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Special for Rape Victims
A Word of Hope
Part I - General Tips
Part II - Preventing and Dealing with Mistreatment from
Part III - Obtaining Justice and Protection from the Criminal
The following is a guide for rape
victims and for all who want to help them. Because a number of other sources
cover basic information on rape, we focus here on providing information that
will help you get support, protection, and justice in the aftermath of rape or
Part I, "General
Tips", provides you with some basic guidelines that should help you
throughout the course of dealing with a rape.
Part II, "Preventing and
Dealing with Mistreatment from Others" is designed to help you prevent
and deal with abusive reactions that you as a rape victim may experience from
others. Though many people's responses to rape victims are improving, there are
still too many people who tend to disbelieve, blame, ignore, or even turn
against the victim. This section will not only help you prevent these
reactions, it should also help you develop the positive support and help you
Part III, "Obtaining
Justice and Protection from the Criminal Justice System". No other
crime is treated more poorly by the criminal justice system than rape. But
don't despair. Things are improving here too, even in the male dominated field
of law enforcement. There are many things you and your support system can do to
make the criminal justice system work for you. In Part III, we give you
detailed information on how to get the justice and protection you
|Today, way too many rape victims
continue to encounter the old sexist and racist responses to rape from family,
friends, acquaintances, and authorities. As a rape victim, you may encounter
some of these reactions, too. Things are definitely not perfect yet.
But it should help you to keep in
mind how fast things are changing and what this means for you. Only a
generation ago, as recently as 1970, there were no rape crisis centers and no
national studies on rape. Police rarely took reports, rape victims rarely got
justice, and a rape was almost always considered the fault of the
Today our society is in the midst
of making great changes in its understanding of the injuries and injustices of
rape. What this means for you is that when you do encounter negative reactions
from others you must not give up. It's very important for you to remind
yourself that there are other people right in your own town who do understand.
There are people close by who are willing to fight for your rights, and people
who are willing to help.
The fact that society is in
transition also means that even those people who respond poorly to you can
often be encouraged and educated to respond better. The old and the new
understandings of rape coexist in all of us to one extent or another. Sometimes
just by having an advocate or friend talk with the people who are giving you
trouble, you can turn their behavior around.
So do not give up. Don't fall into
isolation and despair. When you run into people who treat you badly, don't
panic. If you're willing to get back up and keep looking for help and support,
you're very likely to find it. You may not get a hundred percent of what you
deserve, but you will find people who will listen. You will find people who
will stand at your side, and people who will fight for your rights. And in the
process of carrying out your own fight for justice and support, you'll also be
making it that much better for the women who come after you, just as thousands
of women have done before you.
- General Tips
|* Get Help! Even if there is not
a scratch on your body, rape is an extremely serious trauma and a deep
injustice. No one should go through the trauma of rape alone. You're probably
going to need many kinds of help for at least a couple of months from friends,
associates, and professionals. You deserve all the help you need, no matter
what the circumstances of the rape.
A common problem for rape victims
is that it's very difficult to ask for help because the rape has made them feel
ashamed, weak, and wounded. If you're finding it difficult to ask for help,
here's what to do. Pick a special friend and ask that friend to help you find
more help. Ask that special friend to help you think of other people who would
be good for different kinds of help. Ask your friend to make the phone calls
You don't have to tell your
support people everything. And the people you ask for help don't have to be
experts on rape, and they don't necessarily have to be people you know well.
Pick people whom your intuition tells you are smart and caring
* Always have a support person accompany
you to appointments, meetings, and discussions pertaining to the rape.
Never go alone to deal with the rape, whether it's an appointment with a
detective, a talk with your family, a routine visit to a victim assistance
center, or a brief meeting with a landlord, boss, or teacher. Bring someone
with you, no matter how minor the encounter. In fact, it's a very good idea to
have someone at your side even when you're making phone calls about the
Here are some of the reasons it is
so important that you as a rape victim have someone accompany you:
- There is still a very strong
tendency in our society for people to blame, disbelieve, or ostracize rape
victims. Having a support person at your side is your absolute best protection
against abuse by others because the person at your side is a witness to the
other person's actions.
- Having someone at your side
steadies you and makes you feel strong. Even at seemingly insignificant
encounters, such as asking a teacher to postpone a test because you were raped,
you can be suddenly thrown off balance if the person's response is cold and
unsympathetic. Being with a friend on these occasions not only serves to
prevent these kinds of responses, it also protects you from being completely
devastated and thrown off balance if they occur.
- The person who accompanies you
can help you remember information, and help you remember the questions you
wanted to ask.
- The person who accompanies you
can and should take notes. Having your support person take notes is an
additional means of preventing abuse.
- Having support persons accompany
you to appointments and meetings regarding the rape keeps these people informed
and engaged in what you're going through. Because they know what you're going
through, they can better support you in the future.
Again, the person you choose to
accompany you doesn't have to be an expert on rape. Your support person also
does not have to be the same person who accompanies you on every occasion. In
fact, it's a good idea to have different persons accompany you so no one person
becomes overly stressed.
* Treat your support persons
well. Remember, the friends who are helping you are also probably
feeling very upset and frightened by what you're going through. They probably
feel at a loss for exactly what they should be doing, and helpless that they
can't solve it all for you. So here's some things you can do that will help
your support person be better able to help you.
