The criminal justice process can be overwhelming and frustrating for rape survivors and their loved ones. While they are learning about this new system, they are also trying to emotionally heal from the sexual assault. Sometimes, these two aspects are in conflict. The victim may be trying to move on with her/his life and trying to “forget” details of the rape, yet the criminal justice system requires that she remember and repeat these details in testimony to the police, the prosecuter, and to the court.
For some crime victims, if the end result is favorable (a conviction and sentence they wanted) the criminal justice system can be a part of their recovery. It can validate that what happened to them was wrong and that they are not to blame for the crime. However, for some victims who do not have a favorable experience with this system, it can create additional treatment issues– particularly if the victim felt she was not believed or was treated in such a way that it caused further harm. If you are the friend or family member of someone who has been sexually assaulted, your role is very significant in helping the survivor move through this process in a way that demonstrates respect for her decisions and reinforces that no matter what the end result with the courts, her well being and ability to move forward in life are most important.
Some points for rape survivors to know about reporting the crime:
- Sexual assault victims deserve to be treated with respect.
- Not all reports to the police or children’s services will go to court.
- If the case goes to trial, it does not mean the offendor goes to prison.
Reporting What Happened
It is the victim’s decision to report the crime to law enforcement unless the victim is a minor or developmentally disabled. If the victim is a minor, the crime could be reported to the police and children’s protective services even if the minor does not want it to be reported. In all states, teachers and counselors (including Psychologists and Social Workers) are required by law to report any suspected child abuse. If the case involves a developmentally disabled adult or elderly abuse, it could be reported to adult protective services for further investigation.
Occasionally, a parent (or someone else) may report the crime, even if the adult victim does not want law enforcement notified. However, the police need the victim’s cooperation to proceed with their investigation. In most cases, if the victim will not assist in the prosecution of the crime, the police will not pursue criminal charges. The exceptions to this would be cases involving minors, or in some areas, cases involving domestic violence where mandatory arrest policies are strictly enforced (regardless of the victim’s willingness to testify).
The Police Interview and Evidence Collection
The police interview is the first of many steps in the criminal justice process. The investigation can include many other aspects, such as: collecting evidence at the crime scene; collecting medical evidence from the victim; reviewing mug shots or a line up; helping the police artist with a composite drawing of a suspect; interviewing the suspect; and possibly using a lie detector test as part of the investigation.
The evidence collection examination at the hospital is an important part of the case although it is usually a very difficult experience for rape victims. Here are some important points about the evidence collection exam:
- This evidence collection exam is sometimes called “the rape kit” or PERK (Physical Evidence Recovery Kit). Medical evidence is best collected right after the assault or within 48 hours after the assault. A doctor or nurse at a hospital department usually completes the rape kit exam.
- The exam involves collecting evidence from the victim’s body that could help prove the assault. It involves taking samples of pubic hair, as well as saliva, vaginal or seminal fluid.
- Rape victims can refuse to participate in any part of the exam, but the more evidence that is collected, the stronger the case will be.
“Coping with Sexual Assault: A Guide for Professionals and Volunteers Working with Sexual Assault Victims” copyrighted by Sugati Publications at www.SugatiPublications.com