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Back to Advocating for Victims of Sex Crimes Part 2

Part 3 - Advocating for Victims of Sex Crimes During the Police Investigation



~ PART 3 ~


The Pretext Call

What's a Pretext Call? A pretext call is a phone call (or email, or text messaging, etc.) made to the suspect in which the caller, usually the victim, attempts to trick the suspect into talking about the crime. The pretext call is done under the guidance of the police, and is being recorded by the police.

Usually the detective and victim have invented a scenario, (a pretext, a manipulation) that serves both as an excuse for calling the suspect, and as a means of luring the suspect into talking about the crime.

One example of a pretext might be a teen girl telling the grandfather-suspect that she's pregnant, and she has to tell her mom what they've been doing. Another example might be a girlfriend telling a boyfriend that, 'look, I might consider getting back together with you, but not before we talk about what happened the other night.'

There are also many variations on pretext calls. They can be made by persons other than the victim, anyone from the victim's mother, to a neighbor, to a friend of the perpetrator. And, of course, they can be carried out in other media than the phone, such as using email or text messaging.

What is truly amazing in these calls is how few perpetrators suspect a trap. Even the most sophisticated perpetrators seem to have such an exaggerated sense of their control over their victims, they're willing to talk up a storm.

Problems with pretext calls: The main problem with pretext calls is that too often police don't make the effort to do them. And even when they do, they often don't adequately prepare the victim in a way that will enhance the chances of success.

Nowhere is it more important that the victim be well prepared ahead of time than before the pretext call. This is for the very simple reason that during the pretext call, it's the victim who takes the investigative lead. And it's the victim who has to think on her feet. Yet, with astonishing frequency, many detectives don't prepare the victims at all. This is more than puzzling, since a pretext call can wrap up the investigation and the prosecution in a heartbeat.

If the victim, or the victim's family and friends know the suspect, no matter how slightly, a pretext call should absolutely be a standard part of a sex crimes investigation. If the police sex crimes investigation has failed to attempt a pretext call, you and the victim need to press for that to happen.

Many child victims can carry out these calls as well as adults. In fact, children have the distinct advantage that suspects almost never imagine a child could turn the tables and pursue the perpetrator.

Your Role as Advocate in Pretext Calls:

One of the most telling questions you can ask a sex crimes victim is if the detective did a pretext call as part of the investigation. If the victim says no pretext call was done, or more likely, the victim will usually say, "What's a pretext call?", that's a good indication the investigation is sub-standard. You and the victim need to talk about how best to press the department to get a full and proper investigation of the case.

If a pretext call has been scheduled in your client's case, but she isn't sure what it's about, you, of course, should give her as much information as possible. But you should also suggest that she and the detective should talk together to come up with a scenario ahead of time, and that you'll help her in arranging that communication.

What you want to avoid is having a victim walk into a pretext call and at the last minute have the detective spring a scenario on her. Ideally, the strategy of a pretext call should come out of a partnering between the victim and the detective. The victim generally knows the psychology of the suspect, and the detective knows the legal parameters, and the key points that need to be pursued for evidence. Together, they can come up with a strategy that will be much better than what either one of them will come up with alone. The key is to get the detective and victim working together.

The other thing that can increase the chance of a successful pretext call is for the victim to have a day or two after developing a plan to mull over the call in her mind. This gives the victim a chance to anticipate various suspect responses and come with better responses of her own.

If there was already a pretext call, and it wasn't successful, discuss with the victim if there might be another person with whom a pretext call might work better, and then suggest your ideas to the detective.
And if there is no pretext call scheduled in the case, it's time to find out why not, since these calls should be standard in most sex crimes cases.

And remember, It doesn't have to be the victim making the call. And it doesn't have to be the phone. The person who makes the pretext call doesn't have to be the victim. In fact, deciding who might be best to make the call is another essential aspect of preparing for these calls. Again, this is something the detective should talk over with the victim, since it's the victim who knows the perpetrator.

The caller may best be the mother of the victim, a teacher, a friend of the victim, friend of the perpetrator, a neighbor, a coach... remember, it can be anyone. And if one doesn't succeed with one person or tactic, there's no reason not to make another attempt with another person or tactic.

The core requirement of this highly beneficial investigative technique is that the investigator should rely heavily on the victim's knowledge of the suspect's psychology. That's a big leap for many investigators. All too often they spring an imposed strategy on the victim at the last minute before a call, and lose the enormous advantage to be had of tapping the victim's superior knowledge of the perpetrator.

Pretext calls have so much potential for resolving sex crimes cases, that they should never be left out or left to chance. As the advocate, you can help press for good preparation of the victim, help insure there is full victim input into choosing the best scenarios, and coax detectives into seeing the immense benefits, both to the victim and the case, of taking the time to do it right.