Always be very clear with your
friend exactly what it is you would like them to do. Tell them you know they
can't solve it all. Stay in good communication with the people who are helping
you. Thank them repeatedly for standing by you. And do remember, one person
can't do it all. If you see that your friend is getting overwhelmed, ask your
friend to help you find someone else to help, too.
* Get all your questions answered as soon
and as accurately as possible. Unanswered questions create intense
anxiety for rape victims, and the last thing you need is more anxiety. Here's
an example. The day after making a police report, a rape victim realizes the
officer didn't tell her what's going to happen next. As the hours pass she
becomes increasingly anxious. Are they going to arrest him? Am I supposed to be
doing something else? Is a detective going to call me? When is the detective
going to call? Instead of suffering with the anxiety of these questions it's
crucial that you get the answers as soon as possible.
Throughout the time of dealing
with the rape, you're going to have all kinds of questions like this going
through your mind. Get your questions answered as soon and as accurately as
possible. Don't feel ashamed or shy about asking. You have a right to get
complete and detailed answers to all your questions. Asking lots of questions
of the authorities you deal with is also helps prevent abuse from the
authorities. It lets them know you're paying attention.
If you don't feel satisfied with
the answers you get, call the person's boss, call another official, a victim
advocate, or call someone on the next shift. But don't suffer the anxiety of
If you feel too overwhelmed to
make the calls, ask a friend to make the phone calls for you. In fact making
phone calls and helping you get accurate information is a good example of the
kind of thing you can ask a friend to do.
* Establish Solid and Reliable Telephone
Communication. Making sure you have good and reliable telephone
communication is critical to your safety, critical to getting a good response
from authorities, and it is essential to preventing isolation.
Leave complete phone messages.
Most of the phone calls you make are going to be answered by voice mail or
message machines. Leave complete information about what you want and complete
information about how and when the person can get back to you. Take a minute
before you get on the phone to think about what you want to say ahead of time.
If you don't have a message machine. Try to get one. Or, make arrangements with
a reliable friend so that people can leave messages with her or him. Stay in
close communication with the people who are helping you.
If you don't speak English, don't
hesitate to leave messages in your own language. Officials are required to get
your message translated. Be sure and speak very slowly and clearly since the
person listening to your message may not speak your language perfectly. For
more information on what to do if you don't speak English, see Special for Immigrant Women.
* Keep a Notebook. It's virtually
impossible to keep track of all the information, names, phone numbers, case
numbers, appointments, and legal terms, that will come flooding over you as you
deal with the rape. The only way to keep these things from spinning out of
orbit is to keep them written down all in one notebook.
Writing everything down in a
notebook will also give you a good sense of security and control. In addition
to keeping track of information, use your notebook to write down questions you
want to ask and points of information you want to remember to tell others. And
when you're in a meeting or interview, have your support person take notes for
~ To help you keep track of your
case information you can download and use this form: My Case
* Prepare a two minute summary of your
case. The intense emotions you feel following a rape can overtake you
unpredictably, especially when you are talking with others about the assault.
When this happens your communication can easily become fragmented, frantic, and
These emotional swings and frantic
communication following a rape are completely normal. And they should also be
understandable to others. The problem is that many people are unable or
unwilling to deal with the intensity of these emotions. They stop listening to
you right at the time when you most need to be heard.
So here's a suggestion that can
help you immensely. Write a two or three minute summary of your story. Make
this summary as professional as possible. Then read over your summary every
time before you get on the phone or go to meetings pertaining to the rape. It
will help put you in a frame of mind where you can communicate factually and
coherently about the rape. You will be amazed how much more seriously officials
will treat your case when you can present your story coherently.
* Take time to think things out and
prepare before getting on the phone or walking into a meeting that deals in any
way with the rape, whether with family, associates, or
In addition to going over your one
paragraph summary of the rape, here's a brief check list that you can use to
prepare for talking with others about the rape:
- What is the main point(s) I want
- What is the main result I
- What are the main questions I
want to ask?
- What emotional tone do I want to
- What is the most likely obstacle
I could encounter?
- What is my best argument to
overcome the obstacle?
Write down your thoughts and
questions, and always have a pen and paper ready to take notes. Go over the
list and your answers with your support person. The best way to do all this is
to take 15 minutes before any meeting or take 5 minutes before any phone call
and focus on exactly what you want to accomplish. Doing this gives you control
and keeps you from being thrown off balance by other people's responses. It
also greatly increases the chances that you'll get what you need from your
interactions with others.
* Never make final, on-the-spot, decisions
on important matters on the phone or in meetings. Ask questions, and
then tell the person or official that you're going to think it over and that
you'll get back to them. Officials often try to pressure victims into making
quick, on-the-spot decisions. They often do this in order to pressure you into
decisions that you wouldn't make if you had time to think about on your own.
You can easily protect yourself from these pressures by always telling the
person you will think it over and give them a call with your decision the next
* Don't rely on work officials, school
officials, church officials, union officials, or housing officials to handle or
investigate your rape. In the first place, these people have little or
no experience in the investigation of rape and they will almost certainly make
a disastrous mess of your case. Often they will so mishandle witnesses and
evidence that they damage the possibility of a successful criminal
investigation. Second, none of these officials have the power or authority to
carry out a criminal investigation of the rape, nor do they have the power to
Most important of all, bosses,
school officials, church officials, union officials and housing officials
likely have a serious conflict of interest in your case, and that conflict will
heavily favor the rapist. These officials usually have a strong interest in
wanting to cover up the fact that a rape occurred in their institution. And
you, the victim, can easily be sacrificed to the cause.
