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Raped, Then Jailed: The Risks of Prosecution for Falsely Reporting Sexual Assault

This Training Bulletin focuses on the scenario where victims summon the courage to report a sexual assault, only to be disbelieved, mistreated, and later charged (often erroneously) with false reporting or associated crimes such as obstruction of justice, interfering with law enforcement, or providing false statements. Some have even been charged with a felony crime of evidence tampering, for obtaining a medical forensic examination. In other words, the evidence they are accused of tampering with is their very own body. We explain how these scenarios unfold, highlighting factors that distinguish an interview conducted with a victim versus a suspect in a criminal investigation, and documents how this can result in a coerced recantation or false confession. We then conclude with a discussion of how these injustices can be prevented.

Interviews with Victims vs. Suspects: Start by Believing and the Question of Bias

Sexual assault victims have long faced unwarranted skepticism from friends and family members, as well as responding professionals. In this Training Bulletin, we document examples of this historical bias and examine a few measures that have been taken to help ameliorate it. In particular, we focus on the Start by Believing philosophy and examine its relevance for victim and suspect interviews. Our goal is to inform criminal justice professionals and others about what this philosophy does – and does not – say about how to approach sexual assault cases, including interviews with victims, suspects, and witnesses. Ultimately, we emphasize that Start by Believing is an approach to conducting thorough, professional, and unbiased investigations.

Sexual Assault Investigation

For information about the law enforcement investigation of sexual assault, please see the Model Policy and corresponding Concepts and Issues Paper published (October, 2017) by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).  The IACP also created the Sexual Assault Response Policy and Training Content Guidelines (2015), which provide law enforcement with issues, procedures, and recommendations to consider when developing a policy related to sexual assault as well as accompanying training content. In 2019, the IACP released two resolutions regarding sexual assault investigations, including one stating that victims should not be asked to sign non-investigate or non-prosecution statements or waivers, and another one declaring that agencies should integrate victim services into their day to day operations.

Use of Polygraph

For more information on the polygraph, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) has published an excellent document entitled, “The Use of Truth-Telling Devices in Sexual Assault Investigations.” They also provide a list of individual state legislation regarding polygraph use.

A legal compilation is also available on polygraph testing of sexual assault victims from AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women. Please visit their website to request the most up to date compilation.

Language Barriers

The Vera Institute of Justice developed an article titled: “Overcoming language barriers: Solutions for law enforcement” developed by the Vera Institute of Justice.

Victims with Disabilities

Detailed guidance for conducting forensic interviews with victims who have a disability can also be found in Victims with Disabilities: The Forensic Interview, a publication from the Office for Victims of Crime.

Victims with Mental Illness

The Police Executive Research Forum offers a publication entitled, “Enhancing Success of Police-Based Diversion Programs for People with Mental Illness.”

Crime Scene Processing and Recovery of Physical Evidence from Sexual Assault Scenes

This training module provides guidance on crime scene processing, a systematic, meticulous, and scientific process that law enforcement investigators should employ in every major criminal investigation.

Untested Evidence and Cold Case Investigation

This training module is designed to help communities address the complex challenges of untested evidence in sexual assault cases. While the material is largely written with reference to cold cases, much of the guidance applies equally to current sexual assault cases and investigations that have been recently inactivated or suspended. Specific guidance is offered for notifying victims that their investigation has been re-opened, keeping victims informed of the status of their case, and providing ongoing victim support throughout the criminal justice process.

Effective Report Writing: Using the Language of Non-Consensual Sex

This training module is designed to help investigators write a thorough, well written report that will support successful prosecution of a sexual assault case. Recommendations are equally helpful for other professionals on how to write and speak about sexual assault issues.

Preliminary Investigation: Guidelines for First Responders

Most of this training module is drawn directly from the Concepts and Issues Paper on Investigating Sexual Assault developed by the National Law Enforcement Policy Center of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). Detailed guidance is provided for the preliminary response and law enforcement investigation of sexual assault.

Law and Investigative Strategy: What Kind of Sexual Assault is This?

This training module is designed to help law enforcement investigators develop an investigative strategy to overcome common defense strategies, by reviewing the elements of a sexual assault case and exploring the evidence that can potentially support each element.

Reporting Methods for Sexual Assault Cases

This training module provides guidance for officers and investigators on making the critical determination whether a sexual assault will be recorded with an official crime report or an informational report – and exploring the implications for subsequent criminal justice processing.

Successfully Investigating Sexual Assault Against Victims with Disabilities

This training module is designed to ensure that people with disabilities who are victimized have equal access to information, programs, and services within the criminal justice system, by providing detailed guidance on how to conduct a successful law enforcement investigation of sexual assault against people with disabilities.

Investigating Sexual Assault Against Victims with Disabilities

This webinar, with presenters Shirley Paceley, Sgt. Joanne Archambault, and Dr. Kim Lonsway is primarily focused on a law enforcement perspective, providing information and guidance for first responders as well as investigators and even prosecutors. However, it is intended to be equally helpful for others whose work intersects with the criminal justice system, to ensure that people with disabilities who are victimized have equal access to information, programs, and services - and that they are treated with fairness, compassion, and respect. Everyone involved in the criminal justice and community response system plays a critical role in providing that access and fair treatment.

