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Part Il

First Line Criminal Justice Advocacy

D. Sex Crimes:
Police Response and Investigation

A Typical Rape Case Police Investigation
The Easy ABC of Ditching a Rape Case
Advocating for Victims of Sex Crimes
During the Police Investigation
Form for Evaluating Police Rape

Improving Sex Crime Victim Interviews,
12 Do's and Don'ts



No other crime is handled more poorly by the criminal justice system than rape. And not surprisingly, no other serious crime is more under-reported. The vast majority of rape victims, in fact, never do report to police. And of those cases that are reported, the prosecution rate is lower than for any other serious crime. In no other crime is your skillful advocacy more needed, and in no other crime are your advocacy skills more challenged.

The good news is that rapid changes, as uneven as they've been, are beginning to bring protection and justice within the reach of many rape victims. Victims themselves are much more able to find support and to speak out. Law enforcement sex crimes investigation techniques and training have improved. And here and there throughout the system there are individuals and units who take sex crimes seriously. Still, successfully advocating for rape victims requires a full awareness of the generally hostile dynamics that rape victims face and requires your unflinching willingness to confront them.

As a crime, rape is in a class by itself; in the experience of the crime, in people's response to the victim, and in the law enforcement skills needed to investigate and prosecute the crime.

** No other crime ignites such a firestorm of sexist hostility against the victim. Even group discussions of rape in the abstract generally end in high voltage charges against girls' behaviors, not boys'. And discussions of rape prevention still tend to revolve around how girls should restrict their behaviors, while virtually ignoring what should be the obvious fact that preventing rape requires that it's boy's behavior that must change. As such, our social environments are charged against rape victims before they even come forward. And when a rape victim does come forward, the accused male will usually has no trouble at all galvanizing that generalized hostility into a crushing attack on the victim.

Unlike victims of any other crime, rape victims are often subject to concerted ostracizing, disbelief, and blame. Hostilities against the victim quickly gather steam. These hostilities are frequently bolstered by powerful (male dominated) institutions such as schools, churches, businesses, families, and authorities. It's not at all unusual for the rapists to be actively protected by these institutions, while the victims are easily sacrificed and aggressively swept off the stage.

** No other crime so thoroughly splits the human race in two. On one side, 98% of rape perpetrators are male. On the other side, 94% of rape victims are women and children. As such, when looked at squarely, no other crime more clearly exposes the violent nature of male oppression of females. At least with domestic violence, the sexism that drives the crime can be camouflaged with a simple shift to gender neutral discussion of violence in general. But rape cannot so easily be folded into any other human experience.

When a rape victim comes forward in whichever social environment, her mere existence serves to unmask men's violent domination of females. So there is a rush to drive her and her credibility off the stage. The dynamic is particularly intense in the most common form of rape, rape perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Exposing fathers, brothers, male teachers, neighbors, co-workers, and classmates as rapists is more than our male dominated social environments will tolerate.

Rape's raw display of sexism is a big part of the reason why so much energy is expended to keep rape and its victims hidden and off the human agenda. Even task forces and committees on violence against women quickly tend to limit their discussions to domestic violence. And the discussion of domestic violence itself rarely broaches the sexual violence that is so often a significant element of the domestic violence. The fact is rape is present in approximately a third of domestic violence cases. Moreover, rape and sexual violence is a key indicator of domestic violence lethality. Still, three years into the third millennium of civilization, and the crime of rape remains shrouded in myths, fears, and taboos, all of which one way or other serve to ostracize the victims and protect the perpetrators.

** And no other crime cries out more for justice. The outrage of rape to the victim and society goes deeper than physical violence. Rape violates and degrades the human right to self determination on the most intimate level.

Rape and its aftermath leave such deep psychic wounds on its victims that six months following a rape 50% of rape victims have lost their jobs and 50% have suffered the break-up of a primary relationship. In a study in the late 1990's, the American Medical Association using a number of life indicators found that rape is the most costly of all crimes, both to society and the victims.

To be sure, a rape victim will need your strong advocacy in many areas of her life. But our focus here is the criminal justice system. And perhaps no other system fails her more. When you ask women why they don't report rape, many say they don't believe law enforcement will do anything about it. Unfortunately, to a great extent the women are right.