If the rapist is a coworker, class
mate, or church associate, and you need the organization to act to remove the
rapist, use the police and courts to develop the evidence needed for
* If you are the parent of a victim of
child sexual abuse or a mandated reporter of child abuse, DO NOT rely on Child
Protective Services to investigate. Report the case to police. Child
Protective Services (called Child Welfare Agencies in some states) do not have
the authority, nor are they trained, to carry out criminal investigations, nor
do they have the power to arrest. Child Protective Services have only one power
and that is the power to remove children from the home. And they are free to
exercise this power at the lowest threshold of evidence.
It is far too easy for a Child
Protective Service worker to turn their investigation against you (the parent)
and accuse you of not protecting the child from the abuser. And with that
approach, they can take your child from you with the most minimal level of
evidence. This practice is common throughout the US. It is arbitrary. And far
too often it is extremely unjust. Until Child Protective Services around the
country stop these unspeakable and arbitrary practices, we can only advise you
to stay as far away from them as possible. If you think your child was sexually
abused, or if you are a teacher, health worker, or other mandated reporter who
suspects child abuse, report directly to the police and not to Child Protective
more information on the problems with Child Protective Services see:
Beware Child Protective Services! What Victims and Advocates
Need to Know
* If you wish to report a rape or child
sexual abuse report directly to the police. Rape is a violent crime.
The police are the only agency in society who have the power and authority to
carry out a criminal investigation, to make an arrest, and to put the
perpetrator under control. To be sure, the attitudes and response of police are
not perfect yet either. But at the very least, police have the power,
authority, training, and experience needed to do the job right.
* Be vigilant when dealing with the
criminal justice system. Because the response of the criminal justice
system is so important to rape victims, and because the system isn't perfect by
any means, we devote a whole section (see Part III below) for helping you get
the best response possible from the criminal justice system.
- Preventing and Dealing with Mistreatment from
Over the last 30
years, people's responses to rape victims have improved tremendously. However,
it is still likely that you will run into one or more persons who will treat
you badly. People may disbelieve you, ridicule you, abandon, blame, ostracize,
sabotage, threaten, betray you, or side with the rapist against you. These
painful and dangerous reactions can come from family, friends, and authorities
as well as from people associated with the rapist. It fact, it's particularly
devastating to rape victims when you're treated badly by the very people you
expected would help you.
Many victims say the betrayal of
these experiences is so painful that it was worse than the rape itself. That's
why, in the literature on rape, this all too common abusive treatment of rape
victims has been given the name, "the second rape".
In addition to being terribly
sexist and wrong, these all too common abuses of rape victims are also very
dangerous to the victim. These abusive reactions drive rape victims into
deepening isolation and despair. When these abuses gather steam, they can turn
the victim's whole social or family group against her. This can easily result
in losses to the victim of vital relationships, jobs, housing, school, or to
the loss of the victim's connections to help.
The disbelieving, blaming, and
ostracizing of rape victims is also dangerous to all women and girls. Driving
rape victims into isolation and despair is one of the ways a male dominated
society supports the ongoing existence of rape.
In this section we first give you
a couple examples of "the second rape". Then we give you some explanations of
why this so often occurs. Don't get discouraged as you read these. Remember
that we're going to show you how best to stop these abuses, and how to turn
them around so you get the positive help and support you deserve. The reason we
lay out what can go wrong in such detail is so that you and your friends will
recognize the problem early on if it starts to happen to you.
Two examples of
"the second rape":
- When Gloria was raped by her
coworker she went alone to her union representative to report the rape. Her
union representative told her he would look into it. A few days later Gloria
realized that the union had sided with the rapist. Gloria couldn't believe the
union wouldn't support her, but she still had hopes of getting help from a
company manager who was her friend. The same thing happened again. The manager
never even spoke to Gloria's witnesses, didn't investigate, and didn't move the
rapist out or her work area. When Gloria's friends at work saw that the company
didn't punish the rapist, they started wondering if Gloria was telling the
truth and they stopped supporting her. Within two months Gloria was frozen out
of her job.
- Antonia was raped by two
classmates on the school football team. At first Antonia's girl friends were
very supportive. But then the whole football team ganged up and started
spreading all kinds of lies and trash around school about Antonia. They also
started bullying Antonia's girlfriends. Pretty soon Antonia's girlfriends were
so afraid that they stopped defending Antonia. Then they stopped hanging out
with her. Now Antonia was alone. She got very depressed and didn't even want to
go to school. Antonia started cutting classes. The principal called her into
the office and gave her detention. Now Antonia was totally isolated and in
despair. Antonia dropped out of school.
Why Some People
Side with the Rapist and Mistreat the Victim
Here are some of the reasons that
alone or in combination that people mistreat rape victims. By understanding why
these reactions occur it can help you understand that none of these reactions
are your fault. And the rape isn't your fault either. It's also important for
you to understand these reasons so you won't be caught off guard, and so you
and your support persons will do all that you can ahead of time to prevent them
Don't get discouraged as you read
this. Remember, not all people react this way. And the tips below will show you
how to keep these abuses from happening to you, and how to keep a strong
support system at your side.
