Teaching Scenarios: Responding to Rape, Domestic Violence, and Child Abuse
The following teaching scenarios
are designed for use in groups and classes of all kinds. Although they are
phrased in terms of what to do if you have "a friend" in a given situation, the
scenarios are designed to educate everyone, including people who work with
victims in a professional capacity, such as victim advocates; teachers, law
enforcement, clergy, health workers, and counselors.
The best way to use these
scenarios is to break up a larger group into smaller groups of three or four
people each. Give each group a copy of the scenario (without the answers, of
course), and then give the groups enough time to discuss each situation and
come up with a plan of action. This approach accomplishes an additional
educational goal of getting people to talk with each other seriously and in
detail about violence against women - something that is still very difficult
for most people in our culture. Small groups also tend to generate
well-thought-out responses. In fact, don't be surprised if you get some action
plans and answers that are better than the ones we've provided here.
And one word of warning!
Remember, these are fictional examples. Real situations are complex and require
full consideration of individual circumstances. Remember too, that in a real
situation you shouldn't take a given action until you're sure it's something
the victim wants you to do.
A friend comes to you extremely agitated and says her husband beat her last
night. She says she doesn't know what to do. You can see she's very panicky.
Everything you suggest just seems to provoke more anxiety and fears. When you
try to respond to one aspect of the problem, your friend interrupts frantically
and jumps to another. What can you do to help?
FACT: No matter
how good your advice, it simply won't be of much help to give that advice to
someone who is overwhelmed with panic or anxiety. The suggestions and thoughts
you put out won't get through to her, and it's not very likely she'll remember
them later. Assuming there's no imminent danger, a panicky victim of trauma
must first be calmed before any kind of problem solving can be
a. Tell your friend firmly you
want her to stop for a minute. Ask her to try to listen to you for just a
minute without interrupting. When you have her focused attention, tell her it's
perfectly natural for her to feel panicky and afraid given what she's been
through. Reassure her that you're going to help, but first the two of you need
to slow everything down.
b. Set the stage. Get your friend
seated and physically comfortable. Get her a drink of water or tea. Get a
notebook so you and she can write things down you want to remember. Ask her to
tell you what happened. As much as possible, ask questions in a logical order.
Then try to evaluate and prioritize her most urgent needs, putting aside those
things that can be solved later.
c. Recent victims of crime and
trauma usually have to be calmed down repeatedly, because the very powerful
emotions overcome them in waves. When that happens, stop the problem-solving
conversation, suggest taking a minute or two out, talk soothingly to your
friend, then ask her if she feels ready to work on the problems
You find your teenage daughter crying and sobbing inconsolably in her bedroom.
When you finally get your daughter to talk, she tells you that she was raped
the night before by her boyfriend. But when you suggest calling the police or a
rape crisis center, your daughter adamantly refuses, and says she doesn't want
to talk to anyone. How do you help your daughter?
FACT: This is a
very common and difficult situation. On the one hand, because rape is a crime
that robs a person of their self determination at the most intimate level, the
last thing you want to do is force that person to do something else against
their will; especially something like trying to make them talk about the rape
when they don't want to talk about it. At the same time, a teenage girl is
still a child, and as with all youngsters in crisis, it's often necessary for
adults to step in and take charge for the sake of the youngster's safety and
a. Acknowledge this dilemma in
words to your daughter. Tell her that you want very much to respect her wishes
as to how to handle the rape, but at the same time, as her mother (or father),
you need to make sure she is safe and cared for. Throughout the time you're
dealing with your daughter's rape, repeat this concern for her often and in
b. Instead of trying to probe and
push your daughter for the details of the rape, explore with her whom she would
feel most comfortable talking to. Suggest the possibility of talking to someone
anonymously over the phone. Ask her what she feels she most needs, and try to
fulfill those needs, even if she says she wants to be left alone for a while.
Then come back in and talk with her some more.
Talk with her about her fears and
any threats that were made. Offer to get the information necessary to calm her
fears or to protect her from the object of her fears. For example, if your
daughter fears going to the police because she thinks her name will be in the
paper, offer to call the local police department and find out for your daughter
exactly what the department's policies are regarding release of rape victims'
c. The parental decisions you make
about when and if to take actions against your daughter's wishes are likely to
be difficult, and may bring on strong reactions from your daughter. Try to keep
her as much involved in the decisions as possible. For example, if you decide
to call the police even though she doesn't want you to, give her as much
control over the situation as possible, such as having her choose who she would
like to accompany her to police, or having her decide whether you go to the
station or call the police to your home.