** Law enforcement frequently excuses their poor record on rape by themselves attacking the victim. The victims won't cooperate, the victims were drinking, the victims have credibility problems, the victims drop out of the prosecution. Or law enforcement resorts to variations of the old dictum that 'rape is a very easy accusation to make, but very difficult to prove'. (This centuries old dictum, by the way, was only recently removed from California's standard jury instructions in rape cases.)

Most rapes, many officials will tell you, are a "He said, she said" situation and therefore lack the necessary evidence to proceed. Law enforcement officials level this generalization against rape even though it should be obvious that in all crimes the accused usually contradicts the victim. And while it's true that rape often lacks the usual kind of physical evidence available in other violent crimes, what officials neglect to mention is that rape also has many investigatory advantages which other crimes lack. For example, in most rape cases there is no who-done-it. In most rape cases, the victim can easily identify the perpetrator, and, in fact, knows the perpetrator well. And that victim knowledge of the perpetrator is an enormous investigatory advantage.

Rape can be solved as easily as any other crime, and many times more easily. It's just that the techniques required to solve rape cases are unique, and require the kind of law enforcement skills that are unfortunately the skills most ignored or devalued in the law enforcement culture.

Successful rape investigation depends not so much on forensics and physical evidence as it does on the ability of the investigator to communicate and partner effectively with the victims. It requires a comprehensive insight into the perpetrator and victim dynamics of rape. It requires a very special understanding and finesse working with severely traumatized young females, since it is females between the ages of 16 and 24 years of age who make up the overwhelming majority of rape victims.

Successful rape investigation also requires that officers have a confidence and comfort with the many languages of sex: an ability to adapt to any culture and age level on the full range of sexual and reproductive topics from anal sex, oral sex, vaginal sex, menstruation, ejaculation, pregnancy, STD's, and more, and to do so in a tone that is truly empathetic to the female point of view. As you might imagine, this requirement alone keeps many even well intentioned officers from being able to handle sex crimes well.

On the face of it, given the hyper-male culture of law enforcement, and the unique and intensely female experience of rape, it's hard to think of a worse match than law enforcement and rape victims. So many police and prosecutors don't want to do rape cases, are ill-at-ease with these cases, ill-suited and ill-recruited to handle these cases, and insufficiently trained in rape's unique investigatory techniques.

** One other unique characteristic of rape helps explain why so few rape cases are prosecuted. No victim is easier to make go away than a rape victim. Instead of protesting system mistreatment, most rape victims are so mortified and wounded by the additional trauma of being re-victimized by the people who are supposed to help, they retreat. One of the most maddening scenarios of a rape case is when the victim is mistreated by officials, the victim understandably retreats from the process, and the officials smugly bellow, "See, how uncooperative these rape victims are."

Clearly, profound, top-to-bottom changes are needed in law enforcement before rape victims routinely receive the justice and protection that is their constitutional right. In the meantime, you, the rape victim's advocate, are pivotal. Nowhere is the advocate's role more critical than in rape cases. The simple fact is that very few rape victims will get a proper criminal justice system response without the help of a vigilant and skillful advocate at her side every step of the way.

Because of the unique course of most rape investigations we begin by outlining a typical rape case police investigation.

A Typical Rape Case
Police Investigation

The following is a procedural outline of a typical police investigation of a rape. Keep in mind that there are many legitimate variations of this procedure, depending on everything from differences in case circumstances to differences in police department structures and policies. If the handling of your client's case is different from this outline it doesn't necessarily mean things have gone wrong. The main reason we give this sample procedure is to highlight some of the ways that a rape investigation is distinct from the handling of other crimes, and to help you become familiar with the logic of the investigatory stages of a rape case.

Also, in the following discussions of police rape investigations, we center our focus on the investigation of acquaintance rape. We do this because acquaintance rape, (where the perpetrator is known to the victim), makes up the vast majority of all rape cases. In addition, acquaintance rapes generally require the highest level of skills and sensitivity, both from law enforcement and from advocates.

A Typical Police Sex Crime Investigation

A. The Rape Victim Calls 911 or Calls Police Directly to Report the Rape

B. The Responding Patrol Officer Takes a Brief Statement from the Victim

C. After Taking a Brief Statement from the Victim, the Responding Officer Calls and Confers with An On-call Detective to Determine What Should Happen next.

