Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
edited in this post, you can find the entire letter here
First and foremost, on behalf of the Office on Violence Against Women, let me congratulate all of our grantees and others in the field on a very successful Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Organizations from across the country spent this last month having important conversations, increasing awareness, and h elping end domestic violence against women. We are proud of your efforts!
Additionally, it was an incredible honor for the White House to host an event centered on the Administration’s unprecedented coordination across the Federal government to combat violence against women on October 27th. President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal addressed the need to continue to confront domestic and sexual violence in this country. The importance of better communication between law enforcement and direct service providers, enforcement of protective orders, and changing public attitudes were discussed at length. President Obama specifically highlighted the financial barriers of domestic violence and the need for emergency relocation and housing accommodations so that “no one has to choose be tween a violent home and no home at all.”
The Office on Violence Against Women worked with Attorney General Holder to re-charter the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women (NAC) to provide advice and recommendations to the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services on how to improve the nation’s response to violence against women, with a specific focus on successful interventions with children and teens who witness and/or are victimized by domestic violence or sexual assault. The committee includes highly regarded advocates, justice system and child welfare professionals, and researchers.
OVW worked with the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to develop the “Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Action Research Project” to identify long term solutions to eliminating the backlog of untested sexual assault kits that have not yet been submitted to a crime laboratory.
As Domestic Violence Awareness Month has now closed, we begin our focus on April: Sexual Assault Awareness Month. When the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, sexual assault was included as on e of the crimes to be addressed. There is a general consensus, however, that for a variety of reasons, sexual assault has not received the same level of attention as has domestic violence. As a result, sexual assault remains a tragically pervasive and costly problem.
In preparation for what we hope to be a very effective Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, we wanted to begin a national conversation about sexual violence: what it looks like now, and what we want to be able to accomplish in the next five years. With this in mind, OVW was proud to collaborate with the White House Council on Women and Girls to host a first-ever national sexual violence Roundtable. Advocates, law enforcement, judges, survivors, prosecutors, medical professionals and federal employees travelled from all across the country to heighten our discussions as well as develop a plan of a ction to address this unacceptable epidemic. While advocates and experts from the field discussed a public awareness campaign, federal experts were able to listen to the needs of the stakeholders on the ground and hear how the federal government can and should heighten their assistance to address sexual violence in America. The Roundtable allowed those in the field and at the national level to effectively communicate how each can help the other to achieve mutual success, both at the local and the national level, by establishing next steps to ultimately end sexual violence against women.
It is clear from our discussions, as well as the comments from the champions of this cause in the White House, that awareness must be a cornerstone to our actions moving forward. For many community members our advocates and experts interact with each day, the myths of sexual violence are pre valent and hard to un-learn. Contrary to what many Americans believe, sexual violence does not just occur in dark alleys, perpetrated by strangers. Sadly sexual violence is often perpetrated by someone known to the victim, in places where the victim feels the safest, such as at home or at a friend’s home. Sexual violence spans every demographic: every race, socioeconomic background, geographic location, sexual orientation, and age group. On average, one in six women will be sexually assault in her lifetime. For certain populations such as for women on college campus, in assisted living facilities and on Native American lands, this number increases to staggering levels. As President Obama stated: “It is simply unacceptable.”
In a country that has made such progress in addressing domestic violence, it is a moral imperative that we develop a nation al dialogue and focus on ending sexual violence against all women, children and men. As we continue our multi-disciplinary conversations about sexual violence in America, we will be asking for assistance from every member of the community. It will require each and every one of us to end this tragic problem. And as Vice President Biden stated at the White House last month, “It’s not about reducing; it’s about ending.” It’s not only time, it’s beyond time.
With deep respect and gratitude,
Susan B. Carbon
U.S. Department of Justice
Monday, November 22, 2010
What a great note to end the Series on. It was wonderful hearing from so many advocates. We heard from some who have been Advocates for a few days or weeks, and Advocates who have been doing this for years. Advocates new and old shared Hotline and F2F calls that were difficult and challenging. It was really great hearing the positive feedback among the volunteers and tips that Advocates who have been doing this for a long time were able to give.