You notice that a young woman with a baby in your neighborhood seems alone,
isolated, and depressed. She seems afraid to get into conversations, as if she
fears getting punished. You suspect she's being abused. What can you
young mothers with small children are at the highest risk for domestic
a. At a safe time, invent a
pretext to talk with her; ask to borrow something, ask for a ride to the store,
or offer a ride, invite her to go to a garage sale, etc.
b. In a calm moment, tell her
directly you've been worried about her because she seems so isolated and
afraid. Ask her if she is OK. Tell her you are willing to help her find help,
or to make phone calls for her to get information, if she wishes. Tell her that
even if she doesn't want or need anything right now, that she should feel free
to ask anytime. Try to stay in contact with her.
Your friend comes to you and tells you her husband was arrested last night for
domestic violence. She says she doesn't know what's going to happen next, what
exactly he was arrested for, whether or not she has to do anything like testify
or get a restraining order, and she doesn't know how to find all this out
either. How can you help your friend?
extremely important that victims of violent crime be informed and stay informed
about the criminal case. The information itself greatly reduces a victim's
anxiety. Staying informed is also the first step in guarding against any
mishandling of the case.
a. Get your friend a notebook.
Then help her — and show her — how to get the
b. Start by calling the county
jail. Almost all county jails provide current suspect information 24 hours a
day. At any time of day or night, you can call the county jail and find out the
charges he was booked on, the amount of bail, the arresting agency, the crime
report number, the next court date, court time, and place.
c. Some other ways to get
additional information are: read over any paperwork the responding officers
left with your friend, call and talk to an on-duty sergeant at the arresting
police department, or call the arresting officer. Call a victim advocate, too.
As the case progresses, add the district attorney's office to your list of
sources of information.
You've been helping your friend ever since she was raped by a coworker. Today
she tells you she just called the detective because she hadn't heard from him
in four weeks. She says the detective told her he was very sorry but the case
is a "he said, she said" situation and they won't be able to prosecute. The
detective also said he had interviewed the suspect and the suspect seemed like
a nice guy. Your friend is devastated. She feels there is a lot of evidence
pointing to the rapist's guilt. What can you do for your friend?
police handling of rape cases is improving, it is still generally inexcusably
poor. Way too many police remain ignorant about how to handle and investigate
rape cases, and way too many just plain don't like rape cases, so they try to
get rid of these cases, often by letting the case run dormant and cold. But
there are many unique investigative techniques that make acquaintance rape
cases often very simple to solve, such as pretext phone calls, close
examination of the suspect's pre-rape behavior, of the victim's post-rape
behavior, her post-rape conversations with others, and much more.
a. Tell your friend it's nowhere
near time to lose hope. Tell her it sounds to you as if this detective is just
trying to dump the case. The fact that the detective didn't call her for four
weeks is suspicious to begin with. So is the fact that he referred to the case
as a "he said, she said," which is true of virtually all crimes. After all, the
suspect usually says the opposite of the victim no matter what the crime. That
the detective didn't send the case to the District Attorney's office to make
the final decision on prosecution is also suspicious. And perhaps most alarming
of all is the detective's cruel statement to the victim that the suspect
"seemed like a nice guy." That's the kind of statement that reveals a
detective's attitude toward rape cases, and by itself is a strong indication
the detective is dumping the case.
b. Tell your friend there are a
number of things you and she can do to get the case handled properly. The two
of you can arrange a meeting with the head of the sex crimes unit. Or you can
write a letter outlining your concerns, what the detective said, and give your
reasons why you think the case can be solved. You can send the letter to the
chief of police and a copy to the mayor. Or you can call a victim advocate and
ask her to help you be heard, or you can call a trusted police officer in
another department and ask him or her for advice.
c. If your friend is nervous about
doing these things, remind her that she has every right to a full and competent
investigation of the rape. It's just that sometimes women have to fight very
hard for justice.
You've been helping your friend get out of a violent marriage. She got the
police to arrest him, she testified against him, she got a restraining order
and she got custody of the children. And even with all this going on, she got a
new job, too. Your friend has been doing very well, indeed, putting together a
new life for herself and her kids.