D. The Medical/forensic Rape Exam Is Carried out on the Victim

E. A Detective Carries out an In-depth Victim Interview

F. A Pretext Call Is Set up for Cases in Which the Victim Knows the Perpetrator.

G. The Detective Carries out Further Investigation

H. The Detective Interviews (Interrogates) the Perpetrator

I. The Detective Obtains an Arrest Warrant and Arrests the Perpetrator

J. The Detective Sends His or Her Completed Report to the District Attorney's Office for Review.

K. The District Attorney Decides to Either File Charges on the Case, Reject the Case for Prosecution, or Decides to Send the Case Back to the Police for Further Investigation.

A. The Rape Victim Calls 911 or Calls Police Directly to Report the Rape.

Most rape victims don't report to police immediately following the rape. It's very common for rape victims to wait days, weeks, or even months before telling anyone. And usually the first person the victim tells is a friend or a counselor at a rape crisis center and not the police. Rape victims have a very difficult time making the decision to report to police.

When rape victims do come to you before having gone to police, take advantage of the opportunity to educate your client as much as possible on what to expect in the police case. Address her questions and fears, explain the importance of her being accompanied throughout the process, and orient her to possible difficulties she may encounter along the way. One common frustration of reporting a rape can occur right away at the reporting stage as we explain in the following note.

NOTE: Although most rape cases are eventually assigned a detective to do the in-depth victim interview and to investigate the case,. most police departments won't allow rape victims to report directly to the detective unit. Police protocol usually requires that rape victims report first to a patrol officer. But the patrol officers are told to handle a rape case by taking only a minimal report and to do only a cursory interview of the victim. The patrol officer is then supposed to pass this mini-report to the detective unit where the case may sit for a day or two (or more) before it's assigned a detective.

Right off the bat, this added step of going to a patrol officer feels to many victims like they're being run through a bureaucratic obstacle course. Indeed, that's pretty much what it is. After making the delicate and difficult decision to report to the police, she then has to arrange to report to a patrol officer with the understanding that the patrol officer doesn't want to hear the full story. And then she has to anxiously wait around, sometimes for days, to be called by an unknown detective at an unknown time.

This added step frequently produces intense anxiety and frustration for the victim. If the victim isn't prepared, she can be devastated by what may feel to her like a complete lack of interest on the part of the police. If these are the rules your police department goes by, it's really important that you explain this problem to the victim ahead of time so she doesn't get discouraged from continuing before the case even gets started.

NOTE: As with domestic violence, if the victim comes to you before going to the police, it's best to have the police respond to your office or the victim's home rather than going over to the police department to give the report. And it's always a top priority to make sure the victim is never alone when dealing with law enforcement.

NOTE: It's interesting to note that the San Fernando Valley division of the LAPD which has been able to attain a 93% clearance rate on sex crimes has achieved this success in part by getting specially trained detectives to the scene immediately at the time the rape report is made.

B. The Responding Patrol Officer Takes a Brief Statement from the Victim, and writes a brief report.

The responding officer usually seeks only to obtain enough information to fill out the crime report face sheet. (The face sheet is the first page of the crime report which contains basic data on the type of crime committed and data on the involved parties: the victim, suspect, and witnesses.)

There are two reasons that the responding officer on a rape case generally takes only a brief statement from a rape victim at the initial contact. The first reason is to avoid having more than one victim statement on the record so as to protect the victim's credibility. One of the first things a defense attorney will do in a rape case is to compare the initial victim statement with the statement given later to the detective. The defense attorney will be looking for even the slightest of discrepancies which the defense attorney can then blow up to monstrous size in the courtroom to destroy the victim's credibility. "So", says the defense attorney on cross-examination, "You told the responding officer he had four blue buttons on his shirt. But then you told the detective that there were three green buttons on the shirt. How are we to believe anything you say?"

Since nobody recounts an experience twice in identical form, and since victim credibility is so critical in rape cases, it's crucial to have only one victim statement on the investigation record.

The second reason the responding officer takes only a brief victim statement is to assure that when the victim does give her statement, the official doing the in-depth interview is a person experienced with rape victim interviews.

In addition to taking a brief statement, the responding officer will also gather or secure any obvious evidence at the scene where the rape occurred.

NOTE: Because responding officers generally spend only a brief amount of time with rape victims, many patrol officers fail to see the pivotal role they play in the success or failure of rape cases. The reality is that responding officers are often the most important officials in the case. When rape victims first come to the criminal justice system they are usually very ambivalent about whether they really want to go through with a criminal case. Their encounter with the responding officer is a rape victim's testing of the waters. Victims are hyper-vigilant to every nuance of the responding officer's behavior. Many rape victims make their decision on whether to continue with the case or to retreat based on their encounter with the first responding officer.