Some feedback from fellow advocates
- Liked the story sharing, it was helpful
- Great participants, very helpful with tips and what others have experienced. Thank you!
- Great to hear all the stories- both good and bad!!
So thank you again. I look forward to the CES of 2011!
Friday, November 12, 2010
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
6:30pm – 8:00pm
Case Western Reserve University
Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations
10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106
Details: Please park in the Cornell-Mayfield parking garage – Lot #34. For detailed directions, visit www.uhhospitals.org. Click on Patients & Visitors / UH Construction Corner / Alternate Driving Routes.
For more information, contact Erin Michel at (614) 461-4484 or email@example.com.
National Association of Social Workers-Ohio Chapter, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences-
Case Western Reserve University, Renee Jones Empowerment Center, Ohio Abolitionist Coalition
The CRCC's very own VP of Client and Clinical Services, Kirsti Mouncey, will be participating as a panel member!
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
The "it" in this situation is her character Charlotte's sexual assault and brutal beating in this Thursday's episode of Private Practice (10/9c on ABC).
At the end of last week's episode, Charlotte walked out of her office at the hospital only to encounter a deranged man whose face the audience has yet to see (though we know he's played by Buffy alum Nicholas Brendon). After a harsh smack, he shoved her back into the dark office as the episode faded to black.
"The fact that she has this happen in her place of business is a very powerful statement because she has to go back to it," Strickland says. "It will never be the same thing to walk into that hospital and to have all your control taken away."
Charlotte's initial reaction is one of shame and denial — so much so that the once fearless and hardened leader of the hospital will not share what happened behind closed doors.
"Charlotte is so apprehensive," Strickland says, tearing up at the thought of Charlotte's plight and that of the many real-life survivors. "Charlotte is someone who absolutely lives to control things in her life. In this moment and in this act of crime that happens to her, all control is lost. Out of the devastation and the shock that come with that, she wants to act as if it didn't happen."
Because she's in shock, Charlotte will initially reject being subjected to a rape kit. "Addison is trying to convince her to do the right thing — the rape kit, the HIV test, all the blood labs — these are imperative things," says Kate Walsh, clad in a nightshirt and a red parka to keep her warm following a bedroom scene between her character Addison and Sam (Taye Diggs).
"The dichotomy of that relationship changes dramatically because I need to lean into someone," Strickland says. "I feel safe and I also feel that Addison would never betray me in a situation. The thing that I love about the character of Addison, in terms of her being a hero, is that you really see her stand in those shoes with a very new point of view because this isn't hers to do. It's mine. I'm the one living with it and I bring her into it."
And because Violet (Amy Brenneman) was raped in college, she will help to guide Charlotte. It "opens up a story between a survivor from a college-age and this story of an immediate victim, having to learn how to become a survivor," Strickland says. "It's not always the easiest thing to come to grips with and certainly not in the hours that pass because so much happens."
Next to Charlotte, her fiancé Cooper (Paul Adelstein) will take the attack the hardest. "She's a very strong woman and he has a lot of trouble seeing her so compromised," says Adelstein, who didn't see Strickland in the full makeup until they shot the first reaction scene, hoping to capture an authentic moment. "He's actively pushing Charlotte to be more present in the investigation and calling the police. He's really encouraging her to close this thing."
The small victories will come in Cooper attempting to make her smile, though she'll be the one trying to buck-up for Cooper's sake. "At one point she gets afraid that he's going to leave her because they're not back to normal," Adelstein says, adding that Cooper will also be in the dark for several episodes before learning the true nature of her attack.
Exiting Sam's beach house, the Georgia native heads to a hallway in the hospital set, where the media village and director's chairs have been cleared away for her to film the PSA that will air with Thursday's episode.
In one take, Strickland delivers this video message.
RAINN's 24-hour national hotline can be reached at 800 656-HOPE or by going to online.rainn.org.
Monday, November 8, 2010
Human beings rarely allow their face to truly express what is deep in their soul. It is something we typically guard against. When you see the emotional pain, confusion, fright, shock, and sadness occurring simultaneously on the face of a patient that was raped, it sticks with you.