But today your friend calls you in
tears and desperation. She just got a legal notice of cause from the landlord
to evict her from her apartment. The notice says police have been called to the
household too many times, and because there's a `no crime on the premises'
policy, the landlord has taken the first legal step to evict. What can you do
to help her?
situation is all too common and very unjust. Most landlords just don't care
whether she was the victim or the perpetrator of the crime. Theoretically, this
kind of eviction of domestic violence victims should be considered
discrimination against women under the housing civil rights codes. But case law
to date doesn't support that view. Nonetheless, there are a couple of things
you can try that may save her housing.
a. Have your friend gather her
rental agreement, the legal notice that came in the mail, and a notebook. Find
out as much as you can about her legal rights and options. Start by calling
your regional office of Fair Housing and other housing agencies. Even if your
friend doesn't have a legal right to stay in the apartment, there are usually a
number of steps she can take to delay the eviction process a number of
b. Make a direct appeal to the
landlord. But first appeal to the most professional people your friend knows -
perhaps a teacher, her minister, her health care worker, a professional
neighbor, or her boss. Ask them to help by signing a letter to the landlord or
by meeting with the landlord. Ask them to explain to the landlord how hard your
friend has fought to get the violence out of the apartment, and the many ways
in which she is stabilizing her life. Suggest to the landlord that your friend
has proved she won't tolerate violence, and that she is exactly the kind of
tenant he should want to keep.
c. If all else fails, plead with
the landlord for sufficient time for your friend to look around and find an
appropriate new home.
Your friend is very upset about the abusive behavior she received from police
when she went to report being beaten by her ex-husband. And she's also upset
because she doesn't think the officer took her situation seriously because he
didn't take any notes. When you suggest going to a sergeant or a captain to
protest the abusive officer, and to ask that the report be better handled, your
friend seems more frightened than ever and says she doesn't want the police to
be hostile with her too.
that one of the deepest injuries of rape and domestic violence, is that the
victim's right to self-determination has been violently taken over by another.
When you're trying to help an adult victim of rape or domestic violence, one of
the most important guidelines is to respect at all times the victim's right to
control her own course of action, even when you feel strongly that another
course of action is better.
a. Before trying to tell your
friend why you think it would be better to go to a sergeant or captain to
complain and get the report redone, tell your friend very clearly that you're
going to respect her decision 100 percent about how to handle the situation.
Tell her you're never going to intervene against her will. Then ask her if you
can explain why you think your suggestion is good for her safety.
b. If your friend still thinks
this idea isn't right for her, try suggesting some other possibilities, like
having her write up a statement of the things she thinks the officer should
have written down, taking that statement to the police department, and telling
the person at the desk that you want to enter the statement into the crime
report if one was written, or suggesting she get a restraining order. Tell her
without something on the record, you're very worried for her safety.
c. If your friend still doesn't
want to do any of these things, don't push her. Remind her that you're going to
respect her decision. Tell her that you're still going to be there for her any
time she wants help. Very often, even though it doesn't seem so to you, other
people know what timing and action is best for themselves. Remember too, that
just by having laid out options to your friend, you have helped her immensely
by having opened her field of possibilities.
A coworker friend of yours is being sexually harassed by another coworker at
the company where you all work. It all started when your friend said she didn't
want to go out on a date with the guy. At first, he started sending her sexy
cards and flowers even when your friend told the man she wanted it to stop.
Then he began following your friend out to the parking lot after work. She just
kept repeating to him that she didn't want to date him, and kept asking him to
please leave her alone. But he just kept getting more persistent. Now your
friend comes to you shaking. She shows you a note that was left on her
windshield that says, "You will die, bitch." She wants to know what she can say
to him to just make him leave her alone. What can you do now to help your
FACT: It is true
that this is a case of sexual harassment in the workplace, which is a violation
of your friend's civil rights. And as such, the company is required under civil
rights law to make sure the harassment of your friend is stopped. But if you
look closely at most cases of workplace and school sexual harassment, you'll
often see that the harasser's actions are also criminal. Stalkers are very
dangerous. They rarely stop unless they are made to stop by authorities, and
they should be reported to the police.
