This information is designed to:
- communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and
- offer recommended practices for implementation.
The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance. It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013. For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims. A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.
The 911 call center in Missoula, Montana offers a website for their program, “It’s Your Call.” Focused specifically on sexual assault, the website offers information about the services offered by the 911 call center and other resources in the community, including law enforcement agencies, health care facilities, and victim advocacy agencies. University resources are also provided, and links offer more information on topics such as risk reduction, bystander intervention, and the role of men in preventing sexual violence. With respect to forensic compliance, the website states: When you call 911, it does not obligate you to file a police report. It does, however, help you open doors to services available in the community. Such examples clearly point the way to achieving the true spirit of increase access for victims.
An editorial in the Houston Chronicle provided valuable information for the public on the topic of forensic compliance. Written by Mica Mosbacher and Annette Burrhus-Clay, the article was titled “Two New Laws Empower Victims of Sexual Assault.” It appeared on April 14, 2011 and provides an excellent example of media outreach conducted to educate the public about their right to a medical forensic exam regardless of whether or not they ultimately decide to participate in the criminal justice process.
In this Training Bulletin, we review the research literature on sexual assault disclosures and the responses survivors receive from both informal and formal support providers. We also examine public awareness campaigns designed to prevent sexual assault and improve responses to survivors. This includes outlining the rationale for our Start by Believing campaign and describing preliminary evidence for its positive impact. The ultimate goal is to improve responses to sexual assault victims around the world.
Two communities have developed excellent public service announcements (PSAs) to address the issues related to sexual assault, forensic exams, and reporting to law enforcement. One was developed by the Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team (SARRT) in Austin, Texas. This PSA was developed for television, and it was designed to increase reporting of sexual assault to law enforcement, by communicating the message that victims are welcome and every effort will be made to treat them with competence and compassion. The Sex Crimes Unit of the Austin Police Department was also featured in an article in a local Spanish-language newspaper, ensuring that outreach was directed at this underserved community as well.
We have developed a sample press release, to announce the availability of medical forensic exams for sexual assault victims without first talking with law enforcement. As with many of our other resources, we offer two versions: one for states with medical mandating reporting for sexual assault of competent adults – and one for states without such a mandated reporting requirement. You are welcome to use these as a starting place for your own community, but you will need to fill in the highlighted areas with local information, including the names of specific agencies and people, the term your community has selected to refer to these exams, and the details regarding your mandated reporting requirements. We also provide an article in a small local newspaper based on an earlier version of the press release used in San Luis Obispo, California.
The San Francisco Police Department offers an excellent example of public outreach designed to educate victims of their right to a medical forensic examination regardless of their decision about participating in the criminal justice process. On their website, they provide answers to a number of Frequently Asked Questions about Sexual Assault. One question asks how victims of sexual assault can get help when they are not sure whether or not they want to make a police report. The answer provided on the SFPD website clearly emphasizes that victims should seek medical care regardless of whether or not they want to participate in the criminal justice system:
Go to San Francisco General Hospital Emergency and be seen by their competent and caring medical staff who will provide you with help and support whether or not you want to report the incident to the police.
The You Have Options program (YHOP) provides victims with the option of reporting their sexual assault in a variety of ways, including “Information Only,” “Partial Investigation,” and “Complete Investigation.” In order to become certified as a YHOP agency, law enforcement agencies must commit to the 20 Elements of a Victim-Centered and Offender-Focused Response. However, agencies can also adopt individual elements of the YHOP program. By addressing the barriers victims face when reporting sexual assault, and increasing the number of sexual assault reports, the goal of YHOP is to provide investigators with information they would otherwise never have.