It has been three years since this image was etched into my memory, but when I close my eyes I can see her face as if I just met her yesterday. When my pager goes off and I begin my drive to the emergency department, the glimpse of her damaged soul invades my consciousness. I am glad it does, as it was at that moment that I really knew that I wanted to be a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE).
The decision to join a sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) team is not an easy one. Beyond the personal evaluation of time, commitment, education, personal experiences, and vicarious trauma that we each need to consider, some nurses have other considerations to ponder and overcome to become a SANE. One group of nurses, are men.
When the thought of joining the SAFE team first entered my mind, I decided I needed to learn more about the role. My first step was searching the internet and I discovered no academic sites discussing men as SANEs. Instead, I found blogs that described men caring for sexual assault victims as “gross” or with comments such as, “if I was just raped I wouldn’t let a man touch me.” I then asked some of my nursing colleagues their thoughts and received mixed feedback about men in this role.
I was not ready to give up all hope about the possibility of being a SANE. I decided to do a literature review. My search yielded no results for the men in this career. Fortunately, I found dozens of articles and other references that discussed SANEs. In a single article, the author mentioned men being on their SANE team. I also found a paragraph addressing male SANEs in Virginia Lynch’s Forensic Nursing textbook (2006). I was elated to find these and set out to contact the authors.
After several weeks, I was able to correspond with these two men and we discussed their role as sexual assault nurses. Their words were encouraging. They both had been providing forensic nursing care for years with extremely rare instances where the patient refused them solely on their gender. They both had felt some resistance early on, but that quickly dissipated. With this encouraging news, I made the decision to apply to the SAFE team and became the first male SANE in our institution.
Since joining the team three years ago, I have yet to have a patient, pediatric or adult, decline my services once I have met with them. There were a few cases early on that patients did ask for a female nurse. These were due to the staff’s introduction of me. For example, “the male forensic nurse is on call today, is that okay?” This question undermines my ability to connect with the patient and results in a “no” response. If the staff feels it necessary to let the patient know that I am male, I ask them to say, “Pete is our forensic nurse today and he will be caring for you.” This still conveys to the patient I am a man, but allows me the opportunity to connect with them.
The forensic exam is all about our patients and I do give them opportunity to decline my services and opt for one of my female colleagues. So far, not one patient has taken the offer.
When I meet my patient, I immediately begin to return the power and control that they lost in the assault. I am acutely aware of my body language. I try to sit eye level or even lower than them. If the only chair in the room would position me higher than my patient, I ask to switch places with the advocate or friend of the patient, or I sit on the floor. As the exam transitions from patient history to physical/forensic exam, I remind the patient that we can stop at any time for any reason and I have a female healthcare provider in the room with me. As I perform the exam, I ask the patient if I can touch them, especially when examining intimate areas of their body. I also feel it is very important to keep them covered as much as possible to maintain their dignity and privacy.
One area that I personally struggle with is therapeutic touch. I am not a “touchy-feely” kind of guy, but when caring for my patients and their families in my regular job, I am not afraid to hold their hand, put an arm around them, or give a hug. These moments are spontaneous and not always predictable. I understand that the patients I work with in the SANE role have been touched when there was no invitation and I don’t want to re-traumatize them with a spontaneous touch.
Becoming a SANE has affected my life many ways. I have felt an excitement about nursing that I have not experienced in years. The combination of forensic and nursing science is fascinating to me and I have read more research since joining the team, than I have in first ten years of my career. This has led me to participate in research and conduct evidence based practice projects that will hopefully improve outcomes for patients who are victims of violence.
While my overall experience as a SANE has been wonderful, I do look at the world from a new perspective. When I watch the children in my neighborhood walk up the street from the bus stop, I now think to myself that 1 in 5 of the girls will be victims of an attempted or completed rape and 1 in 3 will be an abusive relationship. When this runs through my mind, I long for the days of ignorant bliss. These thoughts, however, have motivated me to actively speak on the subject of sexual and interpersonal violence.