Some people side with the rapist
and mistreat the victim because:
- We still live in a male dominated
society in which men and their organizations control most of the power. Rape
itself is a crime of male dominance. After a rape occurs, the sexist, male
views of rape frequently resurface with a vengeance. These views easily gather
steam, join forces with the authority of powerful male dominated institutions,
and if not dealt with, will almost always lead to the protection of the rapist
and an easy overwhelming of the victim.
- In addition to the biases of
sexism working against the victim, it's just plain easier for people to side
with the rapist. Remember, in most rapes the rapist and the victim know each
other. Once the victim makes the charge of rape, the people around you both are
forced to take sides. It's almost always easier to take the side of the rapist.
If people believe the rapist, they can simply abandon the victim to fend for
herself. But if people believe the victim, they then have to go up against the
rapist and take action against him. Sadly, many people just don't have the
courage or strength of conviction to stand up to the rapist and his powerful
- Rape victims are usually young
females. Rapists are male and usually older than the victim. As such, the
rapist almost always has more social status than the victim. These inequalities
in our male dominated society add to the tendency of people to side with the
rapist and to shun the victim.
- The rapist has a criminal
mentality and he is willing to lie, manipulate, threaten, and bully others once
the charge of rape is made. The victim, on the other hand, is wounded and often
too weak to defend herself. In addition, she is not a criminal and as such she
is not willing to bully or intimidate others who don't support her. Once the
rapist starts bullying, lying, and rallying his buddies to his side, even the
victims' supporters often become afraid and fall silent in their defense of the
- Once the charge of rape is made
all the old sexist stereotypes of rape begin to surface. The old ideas about
what is proper behavior for a female are so extremely limiting that people can
always find a way to blame the victim. She was out too late, acting too sexy,
too innocent, too assertive, not assertive enough, drank too much, too bitchy,
too stupid, or too aloof. It simply does not matter what the woman or girl was
doing when she was raped. These old constrictions on female behavior provide
ample and convenient cover for those who want a way out of having to stand up
against a rape.
- Authorities too often don't take
rape seriously. When authorities don't take the rape seriously, people around
the victim get the message they don't have to take the rape seriously either.
Once authorities show they aren't taking the rape seriously, any support the
victim has been able to maintain generally begins to erode rapidly.
Taken alone or together, these
continuing manifestations of sexism in society make it so much easier for
cowardly people to accuse the victim of lying rather than to accuse a man of
rape. Fortunately, people are changing. And with a little help, you can stop
these abuses from happening to you.
dealing with mistreatment from others
Erosion of the rape victim's
support usually doesn't happen right away. In fact, initial reactions to rape
victims are often good. Authorities usually take an initial report. Friends of
the victim usually start out by accompanying and supporting the victim, and
family members often initially show great concern. It generally takes a little
time for the perpetrator to start organizing his own support and begin
bullying, lying, and retaliating in a way that erodes the victim's initial
This lead time gives the victim
and her advocates an opportunity to prevent the buildup toward targeting the
victim. Try as much as possible to prevent these negative reactions before they
start. Once vital relationships and social groups in your life turn against
you, it's much more difficult to correct them.
The following tips can be applied
to both prevention and correction of problems with others:
- Follow all the general
tips in the "General Tips" section above. In particular, always have
at least one support person with you when you deal in any way with the rape;
whether you're talking with police, family, school, church, housing, company
officials, or to rape services. Don't go alone to talk with others about the
rape. Having someone at your side at all times when you're dealing with the
rape is always your best protection against abuse by others.
Reread the General
Tips when you run into new problems. Things that didn't make an impression
when you read through the tips the first time around may apply directly to the
- Don't continue to
confront the people who are mistreating you, even if you think the person is
your friend. They will see that you are vulnerable and off balance. If
they don't hear you the first time you talk to them, it's likely they'll take
advantage of the situation by saying and doing things to hurt you even more.
Once you see someone is turning on you, stop trying to deal with that person on
your own. You're going to need help. And it's going to work out much better
when you get help.
- Get a good victim
advocate. Call your local rape crisis center. If at all possible, go
in and meet face to face with the victim advocate. Bring a friend with you.
Take full advantage of the services offered by the center. Tell the victim
advocate right away about any problems you are having with people around
One of the many ways you can use the
victim advocate is to ask the advocate to help you educate those people in your
life who are having trouble supporting you. Ask the victim advocate to talk
with your husband, your classmates, your family, your boss, teachers,
landlords, or whoever it is that is giving you trouble. You'll be amazed how
much more receptive people will be to a victim advocate or other professional,
even though the advocate is explaining the exactly same things you've been
trying to explain. This remedy is so effective that in the following section we
give you a more detailed look and some real life examples of how it
- At the first sign of
trouble, or even before you run into trouble, ask a good friend, a good
advocate or an authority to sit down and talk with the person or persons who
you think may be a problem. Here are some real life examples at how
this can work.
*** Celia was raped by her
husband's brother while her husband Jorge was at work. At first, Jorge
supported Celia. But when Jorge's parents began openly defending the brother,
Celia noticed that her husband began withdrawing his support. Jorge started
implying that Celia was stupid for being lured into a room alone with his
brother. Then it wasn't long before Jorge was accusing Celia of wanting to have
sex with his brother, and of making up the rape story later.
