for victims
to withhold, obfuscate, or lie about aspects of their experience,
even though the sex crime itself actually occurred.
Once the police
sense this distortion, however, they quickly jump to their
preconceived biases that many, if not most, 'sex crime victims'
are making false reports. And so it is, in case after case,
the victim can't win for losing unless she tells the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Help victims understand
all this before the interview and you can make a world of
difference. Go over with her the kinds of things other sex
crimes victims often have trouble talking about with police,
such using drugs, being drunk, violating probation, disobeying
family rules, involvement in prostitution, or just plain embarrassing
sexual details, etc., Help her find ways to talk about it.
Tell her you'll help her with any repercussions.
And then remind
her of this...
g) If you
find out later that the victim has lied or withheld embarrassing
information from police, you and the victim can usually fix
it. Explain that many, many sex crime victims don't
tell the whole story to police for good reasons. And explain
that, though it's much better to give accurate details the
first time through, errors can, and should, be corrected.
Then you and she go to the police together and explain why
this has happened.
If the detective
assigned to the case doesn't understand, go to that detective's
supervisor, or go as high as you need to go. Often on hearing
that a victim is changing any aspect of the story, the detective
will say the victim has lost credibility and therefore the
case is not viable. This is false, false, false.
Don't let police
discard a case just because a victim belatedly reveals details
that were covered up for perfectly explainable reasons. It's
way past time for police to start understanding the pressures
on sex crime victims, and to incorporate that understanding
into their investigations, and for DA's to incorporate it
into their prosecutions.
the victim become aware of the kinds of the evidence in her
case. Helping a victim become attuned to the array
of evidence in her case is one of the best ways to help the
victim navigate the main victim interview, whether or not
the detective is skilled enough to elicit the information
themselves. When a victim has a general understanding of the
evidence in their case, it greatly increases the chances that
key information will get communicated to the detective.
If you and the
victim can begin to sift through her experience for leads
to evidence, not only can it help overcome investigator gaps,
it can also help the victim overcome feelings of helplessness
as she begins to see the strengths in her case, and begins
to take an active role in pulling the pieces together.
So if the victim
is willing, go through the story with her with the express
goal of fishing out the kinds of things that can be evidence
and evidence leads. The section that follows a few paragraphs
down should help guide you through that process.
Once the victim
is aware of the possible array of evidence and evidence leads,
suggest that she keep mulling over her experience before the
interview with evidence in mind, and she's likely to come
up with even more evidence. In addition, if there were witnesses
in the case, whether to the perpetrator's pre or post-attack
behavior, or to her own post-attack behavior, have her bring
as much information as possible to the interview regarding
how to contact those people.
Explain that, no
doubt, all this is the detective's job. But the more the victim
can mentally partner in the role of cataloguing the evidence,
the more likely the detective is going to follow through,
and the less likely the detective is to shelve the case.
and Evaluating the Evidence
don't feel that evaluating and monitoring the evidence in
a case is part of their job. But because so many police and
prosecutors falsely claim that there's "not enough evidence",
in particular in sex crimes cases, as the victim's advocate
you need to know when to suspect that's what may be happening,
and know how to argue for the victim's case.
There's only way
you can know if these claims of 'not enough evidence' are
legitimate or if they're a cover for law enforcement unwillingness
to do the case. You need to have a good sense of the evidence
and potential evidence in the case, and a good idea which
of that evidence has been fully investigated and entered into
Trying to advocate
for sex crimes victims without paying close attention to the
evidence is like trying to play poker without looking at the
cards in your hand.
the ways you can get an idea of the evidence in the case.
Focused conversations with the victim. Usually
the most productive way to get an idea of the evidence in
a sex crimes case is by you and the victim going over her
story with the express purpose of noting the evidence and
evidence leads, and of noting police response to that evidence.
Conversations focused on fishing out the evidence can be extremely
beneficial to both you and the victim. Together, you'll come
away with a good sense of the evidence in the case. The victim
will come away with an understanding of how to mull through
the details of her experience for more evidence. And you'll
both likely come up with things the victim might not have
thought significant enough to tell police.
Going over the
evidence with the victim also gives victims a solid sense
of the strengths of her case, and helps victims communicate
these things better to police.
Conversations with the investigator. Sex
crimes investigators are often reluctant to discuss the specifics
of case evidence with victims and advocates. However, if you've
been able to establish a comfortable working relationship
with the officer, and especially if you have a little gift
of gab, many cops will begin to open up about the progress
of the case. Also, as mentioned before, establishing an ongoing
working relationship with the investigator can be a powerful
motivating factor in getting police to treat the case more
seriously. It's just human nature to do a better job when
someone else seems to care.
