The Pretext Call
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Unless you and
the victim intervene...
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
Meetings with Authorities
it in Writing! Put it in Writing! Put it in Writing! How
to Write an Effective Letter to Make the System Work for
Uncover, and Enter Evidence into the Case Yourself
The following supplemental
resources can help you fill in and answer additional questions
that may arise as you advocate for sex crimes victims.
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.
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.
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).
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.
for Rape Victims
This text should
be helpful to the victims themselves and is easy to read.
to Monitor, Uncover, and Enter Evidence into the case Yourself
to Table of Contents