Training Bulletin on Neurobiology of Trauma

EVAWI offers a training bulletin entitled: Understanding the Neurobiology of Trauma and Implications for Victim Interviewing, written by Dr. Chris Wilson, Dr. Kim Lonsway, and Sgt. Joanne Archambault (Ret.), with contributions by Dr. Jim Hopper. This training bulletin provides basic information about the brain and explores the impact of trauma on behavior and memory. It then highlights the implications for law enforcement interviews conducted with victims of sexual assault and other traumatic crimes.

Responding to Victims Reporting from Another Jurisdiction

This training bulletin was developed to provide guidance on responding to victims who are assaulted while they are away from home– not only for law enforcement professionals – but also to inform other community professionals about the options that are available for the law enforcement response in this type of situation.

When to Conduct an Exam or Interview

This training bulletin addresses the difficult question of when to conduct the interview of a sexual assault victim. In it, we argue that communities can go a long way toward improving our response to sexual assault by operating from the premise that we want victims to be involved in our response systems, so we should do whatever we reasonably can to help them do so. Sometimes we get so focused on our own policies and procedures that we forget to make accommodations that would encourage victims to participate, even if they entail some compromises that are less than ideal.

Sworn Statements

This training bulletin was developed to answer a question that is commonly asked by law enforcement investigators: Do I need to get a sworn statement from the victim at the conclusion of the interview? We argue that a sworn statement is not needed from a victim of sexual assault, because there is no clear advantage of the practice yet there are a number of very critical disadvantages.

Investigating Intimate Partner Sexual Assault

This training bulletin discusses intimate partner sexual assault, as it is one of the most misunderstood areas of sexual assault response. This training bulletin discusses various aspects of the criminal justice and community response, with a particular focus on conducting victim interviews.

Documenting Prior Victimization

This training bulletin discusses the importance of documenting experiences of prior victimization when they are revealed by a sexual assault victim during a law enforcement interview or medical forensic exam. Professionals often question whether the investigator or health care provider should document this disclosure of prior victimization, and if so, how the information should be recorded.

Start by Believing: Participation of Criminal Justice Professionals

This training bulletin addresses the question of whether participation of criminal justice professionals compromises the ability of police and prosecutors to remain objective, potentially opening them up to attacks by defense counsel and/or losing cases at trial.

Start by Believing to Improve Response to Sexual Assault & Prevent Gender Bias

In this training bulletin, prosecution expert Herb Tanner delves into questions that have been raised with the philosophy of Start by Believing, and other victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches. In particular, he addresses one specific manner of attack: Defense cross-examination aimed at exposing the law enforcement investigation of a sexual assault as biased.

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI): A Trauma Informed Experience 2 Part Webinar

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI) draws on the best practices of child forensic interviews, critical incident stress management, and neuroscience - combining them into a simple three-pronged approach that unlocks the trauma experience in a way that we can better understand.

During this webinar series, Mr. Strand will discuss the history of victim interviews and the criminal justice system, the need for change, and an overview of the FETI in this first part of the series. 

Investigating and Prosecuting Converted Cases

This webinar provided by Chris Mallios (of AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women) is designed to help communities prepare to meet the challenges of successfully investigating and prosecuting "converted" cases. The term “converted case”’ is used to refer to the situation where a victim presents for a medical forensic exam and initially declines to speak with law enforcement, but ultimately decides to "convert” and fully participate in the criminal justice process.

VAWA 2005 Restricts the Use of Polygraphs with Victims of Sexual Assault

This article in Sexual Assault Report describes the implications of one important provision of VAWA 2005 that impacts how communities respond to sexual assault. Specifically, jurisdictions are now in danger of losing their eligibility for STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grants (commonly referred to as STOP Grant funds) if their policy or practice is to ask or require adult, youth or child victims of sexual assault to submit to a polygraph examination or other truth telling device as a condition for proceeding with the investigation of the crime. In addition, VAWA 2005 clarifies that the refusal of a victim to submit to such an examination must not prevent the investigation of the crime.

Gender Bias in Sexual Assault Response and Investigation

EVAWI offers a Training Bulletin series designed to explore the phenomenon of gender bias, both explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious), and the resulting stereotypes and attitudes that can influence the professional response to, and investigation of, sexual assault. We explore strategies that can be used to identify the presence of implicit gender bias and mitigate its influence, and address key questions about how implicit gender bias can disadvantage (or advantage) either the victim and/or suspect.

The Trauma-Informed Response to Sexual Violence Victims - An Introductory Video

The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence created this introductory video for patrol officers on trauma-informed responses to sexual violence. This video reviews the importance of this type of response, with a basic overview of the effects of trauma and the key aspects of a trauma-informed response.

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