Search warrants and arrest warrants. If there's
been a search warrant or an arrest warrant issued in the case,
these documents are usually open to the public and available
at the courthouse records department. The value of these documents
is that the investigator requesting the warrant has listed
the evidence supporting the request, which is the same as
the evidence supporting the case. If you obtain these documents,
they will usually contain a laundry list of the evidence available
in the case up to the date of the warrant request.
For a more detailed
account of how to monitor and evaluate evidence in violence
against women cases, and for information on how to Enter Evidence
into the case yourself, see:
to Monitor, Evaluate, and Enter Evidence into the Case Yourself
overview of possible evidence in sex crimes cases:
and everything can be evidence. Depending on the
circumstances, anything and everything can be evidence. Anything
from store receipts to grass stains to speech patterns, to
the time of sunrise...anything can be evidence. The following
is just a general framework you can use for fishing out the
evidence, evidence of injuries, and DNA that may have been
found on the medical rape exam.
pre-assault behavior: Most attackers plan their sexual
assault ahead of time, and they maneuver the situation to
set the stage to isolate and entrap the victim. If carefully
inspected, the perpetrator's pre-attack behavior will usually
have elements that indicate the attacker's intent. Even though
the attack itself usually doesn't have witnesses, the perpetrator's
pre-attack behavior does often have witnesses. Abruptly ditching
friends, making strange excuses for getting the victim alone,
emails, text messages, all may be strong evidence in corroborating
the case. Looking back, can the victim see any way in which
she was getting set up for the attack?
attack behavior and the victim's responses: The details
of the assault itself, including spoken words, are always
important. Even though there usually aren't witnesses to the
attack itself, the more details the investigator has, the
better the investigator can taylor his or her later interrogation
of the suspect. Those details can also be matched against
the stories of other victims of the same perpetrator, or other
The victim's behavior
during the attack usually holds valuable evidence of the victim's
level of fear and lack of consent. Any indications of the
victim's fear, along with descriptions of what she feared
might happen, can be critical in showing that the sex was
post-attack behavior: Following the attack, most
sex crime victims make some dramatic changes in their every
day behavior. Whether to protect their safety, to relieve
their emotional pain, to avoid the perpetrator, to seek help,
or to hide away, any of these actions out of the ordinary
can corroborate that the victim has experienced a trauma,
and not consensual sex. Look for anything that will corroborate
these changes, and don't forget that witnesses to these behaviors
are also evidence.
witnesses: Though victims often don't report to police
immediately after a sexual assault, they do frequently go
looking for help. These people are called 'outcry witnesses'
and their statements can be very powerful in supporting the
victim's story. They can be friends, professionals, taxi drivers,
neighbors, they can be any one.
And it doesn't
have to be that the victim necessarily told that person about
the assault. Just the fact that she went to that person for
help of one form or another. For example, suppose the victim
went up to a bar tender very distressed and urgently requested
that he call a cab. It doesn't matter that she didn't tell
him about the assault. That bar tender, and probably the cab
driver, too, would make good outcry witnesses.
post rape behavior: Following a rape, perpetrator's
often engage in behaviour that indicates their guilt. They
may keep changing their story, vilifying the victim, hiding
evidence, or perhaps start boasting to friends. As with other
evidence, these things may not constitute proof, but they
may support or corroborate other aspects of the victim's story.
Other victims of the same perpetrator can be hugely important
evidence in sex crimes cases. What's more, other victims of
the same perpetrator are often not that difficult to find.
Most sex crimes perpetrators are serial perpetrators who have
gotten away with it many times. Moreover, perpetrators often
select their victims from within the same social circle as
the current victim. Despite all this, and despite how valuable
other victims can be in prosecuting perpetrators, very few
detectives ever go looking for the other victims.
Yet, when you ask
victims if they can think of other people who might have had
a similar problem with the same perpetrator, it's amazing
how many can come up with names. Or if they can't come up
with names immediately, they often do so after just a little
from the Pretext Call. Pretext calls are often one
of the most significant sources of evidence in sex crimes
cases. Furthermore, the evidence from these calls can be so
definitive as to wrap up the case. Yet in case after case
after case, police fail to make the effort. And even when
they do put together a pretext call, most investigators fail
to engage the victim in a way that will enhance a pretext
call's chances of success.
Because of the
importance of these calls in sex crimes cases, and because
advocates can be so important in making sure these calls get
done, and get done properly, we explain these calls in more
detail in the next section.
3 ~ , Advocating for Victims of Sex Crimes During the Police
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