Celia realized that her own attempts to defend herself to her husband were
getting nowhere, Celia explained the problem to the detective on her case. She
asked the detective to sit down and talk with her husband. The detective took
this task seriously. He not only explained the evidence in the case to Jorge,
he also talked seriously with Jorge about the importance of supporting his wife
through the rape. With this help from the detective, Jorge stopped blaming
Celia, stood up to his family, and put the blame squarely on his
*** Cathy's 13 year-old
daughter was raped in their home by a man in a neighboring apartment. After a
few weeks of police involvement, both the rapist and Cathy received eviction
notices from the landlord. Since the crimes occurred at her apartment the
landlord said Cathy and her daughter had violated the ' no crime on the
premises' clause of the lease. When Cathy went to explain that she and her
daughter were the victims, she could see right away that it didn't make a bit
of difference to the landlord. So Cathy then went to a rape crisis victim
advocate to explain the problem. She asked the victim advocate to try and
communicate with the landlord to save her housing. The advocate wrote a letter
to the landlord and the landlord withdrew Cathy's eviction.
*** After Lily was raped
by her classmates, the girlfriends who at first stood by her side soon began
drifting away. Lily understood why but she felt so lonely and abandoned all she
wanted to do was stay in bed and cry all day. But instead of allowing herself
to be ostracized at school, Lilly went to her favorite teacher and explained
what was happening with her friends. She asked the teacher to please meet with
her friends and to help her friends understand what was happening. And she
asked the teacher to punish the boys for their bullying and name calling. The
teacher brought all the girls together in a group and supported the girls
throughout their support of Lily.
- Carefully select the
people who you want to advocate on your behalf. When it comes to
dealing with people who are giving you trouble, it's usually better if you can
select someone who has a position of authority. Police, victim advocates,
clergy, teachers, counselors, and other professionals generally carry more
weight and will likely be more effective in influencing the people who are
giving you trouble. But if you can't think of someone in authority, ask a smart
and caring friend.
Also, when selecting your advocates
and support persons, try to select people who are not in the same social circle
where the rape occurred, unless they are very special people. For example, if
the rapist was connected to your work, the people at your workplace may be too
fearful to effectively take your side, even if they are your close friends. The
same thing is true if the rapist is from your school. Your teachers and
classmates at the school might not be able to stand up to pressure from the
rapist, his friends, and all the school officials who are probably trying to
cover up the rape.
So think of the people you know and
respect who are outside the influence of the rapist and his friends.
It doesn't necessarily have to be someone you know well. Use your intuition. If
you think the person is kind and smart, they probably won't hesitate a moment
- Work closely with the
person or persons you select to advocate for you. Prepare the person
well by giving them a full explanation of whichever problem you'd like them to
help you with. Talk together and at length with them about what you want and
how to get the best results. Stay in good communication. Keep them up to date
on what's happening with you. Don't forget to say, ‘thank
- Remember, your support
persons need support too. Treat them like gold. They are your life
guards. They are the key to protecting you from abuse. At the same time, the
people who are trying to help you will have many fears of their own; fears that
they don't know exactly what they're supposed to do, fears that the hostile
environment will go against them too, fears of the intensity of your hurt. Your
friends need help too.
Have your friends read this text.
Always explain carefully and calmly how you would like your friends to help.
Give your friends the telephone number of your victim advocate so they can talk
to her too.
Always meet early with your support
persons before going into meetings. Always introduce your support persons with
respect. Ask your victim advocate, or the police, or other professionals to
talk with and support your friends. Ask them to explain to your friends what's
happening and how they can best support you. Make sure your friends have each
other's phone numbers so they can support each other and work together to help
you. Stay in touch with your friends. Always tell your friends how much you
appreciate their help.
- Remember, one person
can't do it all. Divide up the things you need help with. Perhaps, one
person can help you talk with your husband, another person can accompany you to
the interview with the detective, and still another person can help you explain
to your boss why you're going to miss a couple days of work.
- Make sure you are getting
good response from police and authorities. Serious treatment of your
rape by police is critical because it gives the message to everyone around you
that they too should treat the rape seriously. This doesn't necessarily mean
that you need a conviction before people get the idea that authorities are
taking the rape seriously. Even the initial involvement of police seriously
gathering evidence and questioning witnesses can be very effective in backing
down hostile reactions to you.
- Report all harassment and
criminal behavior to the police, the DA, or to the judge on your case.
If the people giving you trouble begin to make threats of harming you, or if
they attempt to dissuade you from testifying, they are committing a crime. Even
if you can't prove these cases you should still report them to police, and make
sure police write a criminal report. Remember, just the involvement of police
in this kind of behavior can be very effective in backing these people
And even if the harassment hasn't
gotten to a criminal level, remember that a good police officer is often
willing to confront the people directly and put a stop to it that way. Ask the
officer to do this for you.
If charges have been filed against
the rapist, ask the DA or judge on your case for criminal protective order.
Report each and every violation of the protective order immediately to police,
the DA, or to the judge on your case.
III - Obtaining Justice and Protection from the Criminal Justice
Rape is a serious
violent crime. Yet many rape victims have a very difficult time deciding
whether or not to report the rape to police. In fact, in the United States less
than one out of six rape victims report the rape to police. And very few of
these victims report the rape right away.