C. After Taking a Brief Statement from the Victim, the Responding Officer Calls and Confers with An On-call Detective to Determine What Should Happen next.

There are three principal questions the on-call detective will be considering at this point:

  1. Should a medical/forensic sexual assault exam be ordered, and if so, should that exam be done immediately or can it be scheduled for later?
  2. Should the detective respond immediately to do an in-depth interview of the victim, or can the victim interview wait and be scheduled for a more convenient time? and,
  3. Is there other evidence that needs to be collected right away?

In general, if the victim is an adult and if the rape occurred within the last 72 hours, the detective will call for an immediate medical/forensic rape exam of the victim. The responding officer will then transport the victim to the designated medical facility for the rape exam.

If the victim is an adult and the rape occurred more than 72 hours ago, a medical/forensic exam is usually not ordered, and the victim is usually told that she will be called by a detective in the next couple days. The responding officer then sends his or her report to the detective unit where the case will be assigned a detective for further investigation. (A very common and harmful police error that occurs at this point is that the responding officer fails to give the victim a time frame and/or fails to give the victim a phone number of the detective unit so the victim can call into the detective unit herself when she becomes anxious because a detective hasn't yet called.)

If the victim is a child, the detective will often ask for a medical/forensic exam even if the assault is more than 72 hours old. This is because lasting evidence of physical injury following sexual assault is much more likely to occur in cases where the victim is a child. For the same reason, the medical/forensic exam of a child is often postponed to a time when it is convenient for everyone involved.

NOTE: In California, and in a number of other states, police are required to inform the local rape crisis center whenever a rape victim is taken to a medical/forensic exam (Cal Penal Code Section 264.2). This is so that the rape crisis center can send an advocate who can accompany the rape victim during the exam.

Furthermore, in California, both police and the medical examiner are additionally required to inform the victim of her right to be accompanied throughout the rape exam (Cal Penal Code Section 264.2 ) and throughout every part of the criminal justice process (Cal Penal Code Section 679.04) by a victim advocate of her choosing and a support person of her choosing. See www.justicewomen.com, Know Your Rights.

Law enforcement officials frequently violate these laws.

D. The Medical/forensic Rape Exam Is Carried out on the Victim:

A designated medical practitioner performs the medical/forensic rape exam. It's important to keep in mind and to inform the victim that the medical/forensic exam is ordered and paid for by the police. She should know that the primary purpose of the medical/forensic rape exam is not to provide medical care for the victim, although the victim's medical needs should be attended to. The primary purpose of the medical/forensic rape exam is to gather case evidence from the victim's body. The evidence being sought is usually evidence of injury to the victim and evidence of the perpetrator's assault, such as semen, hairs, fibers, saliva, or DNA.

The sexual assault medical examiner will first question the victim about details of the attack, chart and photograph injuries, and take vaginal, rectal, and buccal swabs as indicated or not by the victim's story. The sexual assault medical examiner may also take blood or urine from the victim to be sent to the lab for drug testing. Before giving her blood or urine, the victim should be fully informed about what will be done with these samples and she should be informed about her constitutional search and seizure rights. The problem is that most victims believe and trust that police are testing only for evidence of drugs the suspect may have used to subdue her. But many police, without telling the victim, will also be testing for drugs the victim may have been using illegally. Advocates should find out which drugs police will be testing for and why, so your client can make an informed decision about whether to give blood or urine to police.

In some rape cases, depending on the investigation strategy, police will also do a medical/forensic exam on the perpetrator. Perpetrator rape exams are rare, however, because police generally don't want to tip the perpetrator at this point to the fact that he is under police investigation.

NOTE: Many people mistakenly believe that the rape exam provides the primary evidence in rape cases. The fact is that the medical/forensic exam rarely provides probative evidence in rape cases of adults.

One problem is that even if evidence gathered at the rape exam matches and identifies the suspect, the defense of most rapists is not a denial that they had sex with the victim. The defense of most rapists is that although they did have sex with the victim, that sex was consensual. As such, any DNA or other evidence found on the victim which identifies the suspect is rendered useless as probative evidence. DNA and other identifying evidence can, however, prevent the rapist from claiming he didn't have sex with the victim.

Another problem with evidence gathered at the rape exams is that any minor injuries documented on the victim are also generally easily dealt with by the defense attorney with a claim that the consensual sex was rough sex.