a. Tell your friend you are very
worried for her safety. Tell her she should stop talking or responding to him
in any way, that even her negative response to him will make things worse. Tell
her you will accompany her to report to the police and to the
b. Before going to report to the
police and to the company, make photocopies of the threatening note and of the
cards. Make at least one set of copies for your friend to keep and one for the
company. Police will want the originals. Also before going to report, have your
friend jot down as many of the incidents as possible and have her bring those
notes with her when she goes to report so that she can give as thorough a
report as possible. Once at the police station or in a manager's office
nervousness often causes people to forget important aspects of the
c. Help your friend get a
restraining order against the perpetrator so that all future attempts at
contact by the perpetrator will be criminal acts for which he can be
Your friend tells you that she received a subpoena in the mail to testify
against the man who raped her. She says she's really afraid to go forward with
the case because she lied to the detective that interviewed her. She told the
detective she wasn't using drugs when she was raped. She tells you she was
afraid that if she told the detective she was using drugs, they wouldn't pursue
the case, or that they would arrest her, or not believe her about the rape. But
the truth is she was using cocaine with the man who raped her. Your friend
doesn't want to lie about this anymore, but she's still afraid if she tells the
truth now the case will be ruined. What advise can you give your
FACT: Though it
is extremely unusual for women to lie about a rape or domestic assault, it
sometimes happens that a victim withholds key information, or lies about,
peripheral aspects of the case at early police interviews. Victims may do this
because they fear that police won't believe them, won't pursue the case, or
will arrest them. In general, however, if the victim of a serious crime (such
as rape or domestic violence) was herself in violation of a lesser crime (such
as using drugs or violating her probation), police will pursue the more serious
crime and ignore the victim's lesser offense. In addition, a good prosecutor
can explain this kind of victim behavior to the court, and can explain the
reason for the lie. And they can usually keep it from damaging the prosecution
a. Tell your friend that victims
sometimes withhold or lie about information surrounding a rape for the reasons
given above. But now it's important that she go to the detective or the
prosecutor on the case and tell the truth. Tell her this kind of lie rarely
derails the possibility of prosecution.
b. If at all possible, try to
arrange an in-person meeting with the detective or prosecutor to convey this
information. And try to make sure that when she goes to this meeting that you
or another good friend will accompany her.
Your friend calls you to tell you that she called 911 last night because her
husband was threatening to kill her. She said her husband even showed her the
gun he was going to use, and then he showed her the bullet. Her husband pushed
the bullet hard against her forehead and said, "It's going right through
there." Your friend says that the police officer that came to the house didn't
speak very good Spanish, and since you're friend doesn't speak any English, she
doesn't think the officer understood most of what she was saying. She says her
husband just kept telling the police, "She's crazy, she's crazy," and it seemed
like the officer believed him. Your friend says the officer didn't arrest the
man or take his gun out of the house. How can you help your friend?
FACT: 1. Threats
to kill are a crime, and they should be taken very seriously, especially when
the threat contains specific details about how it will be carried out. The
police officer in this case should have arrested the man, or at the very least
the officer should have given your friend an emergency protective order,
removed the man from the house, removed the guns from the house, and written a
criminal report against the man for making terrorist threats.
2. It is most crucial in domestic
violence, rape, and child abuse cases that all interviews with non-English
speaking victims be done by fully bilingual officers or by professional
translators. Most all police departments have 24 hour access by telephone to
banks of professional interpreters. There's no excuse for officers' not using
these services to assure full and accurate victim statements.
a. Remind your friend that she has
a Constitutional right to equal protection of the law, even though she doesn't
speak English, and even though she may not be in the country with proper
documents. Go down to the police station with your friend. Tell the front desk
the story of what happened with your friend the night before. Tell them you are
concerned that the officer didn't understand the seriousness of the situation
because of language problems. Tell them you want either a fully bilingual
officer or a professional translator to talk with your friend so that police
will have an accurate victim statement. And so that the case can get handled
properly, including having the guns and the perpetrator removed from the
b. Also, have your friend write
out a full statement of what happened. Naturally she should write it in
Spanish. Make two or three photocopies of that statement. Have your friend keep
at least one copy for herself. Give the original to the police. Ask the police
to enter that statement into the criminal case file. Your friend should also
get a domestic violence restraining order against her husband. And if the
husband isn't in custody, your friend should stay in a shelter or other safe
c. Suggest to your friend that she
file a formal complaint against the officer for failing to treat her case
competently and seriously.
For a couple of years now you've tried to convince your friend to get out of a
violent relationship and sometimes it seems like she tries. You notice that
things have gotten much more serious over the last month. You've seen a lot
more bruises. She's told you he's been playing with his guns and making threats
to hunt her down if she tries to leave. She says that the last couple days he's
been constantly waking her up in the middle of the night to rant and order her
around, and during the day he won't leave the house. Today she calls you and
says that last night things were so bad she tried to leave. But he grabbed her
before she could get out the door, threw her in their room and raped her
brutally. He said he would never let her go, and threatened that if she dared
call the police he was going to kill her for sure. There are moments in the
conversation when your friend sounds terrorized, but mostly she seems paralyzed
by numbness, despair, and exhaustion. Suddenly she says "He's here", and hangs
up. How can you help your friend?