This is tragic because the
criminal justice system has more power to help rape victims than any other
institution. The criminal justice system, and only the criminal justice system,
has the power and authority to do a criminal investigation of your rape, and to
arrest, convict, punish, and remove the rapist from society. The criminal
justice system is the only system that can intervene with force when your
safety is threatened. The criminal justice system is also the only system that
can put the criminal investigation findings and testimony on the public record.
That record of truth finding is essential for justice. And justice is essential
to your healing and to the healing of the community. Justice is also essential
to stopping future rapes.
As a rape victim you have a right
to have these immense criminal justice system powers work for you. But many
rape victims still despair of obtaining justice, and for good reason. It is
true that police, prosecutors, and judges have a terrible record of dealing
with the crime of rape.
The most common abuse of criminal
justice officials against rape victims is that these officials frequently try
to dump rape cases. It is well documented in many sources that widespread
dumping of rape cases goes on today in law enforcement agencies around the
But there is hope. And here's why
we think you should seriously consider reporting your rape to police. There are
more and more criminal justice officials who treat your safety and sexual
assault seriously. Training and investigative techniques on rape have greatly
improved. And even if you run into trouble with one official or another, there
are other officials who are willing to help. But most importantly, there are
many, many things you and your support persons can do to get a positive and
just response from police, prosecutors, and judges.
This section provides information
and tips that should help you as a rape victim get the justice and protection
you deserve from the criminal justice system.
Be Aware; But
Being aware, paying attention, and
always going with a friend through the criminal justice system are your best
protections against mistreatment. Here are some basic facts you and your
support persons should know about the criminal justice system.
- The criminal justice system is
not nearly as complicated as it first seems. It's true you're probably going to
be unfamiliar with many of the terms and procedures of the criminal justice
system. But don't be intimidated. Criminal investigation and criminal
procedures are mostly common sense. With a little help you're going to be able
to figure it out without much trouble at all. So don't be intimidated by the
system. Ask questions, use your common sense, and you will be able to
understand everything you need to understand.
- ~ To help you keep
track of your case information you can download and use this form: My Case
- The criminal justice system, like
the rest of society, is going through great change in its response to rape. In
the course of pursuing a criminal rape case you are likely to run into a full
range of responses from different officials. You're likely to encounter
officials who are knowledgeable and helpful with your needs. You're going to
run into some officials who will need just a little prodding to do the job
right. And you're also likely to run into officials who are neanderthals and
who will work against you by trying to dump your case or by violating your
Don't be shocked if you run into
officials who are sexist, racist, who lie to you, who violate your rights, or
who try to make you and your case go away. Don't try to pretend it isn't
happening. Trust your intuition. That way you can deal with the individual
right away before he has the chance to damage you or your case.
- Remember that the single most
common abuse of the criminal justice system against rape victims is that the
officials may try to dump your case. Pay particular attention if you feel like
the official is trying to get rid of you or your case. There are many things
you can do to stop it from happening once it starts.
- And it's worth repeating, don't
let these facts discourage you from reporting to police. Things are improving
rapidly even in the male dominated field of law enforcement. There are many
things you and your support persons can do to correct problems along the way.
But the first key to a positive response is to be aware, pay attention, and go
with a friend at your side.
Rights and Exercise Your Rights. Over the last quarter century
state legislatures throughout the U.S. have passed a number of important
victims' rights laws. If you know your rights, and know what to do when your
rights are violated, officials will be much more likely to take your case
seriously. For a summary of those rights for victims in California, see our
section called, Know Your
The most important right for rape
and sexual assault victims is your right (in California PC 679.04) to be
accompanied at all times throughout the criminal justice process by a victim
advocate and by a support person of your choice. For more discussion of this
most crucial right and how to exercise this right, click here.
This is the best way to protect
yourself from abuse in the criminal justice system. Do not let officials
separate you from your advocates or from your support person, especially in
meetings and interviews. Do have your support persons take notes.
Things to watch
out for that may indicate that officials are not handling your case seriously
- Watch out for officials with a
bad attitude. This is pretty easy to do. Most rape victims can immediately
detect an official's bad attitude.
The problem is that because of the
trauma of the rape, most rape victims feel very unsure of themselves. They
often don't trust their own judgment. Rape victims often find it difficult to
admit they're being mistreated by the people who are supposed to be helping
them. And they find it even more difficult to protest the abuse.
So if you sense that police,
prosecutors, or other officials are not treating your case seriously and
respectfully, pay attention. You are probably right, and you need to get help
to deal with it right away. If an official responds to you in any way with
disrespect, lack of concern for your safety, an accusatory tone, disbelief,
lack of interest, annoyance, intimidation, or attempts to isolate you from your
support person, trust your judgment! These bad attitudes are a strong
indication the officer is not taking your case seriously.
that officials are not handling your case seriously or properly.
- Watch out for
unresponsive behavior. One of the most common and easiest ways that
officials have of dumping a rape case is to simply ignore you. The reason this
works so well is that rape victims find it very difficult to assert themselves
and even more difficult to push the police. Watch out for long delays in
returning phone calls, unclear explanations about what happens next, sloppy
answers to your questions, or disinterest in answering your questions. These
are more warning signs the official may be attempting to dump your
- Watch out for an
official's unwillingness to ask you about and then accommodate your
needs. Failure to be openly concerned about your need for privacy,
support, safety, housing, etc., is much more than just a sign the officer is
impolite. In order to successfully pursue a rape case, officials must pay close
attention to the needs of the victim.