NOTE: Because of the highly intrusive and traumatic nature of rape exams, exquisite attention should be given to obtaining a truly informed consent from the victim prior to the medical/forensic the exam. The rape victim must be informed that she can refuse the exam, refuse any part of the exam, withdraw consent at any point, refuse to give blood or urine, or if she consents to give blood or urine, she can refuse to have the blood tested for specific illegal substances. The victim should also be informed that she can refuse a male medical examiner if she chooses.

A very common law enforcement abuse that occurs when rape victims exercise their rights to refuse one aspect or the other of the exam, is for the police officer to accuse the victim of not cooperating with the investigation, and then to threaten the victim that if she doesn't cooperate fully with the investigation (i.e. submit to whatever the officer wants) there will be no investigation. This common law enforcement threat to rape victims also frequently occurs at a number of other points in rape investigations and prosecutions, such as when rape victims attempt to exercise their rights to privacy, for example, by refusing to turn over her diary to a detective who requests it, or when she insists on her right to be accompanied by an advocate during interviews with police or prosecutors.

Law enforcement intimidations of and threats to rape victims following rape victims' attempts to exercise her rights are so common that we deal with the issue in more detail later on. For this section, suffice it to say, that it's important for advocates to be well versed in the law of the victim's rights and to be willing to protest law enforcement attempts to threaten victims who wish to exercise those rights.

NOTE: Also because of the highly intrusive and traumatic nature of rape exams, it is essential that non English-speaking victims have a professional interpreter present throughout the exam.

E. A Detective Carries out an In-Depth Victim Interview:

The police rape victim interview is both the most crucial evidence in the case and it is the most fragile of any evidence law enforcement is called on to gather. It's more fragile than lifting a footprint from the sand, and requires the utmost skill from the investigator. For this reason we discuss the in-depth rape interview in much more detail later on. For now, here are some points on how the rape interview fits into the procedural outline of a standard rape investigation.

If there was a medical/forensic exam, sometimes the on-call detective meets the victim at the rape exam and carries out the in-depth victim interview immediately following (or sometimes prior to) the rape exam. Or the on-call detective may schedule the interview for the next day or two days hence. Another common occurrence is that the on-call detective will pass the case on to the head of the sex crimes unit, and there will be a day or two (or more) wait until the case is assigned to a different detective.

In those cases where the in-depth interview is not carried out in the time frame of the initial report, officials frequently fail to tell the victim exactly when that interview will occur. They simply tell her that when a detective is assigned to the case, the detective will give her a call to set up an interview, leaving the victim totally up in the air as to what will be happening when.

In all fairness, the truth is that the responding officer or on-call detective often doesn't know when the detective assignment and phone call will occur. The problem for the victim, however, is that after having gathered her courage to make the initial rape report, to be left waiting for a phone call on an unspecified time frame from a unknown detective is one of the most traumatic times for rape victims. When that phone call doesn't come in the first day or two, the victim's anxiety often mounts to the most unbearable pitch of the whole criminal justice process.

The victims quickly become overwhelmed, thinking their worst fears have come to pass. In the absence of a phone call from a detective, a victim fears that the police probably didn't believe her or that they don't think her case is very important. On top of that, many fear that the perpetrator may have found out about her report and is loose out there looking for ways to retaliate against her. Why police can't take even one minute to care enough about victims to prevent this is beyond me. All it would take is a simple phone call from the head of the detective units to give rape victims a general time frame for upcoming events. But they don't.

The anxiety rape victims suffer at this juncture is so intense and so common that it's always a good idea for the advocate to contact the detective squad the day after the initial report in order to closely monitor progress on the case assignment so you can relay information to the victim. Regular phone calls by the advocate to the sex crimes unit commander also usually serve to speed up the process of case assignment and to prevent the case from sitting interminably in a pile.

When the detective does contact the victim, the rape interview, as much as possible, should be scheduled for a time and place that is comfortable for the victim. The detective should inform the victim of her right to have a victim advocate and a support person of her choosing be with her throughout the interview.