My experience as a SANE has taught me that what is often more important to these patients is the genuine care and concern for them, not the nurse’s gender. Whether you are a “female” or “male” nurse, each SANE has the ability to positively impact the patients whom we see, helping them transition from victim to survivor.
ReferencesLedray, LE. (2006). Sexual Assault. In Virginia Lynch (Ed.), Forensic Nursing (pp. 279-291). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Peter J. Eisert started his healthcare career as a medic in the U.S. Army. After serving, he attended Penn State University and earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. Pete has worked in the Neonatal ICU for more than fourteen years. He also is a member of York Hospital’s Forensic Nurse Examiner Team and is SANE-A and SANE-P certified. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Fears of juror biases often prevent rape cases from making it to trial, Cuyahoga County prosecutors say
One factor can trump all others when prosecutors are deciding whether to take a sex assault case to trial or to give the accused a plea deal: the public's preconceived notions of what constitutes rape.
More than most crimes, rape stirs emotions within the public consciousness and prompts gut reactions to the circumstances and characters involved. Prosecutors often feel they have to review their cases with consideration to how the facts might play on a jury. And that means many cases are never brought to trial or are pleaded down to lesser charges or sometimes to non-sex-related offenses that exempt the defendant from having to register as a sex offender.
According to a Plain Dealer analysis, defendants accepted plea deals in about 70 percent of the 2,477 sex crimes cases indicted in Cuyahoga County between 2004 and 2008.
Of those, more than 18 percent pleaded guilty only to non-sex offenses. And among the minority of cases that were decided by juries, about 18 percent of defendants were acquitted of all sex charges.
Consider the case of Jayson Murphy, whose guilt or innocence hinged on whether a Cuyahoga County jury believed his story or his former girlfriend's.
Murphy did not deny that he took photos of his naked, unconscious girlfriend, presumably drugged, lewdly posed with sex toys and his dirty underwear draped over her face.
But for months before that night last fall, the couple had been having kinky consensual sex, role playing and snapping photos. For a panel of Cuyahoga County jurors, what they labeled "implied consent" was enough to acquit Murphy of rape.
"She was a hypocrite," one juror said in an interview after the verdict was announced. "If she didn't take those photos originally, I would have been more in her favor. But their relationship was all about lust and infatuation and role playing. That was a big factor."
Looking to plant seed of reasonable doubt
Jurors, as community members, often adopt biases and expectations of appropriate behavior by victims before and after reporting a sexual assault and during the attack itself, said Lisa Frohmann, a Chicago-based sociologist who has studied prosecutorial decision-making in rape cases.
"Jurors make assumptions about women who are from a different socioeconomic background or who might lead a lifestyle they deem unsafe or inappropriate but is completely acceptable in communities with lots of poverty or drugs," Frohmann said. "Society tends to have ideas about who really can be raped, what a real rape victim is."
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Dave Zimmerman, major-trials supervisor under Prosecutor Bill Mason, said every element of the victim's story and lifestyle -- whether she uses drugs, had consented previously to sex with her attacker, willingly let him into the house or waited days before reporting the assault -- can become fodder for defense attorneys looking to plant the seed of reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.
Under Ohio's Rape Shield law, evidence of a victim's past sexual activity or reputation of promiscuity cannot be admitted into trial. However, pregnancy, disease or semen from a source other than the defendant can open the door for defense lawyers to grill the victim on her sex life.
And unless the defendant chooses to testify, judges often ban prosecutors from presenting evidence of a defendant's prior convictions -- leaving the victim's behavior exposed to greater scrutiny than the offender's.
Murphy took the stand in his own defense, so jurors learned of his 2001 attempted domestic violence conviction. But they were unaware of a rape accusation against him that never made it past the grand jury in 1993.
Trying to figure out which strategy is best
In most sexual assault cases, the victim knows her attacker. So jurors tend to dissect the nature of that relationship in the deliberating room, Zimmerman said.
Prosecutors seek to detect biases during the jury selection process, when lawyers ask questions to vet the pool of potential jurors for their opinions on issues germane to the case. But truthfulness is not always guaranteed. Defense lawyers, as they did in the Murphy case, have the power to strike from the panel any juror who might have a personal connection to a sexual assault victim and understands the complexities of prosecuting such crimes.