- Watch out for incomplete
investigations. This is another very common way that officials dump
rape cases. If officials don't gather all the evidence, then it's easy for them
to tell you, "We're very sorry, we'd like to help, but there's not enough
evidence to go forward with your case." If an official tells you there's not
enough evidence, or that your case is a 'he said, she said' case, or that the
district attorney won't file, or that the defense will attack you for this or
that, it may very well be that the official is just trying to get rid of
So it's very important that you and
your support persons take a look at your own case as if you were the detective.
And it's important that you evaluate whether or not the gathering of evidence
is complete. Were all your witnesses interviewed? Was your interview complete?
Did the detective suggest a pretext call? Were all the leads followed in the
case? Was there an attempt made to find other victims? Further on we'll give
you more detailed information on how to evaluate the evidence in your
For now, the important thing to
remember is that a good investigation is mostly common sense. So if an official
tells you there's not enough evidence in your case, you and your friend should
be able to do a pretty good job of figuring out if the officer is lying to you
- Watch out for officials
who attempt to divert you and your case out of the criminal justice
process. You would be amazed how often police and prosecutors tell
rape victims to go somewhere else for help. Many tell women to take their case
to get counseling, to move out of town, to go to family court, to go to Child
Protective Services. All of this is nothing more than police and prosecutors
telling rape victims to get lost. Remember, rape is a violent crime, and it's
the job of police and prosecutors to investigate your case thoroughly, to
protect your safety, and to do everything possible to obtain justice for you
and the community.
- Watch out for bad
interview techniques. The police interview of you is the single most
significant piece of evidence in a rape case. Whenever you are interviewed, the
official should: allow you to be accompanied by an advocate and support person,
take notes, tape record the interview, should ask you in detail about events
leading up to the rape, events during the rape, and events that followed the
rape. The official should also explore with you and listen carefully to all
your suggestions for leads to evidence and witnesses in the case..
When interviewing you, the official
should never interrogate you even if there are contradictions in your story,
should not try scare you out of reporting or testifying by telling you how the
defense team can attack you, should not attempt to isolate you from your
advocate and support persons, and should never in any way imply that you are to
blame for the rape.
criminal case. Ask lots of questions. Keep lots of Notes
If you are like most women, your
rape is probably the first time you've had any experience with the criminal
justice system. You will likely feel uninformed, intimidated, helpless, and
overwhelmed by the complexities of the process. What is supposed to happen
next? When? What are the charges? What do the charges mean? When will he be
arrested? What is the case number? The name of the detective? What's the
purpose of a preliminary hearing? What is a plea bargain? Ask! Ask! Ask! Asking
a lot of questions not only keeps you informed, it also tells officials you are
paying attention. This by itself, helps to reduce abuse.
If one person doesn't answer your
question to your satisfaction, ask someone else. Keep reminding yourself that
you have a right to respect, to justice, and to protection. Remind yourself
that your taxes pay for proper services.
Think like a
detective. Help Build the Evidence.
Mentally working on building your
own case can help you in a lot of ways. It helps put you back in control and
helps you take an aggressive attitude toward the rapist. It also helps prevent
abuse from officials because they can see that you're paying attention. And one
other great benefit is that you're very likely to significantly strengthen the
case. This is because you, as the victim, are at the center of the event, and
you know the circumstances best.
So we've put together a list of
some of the kinds of things that frequently make good evidence in rape cases.
The list isn't complete by any means, but it should help you and your friends
start thinking about the kinds of evidence that might help you build and
strengthen your own case.
Some examples of rape case
- Your detailed
descriptions of people and places and the events. The details of your
descriptions can support your case in two important ways. First, they can help
prove the rapist is lying. For example, if you can describe the inside of the
perpetrator's bedroom and the perpetrator says you were never in his bedroom,
those details you give become a piece of evidence that the perpetrator is
- Second, the details of your
descriptions build your credibility. Truth has a ring to it. And it's the
details of your description that provide the aura and substance of your
credibility. Many times you will remember important details after you have
already talked with the police. Write these things down in your notebook and
pass them on to the officer on your case as soon as possible.
- The rapist's pre-rape
behavior: Most rapists plan their rape. By carefully exploring the
rapists pre-rape behavior you can often find details that provide good
corroboration of the fact that he was planning a rape. And though there's
rarely a witness to the rape itself, you can often find witnesses to some of
this pre-rape planning. For example, there may be witnesses to the rapist's
efforts to isolate you from others, his abrupt dismissal of other persons, his
closing off your exit.
- Your post-rape
behavior. Much of a victim's post rape behavior often provides very
good corroborating evidence of a rape. Who were the first people you talked to
following the rape? How did you act and what did you do following the rape? Did
you change your routine in any way (did you skip school classes, avoid places
where the perpetrator might be, stay in your room, grow silent, change the
locks, park in a different place, go to a health clinic, try to hide the rape
by giving others unusual explanations for your behavior, cancel appointments)?
Who were witnesses to this behavior?
- Other Victims:
Other victims of the same rapist are one of the most overlooked sources of good
evidence in rape and child sexual assault. Even good detectives often forget to
look for other victims who have been raped or assaulted by the same
Most all rapists are serial rapists.