The rape interview itself should be detailed and complete. An audio recording should be made of the interview from beginning to end. The rape interview in most rape cases will provide the main leads for further investigation. (See form for evaluating police response to rape for detailed elements of the rape interview itself. www.justicewomen.com/help_rape_evaluation.html )

F. A Pretext Call is Set Up for Cases in which the Victim Knows the Perpetrator.

If the victim and perpetrator know each other - which they do in the majority of rape cases - following the rape interview the detective should explain and set up a pretext call. A pretext call is a phone call made by the victim, monitored and taped by police, in which the victim uses a preplanned pretext in an attempt to trick the perpetrator into talking about the rape. When successful, these taped "pretext calls" can all but wrap up a rape case. Perpetrators caught talking about the rape on a tape can usually be talked into accepting a guilty plea, often before the case even goes to court.

Here are a couple of examples of pretexts that can be used:

A victim of spousal rape may call her husband and say something like, "If we're going to live together again we have to talk about what happened last week......."

A girl victim of grandfather's sexual assaults calls grandpa and says, "The doctor told my mother I've been having sex and I have to tell her what we've been doing......"

A girl victim raped by her father says, "Mom knows what's been happening and she says I have to go with her to tell the police, but I don't want to go to the police. And I don't know what to do.....?"

NOTE: Properly prepared and partnered into the planning of a pretext call, rape victims, including child rape victims, can find the pretext call to be an empowering opportunity as they turn the tables on the perpetrator. Key to good preparation of the victim is the detective's willingness to engage the victim as a partner in staging the call. It's the victim, after all, who best understands the psychology, weaknesses, and leverage points of the perpetrator.

Unfortunately, too many detectives are unwilling to give up control of the investigation in this way. Instead of brainstorming with the victim ahead of time, and asking her to run through scenarios in her head, they impose a scenario on the victim at the last minute before having the victim make the call. As such, they not only diminish the empowerment this technique can give the victim, they also lose the powerful investigatory advantage that the victim's knowledge of the rapist can provide.

NOTE: In addition to the rape victim herself doing the pretext call, pretext calls can be carried out by any number of persons, limited only by the detective's creativity. Mothers of victims, counselors, teachers, bosses, and even friends of the perpetrator, etc., all have their own unique leverage on the perpetrator. They can often produce successful pretext calls even if an initial victim attempt has failed. Or if the victim has said she doesn't want to do the call.

NOTE: An interesting aspect of pretext calls is that even the most sophisticated of perpetrators can be often be tricked into talking about their crimes. The rapist's sense of their power over the victim is often so exaggerated they can't imagine the victim being capable of seizing the initiative, going to police, and then weaving a plot to trap him. A case in point is a veteran sheriff's deputy (from a neighboring county) who raped his adult cousin and then in a series of pretext calls the deputy talked on the phone with the victim about the crime for over four hours. When this veteran deputy was confronted by the police with what he had done, the deputy committed suicide.

G. The Detective Carries out Further Investigation.

Following the rape interview, most detectives will proceed to track down evidence leads and interview other witnesses in the case. Most of these leads to evidence and to additional witnesses in a rape case derive from information uncovered in the rape interview with the victim. This is why it's so critical that the rape interview be caring, competent, and complete. (See below for a list of the kinds of evidence that can bolster or prove a rape.)

NOTE: In situations where there's been is a successful pretext call which has produced a full statement of guilt by the perpetrator, some detectives may choose to go out and make the arrest at that point, leaving the additional investigative tasks for later, or with the intention of not pursuing them at all. In some such cases, it may be that the detective is rightly confident that the pretext call by itself will be sufficient to get an early guilty plea from the defendant, and so feels that there's no need to continue with the additional investigative leads.

On the other hand, it's always a risk, no matter how good the pretext call, to leave leads and witnesses unexamined. If there's any unforseen hitch in prosecution use of the pretext call, a prosecutor will right away look at the rest of the case. If the investigation is incomplete, the prosecutor may use this as an excuse not to go forward. Even if an arrest is made following the pretext call, the detective should complete the investigation.

NOTE: If the victim hasn't already told others that she has gone to the police, it's at this point in the investigation, when the detective goes out to interview other witnesses, that the victim's family and associates may become aware for the first time that the victim has made an accusation of rape. It's also the point in time when the perpetrator may first become aware that the victim has gone to the police with her accusation of rape. It's important that the police and the advocate are particularly vigilant to the victim's safety, and that, if possible, protective orders are put in place.

NOTE: The issue of protective orders is particularly complex in rape cases. Because much of the rape investigation is best carried out without the perpetrator being aware he is a suspect, most detectives will request that the victim hold off on obtaining a restraining order since serving the order notifies the suspect that the victim has gone to authorities. Another protective order difficulty in rape cases is that standard domestic violence protective orders only apply to those rape cases in which the victim has been raped by a family member. And since criminal court protective orders can't be obtained until charges are filed in the case, many rape victims go unprotected by protective order until the rape is formally charged by the district attorney for prosecution.