Often, offering the defendant a plea deal not only spares the victim the trauma of reliving the attack on the witness stand, but it also means the defendant won't get away without a conviction, Zimmerman said.
"As a trial strategy, I'd rather have a plea than a not guilty," Zimmerman said. "It brings some satisfaction to the victim. And sometimes, going to trial to have the defendant register as a sex offender is not worth the risk of him being found not guilty."
But plea agreements carry their own risks.
Prosecutors say decisions to offer plea deals in sex crimes cases are not made lightly. They must take into account the strength of the evidence, the victim's well-being and how a jury will perceive elements of the case.
Such was the case in 2007, when Steven Othberg, then 21, was accused of molesting a 5-year-old girl whom he was entrusted to baby-sit.
The case made it past a grand jury and was indicted. But evidence was scarce, the young victim's story was inconsistent, and prosecutors worried that the lifestyle of the victim's parents would make a bad impression on the jury. The girl had two mothers, one of whom worked as a drag king at a local gay bar and was headed to work a late-night shift when Othberg baby-sat.
Prosecutors offered Othberg a chance to plead guilty to endangering children. As part of the plea, a sexually violent predator specification was dropped. And Othberg, who was sentenced to the single day he already had served in the County Jail, was free to go without the stigmatizing sex offender label.
But shortly afterward, he moved to Arizona, where he made a 3-year-old Scottsdale boy take off his clothes and Othberg -- again, the baby sitter -- touched him. Prosecutors had no trouble proving their case this time; Othberg had taken photos on his cell phone. In 2009, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was placed in Arizona's most dangerous tier of sexual offenders, required to register and wear a GPS tracking device for life.
Zimmerman, who signs off on the decisions that assistant county prosecutors make, said that, at the time, he made the best possible call based on the circumstances of the case, the weaknesses in the victim's testimony and the overall low likelihood of conviction on a rape charge.
"We make those tough decisions every day," Zimmerman said. "We do right by our victims and the community, and we believe in our cases. Knowing that a person is free who we believe committed a violent act -- that hurts. But sometimes there's nothing we can do about it, besides hope we'll get him the next time."
A move to ban plea deals in sex offense cases
One state legislator in New York says that's not good enough. After conducting his own study of sexual assault case dispositions in his district, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky proposed a bill that he says is designed to prevent tragic conclusions like that in the Othberg case.
The bill would prohibit prosecutors in New York from offering plea deals in sex offense cases altogether, forcing them to take the case to trial, indict on lesser crimes or drop the charges.
"There are times when it makes sense to offer a plea agreement for some kinds of crimes," Brodsky said in a recent interview. "But there are many more times when really bad guys plead out of the sex offender category, we give them a 'get out of jail free' pass, then they come out and do it again."
Brodsky said that if prosecutors have enough evidence to indict a case, they should have enough to take it to trial. He argues that prosecutors plead out weak cases only because they don't want a loss on their records.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Anna Faraglia, who handled the Murphy case and has spent the past decade prosecuting sex crimes and murder cases, dismisses Brodsky's reasoning. She argues that banning all plea deals is insensitive to the needs of victims, could lead to backlogs on the docket and in the end means guilty defendants will walk.
"It's a whole different perspective when you're on the outside looking in," Faraglia said. "People don't know what goes into a plea. It's not because we don't think we can go forward. But it's also not as open and shut as it seems on TV. We're dealing with human emotions and sexuality and relationships. And at the end of the day, it's all about the 12 people you put in that box."
It all comes down to what jurors see, think and feel
Although jurors acquitted Murphy of rape, they convicted him of four counts of sexual battery -- a charge that carries a much lower burden of proof. Prosecutors had to show only that sexual conduct occurred, that the victim was substantially impaired and that the couple were not married.
Common Pleas Judge Peter Corrigan sentenced Murphy to 20 years in prison and labeled him a Tier III sex offender, required to register every 90 days for life. The judge said in a recent interview that he took into consideration Murphy's record and what appeared to be a dangerous and escalating pattern of crimes against women.