Investigation Follow-up

In addition to the pretext call, all other significant investigative leads should be followed before the case is sent to the DA. Because there are so many possible evidence leads it's impossible to catalogue them here. But at this point in the investigation, you and the victim should have a pretty good idea of the evidence and evidence leads in the case. And a pretty good idea of whether or not the detective has pursued those leads.

Watch out for this common law enforcement hoax! Unfortunately, one of the common abuses you need to watch out for at this point is the situation where the detective may be aware of evidence leads, - indeed, may even list these leads in the report, - but then fail to follow through on the lead. For example, the investigator may indicate the presence of a witness in the report, but then not make the effort to follow through and interview the witness.

Then, when the investigator sends this half baked investigation up to the DA's office for review, all too often the attorney who reads the report is equally dismissive of sex crimes cases. Upon reading the report, instead of sending it back to the detective for proper completion of the investigation, the attorney takes advantage of the sloppy report and tells the victim there's not enough evidence to prosecute the case.

In other words, all too often, the DA and the detective understand each other perfectly well. This extremely sexist hoax against sex crime victims is pulled by police and DA's across the country every day of the year.

This, again, is why it's so important for victims and advocates to pay as close attention to the evidence as you can.

The Suspect Interrogation

As the victim's advocate you won't likely be involved in any direct way in the police interrogation of the suspect. But there is at least one aspect of the suspect interrogation that you should pay attention to and that is its timing.

In most sex crimes cases, the police interrogation of the suspect shouldn't take place until the end, or near the end, of the police investigation. This is because the more details the investigator can gather about the incident prior to this interrogation, the better the investigator can fashion questions that are likely to either elicit a confession or hone in on contradictions in the suspect's story.

If a detective interrogates the suspect early in the investigation, this should always raise the concern that the police may just be trying to finish off the report without having seriously investigated the case. It's not always the case, but if police interview the suspect before the victim interview, or before attempting a pretext call, or before interviewing key witnesses, you should definitely be concerned.

Over and over we have seen police come out of an early suspect interrogation before having followed other leads, and tell the victim something like this. "The suspect says he didn't do it, so this is a 'he said, she said' case. We're so sorry, but we're just not going to be able to go any further with this." Imagine the hypocrisy of some of these cops, telling the public how seriously they treat sex crimes, and then pulling stunts like this.

If you and the victim don't intervene at this point, the detective will likely just write up the half baked report, and send it up to to the DA. The DA, who all too often has the same agenda as the cops, will likely reject the case for prosecution instead of sending the case back for more investigation, tell the victim there's not enough evidence. And that will be the end of it.

Unless you and the victim intervene...

When Push Comes to Shove; How to Pressure the System Fly Right

If a phone call or two to the detective or the detective's superior isn't quickly getting the response the victim deserves, don't lose time hoping the investigator will magically change his or her ways. Talk with the victim as soon as possible about options for escalating pressure on police so the victim gets a proper investigation sooner rather than later.

The following three sections linked here lay out in detail the strategies we have found work best to pressure police into handling an investigation properly even when they have demonstrated no desire to do so.

  1. Face-to-Face Meetings with Authorities

  2. Put it in Writing! Put it in Writing! Put it in Writing! How to Write an Effective Letter to Make the System Work for You

  3. Monitor, Uncover, and Enter Evidence into the Case Yourself

Supplemental Resources

The following supplemental resources can help you fill in and answer additional questions that may arise as you advocate for sex crimes victims.

* Form for Evaluating Police Response to Rape and Sexual Assault

This form won't cover all the aspects of your client's individual case, but it can be a helpful set of questions that you and the victim can go over together to get a general idea of how the case investigation is going.

** Investigating Sexual Assault - Model Policy, International Association of Chiefs of Police

This model police policy for investigating sexual assault is thorough and up to date. It's also easy to find your way through it. One of the things that makes it valuable to you as an advocate is that it was written by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, an organization that is held in high esteem by most police agencies. If you need to push police to do a better job for your client, referring to this document can strengthen your position.

*** Free Online Training Institute - Investigating Sexual Assault

EVAW (End Violence Against Women) International has developed an On-Line Training Institute to bring state-of-the art training to anyone who is interested, on the topic of criminal justice response to sexual assault. This On-Line Training Institute provides the opportunity for interested professionals to expand their knowledge of cutting edge developments in the criminal justice and community response to sexual assault, with particular emphasis on those crimes committed by someone who is known to the victim ( i.e., non-strangers).

Participants in the On-Line Training Institute can work through the various training modules to learn and review new information and then apply this newly acquired knowledge in realistic and interactive scenarios, as well as assessment methods such as quizzes, tests, and case studies.

See course topics and how to enroll.

**** Special for Rape Victims

This text should be helpful to the victims themselves and is easy to read.

***** How to Monitor, Uncover, and Enter Evidence into the case Yourself



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