August 22, 2013
All US states, territories, and tribal governments must certify that they are in compliance with VAWA requirements for medical forensic examinations – in order to remain eligible for STOP grant funding. Specifically, exams must be available to sexual assault victims: (1) free of charge, and (2) regardless of their decision to participate in the criminal justice process.
This means that sexual assault victims can obtain a medical forensic exam without being faced with an immediate decision about participating in the law enforcement investigation and any criminal prosecution. The goal is to get victims the health care they need – as well as collecting and documenting evidence while it is available – without presenting victims with a decision about criminal participation that is framed as “all or nothing” and “now or never.” If victims are allowed to get support and take the time they need, the hope is that they will ultimately “convert” and decide they are able to fully participate in the process.
But what happens next?
In many communities, guidance is needed to successfully investigate and prosecute such “converted” cases. Otherwise, this option could be a false promise for victims. The webinar will address issues such as the following:
What do we call these cases? If we call them “delayed” reports or “non-reports,” what message does this send? What alternative wording can we use?How do we perceive them? All too often we have heard professionals say that these cases cannot be prosecuted, or they are simply too difficult to investigate. Yet the challenges are similar to other cases that are successfully investigated and prosecuted every day. How can we shift our attitude to see these cases as more similar than different from others?
How do we investigate converted cases? While converted cases do pose challenges for the investigation, they are not unique. Most reports of sexual assault are delayed. Law enforcement agencies regularly receive reports of sexual assaults that were committed months, years, or even decades ago (e.g., child sexual abuse).
How do we prosecute them? Again, the biggest challenge is shifting our perception to see these cases as more similar than different from other sexual assaults. The challenges of delayed reporting and third party disclosures are well known to prosecutors, who have developed effective strategies for overcoming any resulting bias.
This project is supported by Grant No. 2009-TA-AX-K003 awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.