But that information was largely unavailable to jurors, who said they considered other factors in their decision to acquit on the rape charge.
One juror pointed out that the couple started dating after they met in traffic court, a dubious place to find a mate. They smoked marijuana together and shared a sexual relationship that included text messaging each other photos that were so risque, they made jurors blush with embarrassment to review them in the jury room.
"I can't believe some of the stuff that goes on -- what some people do," said one juror, who was in his 70s. "There are so many words that I've spoken this week that I had never even heard before."
Although Faraglia said the victim broke down in tears upon leaving the courtroom, some jurors said after the trial that they didn't feel the victim was emotional enough during her testimony.
She seemed more embittered by the relationship than traumatized by the attack, they said. Jurors admitted that the case did not fit with their prior perceptions of rape.
Many on the panel had agreed with Faraglia during jury selection that someone who is unconscious cannot issue consent.
But some later said they still struggled with the notion that a woman could be raped by someone with whom she previously had consented to more graphic sex than what occurred on the night in question.
"My idea of rape was always intimidation, violence, bruises," one juror said. "Nothing like this -- with two people who just met, living together and sexing each other on a consistent basis. She tried to present herself as the victim all the time. But if he didn't show her the pictures he took with his camera, who knows? She probably would still be with him."
For profiles of 5 plea deals offered by prosecutors, click here.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
What led you to volunteer with the CRCC?
I was a women ’s studies major in college and had previous involvement working with women’s issues and organizations. I wanted to continue that involvement at home in Cleveland.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering with the CRCC?
I enjoy being able to provide any help I can offer to make someone’s experience dealing with sexual assault a little easier.
What do you find most challenging about volunteering with the CRCC?
There can be some really heavy and emotional calls. I just try to keep in mind how much I’m possibly helping just by listening to someone’s story and supporting them even if I can’t provide a concrete solution to their problem.
Do you have a favorite experience as a volunteer?
I enjoyed training a lot and meeting so many other people interested in supporting such an important cause. It’s really fun running into other volunteers from training out and about and at CRCC events like the poker festival.
Chioke (on the left) with a friend What do you enjoy doing when you're not volunteering?
When I'm not volunteering with the hotline, I actually enjoy volunteering for other social causes. Besides that I like the usual ... watching movies, museums, reading, trying to be athletic.
If money wasn’t an issue, describe your ideal vacation.
Well, I’m sort of obsessed with shows about travel eating like No Reservations and Spain …On the Road Again. I also really loved the eating section of Eat Pray Love so my dream vacation would mostly consist of eating my way through an entire country. I’d do some site seeing and cultural stuff of course and try to meet locals but my focus would really be food. I’d love to do this in Greece. I’d take my best friend Crystal who loves eating and traveling too.
If you won the lottery, how would you spend the money?
Pay off student loans. Travel. Grad School.
What is your dream car?
A Smart Car
Book: This changes the more I read. I love The Heidi Chronicles, it’s a play but oh well.
Movie: Pedro Almodovar films especially Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Website or blog: I like to browse a lot of vegan blogs and enjoy 101cookbooks.com.
Vacation spot: Acapulco
Sports team/athlete: Rafael Nadal
What do you enjoy doing when you're not volunteering?
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Our mistaken ideas about what rape is start as early as preschool, with lessons about "stranger danger."
Sensational news reports about women attacked in dark alleys by unknown perverts add to the confusion, as messages about who we say the bad guys are get pounded into the public consciousness.
But the majority of rapists and molesters don't lurk in dark corners. They are often people we know -- relatives, neighbors, dates. Rapes don't always fit the patterns we've come to expect.
Our wrong-headed perceptions create a conundrum for victims, detectives and prosecutors, who must decide whether to battle the myths and pursue justice or avoid a spectacle of second-guessing and blaming the victim that, some say, can be as traumatic as being sexually violated -- like a second rape.
"Victims of rape often don't get justice simply because public perception does not match reality," said Megan O'Bryan, president and chief executive of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
Part of the center's mission is to end those myths through education and advocacy.
