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Sexual and Interpersonal Violence

Criminal Justice Procedure

  • When a survivor would like to report a crime to the police they must contact the police where the crime occurred (not where the survivor lives).
  • Once police are contacted they will dispatch an officer to take a report (sometimes they will go to the survivor’s home, meet them at the hospital or another location, or have the survivor come in to the station).
  • Generally a police officer, not a detective, will take the initial interview (can tell the difference because one will be wearing a uniform and the other will be in plain clothes).
  • The officer is usually a man, not a woman.  A survivor can request a female officer but this may take longer or be impossible to provide.  
  • If a survivor is arriving to the police station or hospital and they have an advocate with them, the advocate should introduce themselves to the officer so that they know that they are not a family member or friend.
  • The police interview:
    • The interview can be lengthy
    • May ask the same question again and again.  Even the smallest details are needed.
    • The officer may not be trained in trauma-informed interviewing practices.
    • They may seem uncomfortable while asking about the actual sexual assault.
    • Many times they may be so wrapped up in doing their job that they may not think to suggest a break or modify the way they are asking questions.
    • Advocates can sit in on the interview with the survivor’s permission—family members and friends are generally asked to leave.
    • Ways an advocate can be supportive:
      • Explain to the survivor before the interview what it can be like and offer to be in the room with them.
      • Remind them that they can take a break whenever they want, and help facilitate a break if needed. 
      • Ask the survivor if they feel comfortable with the officer.  If not, they can work with the survivor to find a way to make them more comfortable.
      • Encourage the survivor to admit if there are things they don’t remember rather than trying to make them up—very common to forget/block certain things after a traumatic event.  They can tell the officer if they remember later. 
      • During the interview:
        • Know where tissues are in the room so that they can be offered.
        • Offer words of encouragement.
        • Advocates will not add to the interview.
        • Advocates will not share things that they talked about with the survivor with the officer unless they have the survivor’s express permission. (Officers will often ask advocates for information).
        • Advocates can ask for a break if they feel the survivor needs one. 
  • After the initial interview is completed the officer will begin the evidence collection process (may request a sexual assault forensic exam, go the crime scene, start interviewing witnesses).
  • The case will be assigned a case number (which an advocate can collect if the survivor wants them to follow up with law enforcement).
  • After the initial report and investigation the case is given to a detective.
  • The detective generally interviews the survivor again and collects additional evidence and writes up a report.
  • Many times people ask why the perpetrator is often not immediately arrested.  When a perpetrator is arrested the police and the District Attorney’s Office only have five days to have all the evidence ready for Grand Jury.
  • The report is then sent to the District Attorney’s Office.
  • The District Attorney’s Office decides whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed.
  • If they feel there is enough evidence to proceed the case may progress to the Grand Jury.
    • The Grand Jury process involves a jury, the District Attorney presenting the case, the survivor, and any other appropriate witnesses (many times the officer or detective).  The District Attorney presents the case and the survivor may tell the Grand Jury what happened so that they may approve the case moving forward.  If the jury gives the case a True Bill (an indictment endorsed by a grand jury) it moves forward and if they give the case a No True Bill, it stops.  This is a check in the legal system.  The perpetrator is not involved in this process and may not even know that it is happening.
  • If the Grand Jury gives the case a True Bill then they may arrest the perpetrator (unless the perpetrator has already been arrested).

Then they prepare for the trial and may offer a Plea Bargain (the survivor may or may not have input in the plea bargain process.  Many times a plea is offered with the survivor’s best interest in mind—trials can be lengthy and arduous process for the survivor).