Rape and Sexual Assault Victim’s Uphill Battles

Male police officer pointingRape and sexual assault victims have long been mistreated by society, the criminal justice system and the court system. Often, once a victim reports that they had been raped or sexually assaulted, they are questioned by an unsympathetic officer, sometimes they are even questioned while they are at the hospital undergoing a rape exam.

The officers who questions the victim asks what the victim had done to cause the rape, or why the victim had placed herself in an situation where they were able to be raped. They ask the victim why they didn’t scream, run, or fight the rapist off. They question the motives of the victim; maybe the victim had voluntarily engaged in sexual activity with the rapist, but later became ashamed or angry at the rapist and decided to cry rape. Doesn’t the victim know that this is a serious claim and that the rapist could lose everything including their job, family, and reputation?

ashamed-woman-rape-victimLater, at trial, the victims sexual history is brought up. The victim is questioned in open court about how many partners they have engaged in sexual activity with, what types of sexual activities they engage in, how frequently they engage in these types of activities, and then called a liar and a whore. All too frequently, it is the victim who is on trial instead of the rapist.

When faced with this type of re-victimization and embarrassment, it is no wonder that victims are reluctant to cooperate with police officers and prosecutors or that they would even go as far as to claim they had lied just to make the whole investigation go away.

upset girlWhile we question the integrity and motives of victims because they cannot remember every detail to our liking because they had been sexually active, or voluntarily used drugs and/or alcohol, we allow rapists to go free, at times without even bothering to question the perpetrator.

We allow victims to live in fear knowing that their rapist is walking among us because we do not believe them. We let victims know that we think they are the one who is really to blame for what has happened to them.

Now, Donna Kelly, Justin Boardman, and West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo are trying a different approach. One that is long overdue and that shows compassion to the victim. Their research focuses on the trauma that a victim experiences and how that trauma affects the victims memory of their rape.

Their research helps explain why a victim may act in odd, or unpredictable ways when recounting their experience, or why the victim can only remember certain details about the rape. Their training helps officers and prosecutors support and understand the victim and teaches them how to assist the victim so they are able to recount their experience more accurately.

Most importantly, their method puts the victim first and will lead to guilt being placed where it should be, with the rapist.

I commend Ms. Kelly, Mr. Boardman and Chief Russo for helping to turn the tide. I am hopeful their training will become commonplace for police officers and prosecutors and will ultimately lead to an increase in the prosecution rates of rapists so victims are finally afforded the justice they deserve.

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