H. the Detective Interviews (Interrogates) the Perpetrator:

The suspect interview (interrogation) is usually the last thing the detective does before wrapping up the investigation. A good suspect interview usually requires that the detective be as knowledgeable as possible about the facts of the case before attempting to interview the suspect. This generally means that the detective should complete as much of the investigation as possible before interviewing the suspect. If the detective interviews the suspect right after a victim reports a rape, it may be an indication either that the detective is very inexperienced or that the detective is planning to throw the case. So the advocate should try to determine if there is or is not a good rationale for early interview of a suspect.

In one such case in which there were three eye witnesses to the sexual abuse of a child, (and the detective knew there were three eye witnesses), the detective phoned the suspect before interviewing any of the witnesses and simply asked the suspect if he had abused his child. Not surprisingly, the suspect told the detective that, No, he hadn't abused his child. The detective called this a suspect interview. He then wrote up the case report in which he said that there were no witnesses and further, that when the suspect was interviewed he denied abusing the child. The detective then closed the case.

The best laid plans of the detective can quickly be undone, however, if the suspect refuses to talk. A smart suspect will always refuse to talk to police. Fortunately, most aren't that smart. It's amazing how many people will talk to police to try and clear themselves. It's also amazing how often some detectives are able to get a rapist to confess even when there's no good evidence against the rapist.

However, in the sum, most rapists don't confess to the rape. Short of a confession, the detective will try at least to get the suspect locked into the details of his story, details which will likely contradict what the detective already knows to be the truth as a result of having done a thorough investigation.

I. The detective obtains an arrest warrant, and makes the arrest.

In most rape cases, police don't make an arrest in a rape case until they feel they have sufficient evidence to support a prosecution. This long delay before arresting rape suspects is usually very difficult for victims. If the investigation drags on, many victims begin to think the reason the suspect isn't being arrested is because the police don't believe her. Not only that, but as the days pass and the suspect isn't arrested, people around the victim may start taunting the victim, saying things like, "See, even the police don't believe you."

It's crucial that you as a rape victim's advocate anticipate this common anxiety of rape victims. If your monitoring of the investigation tells you things are proceeding in a reasonable time frame, you need to explain to the victim, and to her family and friends, why it may be a while before the suspect is arrested. If, on the other hand, you feel the detective is dragging his feet, you'll need to push to get the investigation moving properly. Dragging out a rape investigation is one of the most common tactics used by police to dump these cases, since they do know that rape victims will start to feel the police don't believe her and she'll be too mortified to protest.

NOTE: Because most rape arrests are not on-view arrests, when the detective is ready to arrest, he or she generally obtains an arrest warrant before making an arrest. When applying to the court for the arrest warrant, instead of writing up a separate document summarizing the evidence, most detectives take the easier route of simply attaching a copy of the police report to the arrest warrant petition. This fact creates an unique opportunity for rape victim advocates and their clients, since arrest warrants are usually quickly available on the public record.

What this means, is that once police obtain an arrest warrant you or the victim can go to the criminal court clerk and obtain your own copy of the arrest warrant, and lo and behold, you'll find a copy of the police report attached. Since most states don't give rape victims the right to obtain a copy of the police report in rape cases, obtaining a copy of the arrest warrant will serve to get you a copy of the police report in a large percentage of cases.

J. The Detective sends his or her completed report to the District Attorney's Office for review.

In many jurisdictions, including our own, police don't send all their rape investigations to the district attorney. They only send up those investigations to the district attorney which they feel have a good chance to be accepted for filing.

This is a very bad practice, since it leaves a deep dark hole in which police can routinely dump the rape cases they don't want to investigate without even district attorney review. And though district attorney review is no guarantee that rape cases will be investigated properly, it does add one more check on the process. Counties should have policies similar to the domestic violence policies adopted by many counties which require that all domestic violence crime reports be sent to the district attorney for review. Counties should have policies which require that all police rape, sexual assault, and child molest cases crime reports be sent to the district attorney for review. We are currently pushing for this measure in our county.

K. The District Attorney decides to file charges on the case, decides to reject the case for filing, or decides to send the case back to the police for further investigation.



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Women's Justice Center,


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