FACT: Though you
should always respect a victim's decisions about how to handle her own
situation, there are exceptions. In this case there are a number of things
indicating a very high risk of imminent danger - the escalating violence around
her attempts to leave, the repeated threats to kill, the gun play, the middle
of the night rants and daytime unwillingness to leave, the sexual violence, and
your friend's terror and exhaustion - all these together suggest a very high
potential for homicide. Every once in a while there comes a situation like this
where you may well decide you just have to reach in and save a life.
a. It's difficult to decide when
to reach in and take drastic action. But once you make that decision, be sure
you follow through. Once you decide to take action, it's then often just as
difficult to decide which action to take. Again, once you decide, follow
through fully. Here are a couple things you might do in this case.
b. You could consider calling your
friend back in ten minutes. If you can get her on the phone, tell her you are
concerned enough for her safety, you're going to call the police. Tell her that
when the police arrive she should tell them everything she told you.
c. You could call the police with
or without having talked with your friend. Ask to speak to a sergeant. Don't
vacillate and don't minimize the situation. Tell the sergeant you are concerned
for your friend's immediate safety and tell the sergeant why. Don't get off the
phone with the officer until you are certain he or she understands the urgency.
Tell the officer whether or not your friend knows you are calling. Ask them
what action they will to take.
d. Another possible course of
action in this case would be to call other significant people in the couple's
life. Communicate your sense of urgency and tell them the reasons why. Tell
them you want to get together with them right away and together decide on a
course of action. Perhaps together you can come up with a plan you can suggest
to police, such as a way to lure him out of the house so police can get to her
Your friend asked you to accompany her to courthouse for her interview with the
prosecutor and then to be with her when she testifies against her rapist. At
the District Attorney's office, the prosecutor motions for your friend to come
into his office. You get up to join them and the prosecutor stops you and says
he wants to talk to your friend alone. Your friend tells the prosecutor it's
OK, that she wants you to be with her. The prosecutor says you can't be in the
meeting because that would make you a witness in the case. Your friend looks
distressed. She wants you to be with her. What can you do?
FACT: Too many
prosecutors and police try to isolate victims from their support person during
interviews and meetings. These prosecutors and police may say that the victim's
friend can't be present because being present would make her a witness, or
because the victim needs to be asked personal questions, or they may give any
number of other reasons why the victim has to be alone in the interview. They
are wrong. It's extremely rare that there would be any legitimate reason why
the victim would have to be interviewed alone. The real reason some police and
prosecutors isolate victims in interviews is so they can maintain control of
the victim and the case. Sometimes they want to convince the victim the case is
weak so the victim will go away, or they may want to pressure the victim into
going along on a giveaway plea bargain, or they may want to use coercive
Because so many police and
prosecutors have used isolating of victims for abusive reasons, California
passed a law that gives sexual assault victims the right to have at least two
persons of their choosing in interviews with police and prosecutors (California
Penal Code Section 679.04). Although this California law doesn't cover you if
you live in another state, the existence of this law does show that the reasons
given by officials to keep victims isolated from their support person during
interviews are bogus.
a. The best way to handle this all
too common situation of police and prosecutors attempting to isolate victims
from their support persons is to plan your strategy ahead of time. Before going
with your friend to an interview or meeting with officials, tell her what might
likely happen. Tell her you think it's important for you to be with her in the
interview in order to minimize any attempts by the officials to play games with
her case. If she agrees that she really wants you present at the interview,
tell her she may have to state this firmly and clearly to the official. In
fact, she may have to get right down to telling the official that she won't do
the interview unless you, her friend, can be present.
Some police, prosecutors, and
other criminal justice officials can be very bullying and intimidating at times
like this. It's very hard to stand up to them when they start throwing their
weight around and telling you things you're not quite sure are true or untrue.
And though many officials are caring and professional, you just never know when
you're going to encounter an abusive one. So be prepared with a plan and stick
together. Remember, your friend's safety and access to justice depend more than
anything else, on a good criminal justice response.
b. If the officer still won't do
the interview with you present, your friend should tell the officer that she
wants to cooperate and do the interview, but she first wants to talk to an
advocate or another official.
c. If at any point your friend
feels like she doesn't want to struggle the point further, it's important that
you abide by your friend's decision. If she does do the interview by herself,
it may very well be that just by having made the officer aware that the two of
you are willing to put up a fight, that will be enough to discourage the
officer from further abusiveness.
d. Whether or not you are present
in the interview, a couple other points of advice will help prevent abuse by
officials during interviews and meetings.
- Always take a notebook with you
and from time to time take notes.
- If the official asks you to make
a decision during the interview, whenever possible tell the official you want
to talk it over with a friend first and then get back to them. The victim
should try never to make decisions on the spot.
- The victim should also talk over
the events of an interview afterward with someone who cares about her, and she
should write down lingering questions, concerns, and events that weren't fully