You are probably not the first person this man has raped. In fact it's very
likely that other victims of the same rapist are right there in your own social
circle. If you can locate other victims, this can provide powerful and very
convincing evidence in your case. If you find others who have been raped or
assaulted by the same man, give their names to the police. Don't try to
interview them yourself.
- Pretext Calls:
Pretext calls can provide key evidence, and sometimes conclusive evidence, in
your case. A pretext call is a phone call made by the victim to the perpetrator
with the police guiding and recording the call. It's called a pretext call
because together, the victim and the police invent a scenario ahead of time
that will best trap the rapist into talking about the rape.
For example, if your boyfriend raped
you, you might get on the phone and say something like, "If we're ever going to
see each other again, we need to talk about what happened the other night".
Because most victims know the rapist, and know his psychology, rape victims can
often come up with excellent scenarios to trap the rapist into talking about
It's not unusual for a rapist to be
convicted on the basis of the pretext call tape made by the victim and the
police. So make sure the detective in your case makes use of this important
evidence: The kinds of physical evidence that can substantiate your
story are so extensive we can't begin to cover it here. Physical evidence can
range from everything from your injuries, to DNA, to a beer bottle left at the
scene, a video tape at a 7-11, broken locks, grass stains, cloth fibers, and on
and on. Think about what there might be in your case, brainstorm with a friend,
and you might be surprised with the evidence you can come up with. Remember,
good detective work is mostly common sense. So put your mind to it.
For more information, see
do when you feel criminal justice officials are mishandling your
- Respond Quickly.
Don't wait and worry because you're not quite sure if your case really is being
mishandled. Trust your intuition. If things aren't being done properly, you
don't want the situation to deteriorate. On the other hand, if things are going
all right, and there's a good explanation for what's happening, you need to
know the answer to alleviate your anxiety and to restore your confidence in the
- Make Phone Calls and talk
with others about your concern. Talk with your support persons or
advocate to help you form a plan of action. Then call the officer in question,
or the officer's boss, whichever seems most appropriate for the
State your concern as clearly as
possible. "The detective hasn't returned my phone calls in two weeks." "The
detective hasn't interviewed one of the witnesses." "The prosecutor says
there's not enough evidence to file on the case, and I think there is enough
Keep asking questions. Always take
notes during these phone conversation. In fact, let the official know you're
taking notes by asking the official to slow down because you're
If the answers you get don't fully
satisfy you, it's entirely possible that you're being lied too. It's also
possible that the explanation you're being given is correct. Many rape victims
at this point are afraid to keep calling officials because they're afraid they
might be wrong, and they're afraid the officer or detective will get mad at
them. In our experience, an official who is doing things right doesn't get
angry with a victim who is trying to get satisfactory answers to a question. If
an officer gets upset with you for going over his head it's usually because
that officer was doing something wrong.
So make that telephone call to the
officer's boss, or to the boss's boss. Or have an advocate or good friend make
the call for you. But don't stop trying to get answers to your concerns until
you are completely satisfied with the response.
- If the situation doesn't
get quickly corrected after you've made a few phone calls, arrange a meeting
with the head of the investigative unit or the head of the prosecution
unit. Be sure and bring at least one other person with you.
Meet a half hour early with the
support people who are going to be with you during the meeting. Prepare them on
the issues you're going to cover during the meeting. Tell them how you would
like them to support you. Ask one of your support persons to take
- Put your Protest in
Writing: Many people find it very difficult to put their complaint in
writing. Yet putting your complaint in a letter is one of the quickest and most
powerful ways to get a response.
Your letter of complaint doesn't have
to be long or complicated. In fact, the shorter and simpler you make your
letter, the more effective it will be. If possible have other people sign the
letter with you. And just as important, make sure you send the letter to more
than one person, and make doubly sure you list all the people you're sending
the letter to at the bottom of the letter.
Below is an example of a letter by
a woman protesting the handling of her case by the detective in the
Sample letter to
protest the handling of a rape case.
The following letter is
Dear Police Chief Andy
I am the victim in the rape case
against Daniel Jones. I am writing because I am concerned about some things
that have happened in the investigation of the case.
I have called detective Rich and
left messages on his phone three times in the last two weeks. Detective Rich
has never called me back.
In addition, in the first phone
message two weeks ago, I gave the detective the names and phone numbers of two
witnesses who saw me with my clothes torn after the rape. When I talked to
these witnesses yesterday, they both said the detective hadn't contacted them
I am very upset that the detective
hasn't returned my phone calls and hasn't interviewed important witnesses in my
rape case. The rapist told me he would make me sorry if I called the police.
But I trusted that police would treat the rape and my safety
Please look into this and respond
to me right away. I'm sure you would agree this needs to be corrected now
without delay. I'm sure that as chief of police, you want to assure that I am
safe and that all women in the community are safe from rapists like Daniel
Thank you for your
Anita Garcia Sonia Martin
case victim Victim Advocate Anita's Friend
c: Mayor Tony Perez and Santa Rita
Santa Rita Domestic Violence Council
District Attorney Martha Wilson
Director of the State Office of Criminal Justice Planning
State Attorney General
* * For
Help Writing Your Letter, see,
How to Write
an Effective Letter to Make the
System Work for You
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