But that can be of little solace for victims tangled in the system now. "It is such a slow process due to a culture that still seeks to blame the victim," O'Bryan said.
Decades of national studies and victim surveys back up anecdotal evidence that says that more than 60 percent of sexual crime victims are attacked by friends, dates, former boyfriends, husbands or relatives -- people they know.
In Cleveland, that number is even higher. Of 339 rapes reported this year through July, nearly 75 percent involved someone the victim knew.
Many times alcohol or drugs are involved. And often there is little evidence of physical injury. Cases typified as "he said, she said" are the least likely to be reported and most likely to go unprosecuted.
Unfortunately, sexual perpetrators understand those same biases and exploit them, said Sgt. Liz Donegan of the Austin Police Department, known for its work in combating sex crimes.
"As a society, we are allowing these crimes to happen to a certain extent," she said.
"Perpetrators know we will blame victims and challenge their credibility."
For more than eight years the Austin department has collected information on sexual assaults it handles.
And it is fighting the rape culture by sharpening its investigative techniques toward the typical victim -- rather than concentrating on the less common stranger cases.
A special commission appointed by Mayor Frank Jackson this year to examine how sexual assault cases are handled in Cleveland referred to Austin's work in many of its recommendations for change.
Donegan, who has supervised the adult sex crimes unit for eight years, said police and prosecutors need to push back against the cultural myths among the public -- and within their own professions.
"It's realizing that there's often alcohol involved and that there's often no injuries. And that most of the time the investigation is going to be hard and going to come down to a consent issue," Donegan said.
"Being a police officer, you want to see things in black and white," she said. "Sex crimes are almost always gray."
There was a perception that the cases were lousy, that the victims were not credible, Donegan said. The department leadership educated officers and began demanding that the so-called acquaintance rapes be investigated with the same vigor as stranger rapes. Attitudes began to change, and the more challenging cases got worked on, she said.
But that doesn't mean that all the cases are solved or that all the victims feel great about the process.
Detectives still have to walk a fine line between their duties as impartial investigators and the need to let victims know the criminal justice system supports them. And they have to give victims the ultimate choice and control over whether they want to participate in a prosecution, Donegan said.
In Austin, advocates employed by the department and the courts have played an increasingly larger role in sex-crimes cases. They respond to 9-1-1 calls and go to hospitals. They prepare victims for what types of questions to expect when interviewed by detectives. They explain each step in the case. And if the case goes to court, they are there, too.
Until recently in Cleveland, volunteer and professional rape crisis center advocates were mainly linked with victims when referred by hospitals, by detectives or, further down the line, by prosecutors.
Now, the rape crisis center has a victim advocate stationed in the sex crimes unit to review all reports and quickly offer help to victims-- whether they choose to prosecute or not.
Most people who report sexual attacks drop out of the process after making the initial report, according to a Plain Dealer analysis of reports from 2004 through 2008.
Detectives' reports often note that the victims can't be found or decide not to cooperate with the investigation. Less than 30 percent of reported cases ever make it to court.
Current members of the Sex Crimes & Child Abuse Unit declined to talk about how public perception plays into their interaction with victims.
O'Bryan said that pursuing prosecution isn't always the best decision for many rape victims.
"It is a personal decision that balances many factors including what is going on it that victim's life and the fact that many perpetrators are known and trusted by the victim, making it a less 'believable' rape," O'Bryan said.
"Many victims don't want their experiences scrutinized or to sit face-to-face from their perpetrator in court through a lengthy and often re-victimizing process. So they decide it is simply better for their healing not to prosecute."
But that decision has to be one that is made after a case is investigated and a victim is fully informed, said Donegan.
"We want victims to have that choice and that control," she said. "But if the default is not going forward because it's easier, then you will never challenge the status quo."
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Monday, November 1, 2010
In his comments Mr. Figliuzzi stated that CRCC was nominated due to our partnership in advocacy work with the FBI. This relationship has been in development for many years and we now are called to work collaboratively with the FBI in providing services to human trafficking victims and sex crimes victims within FBI jurisdiction. Mr. Figliuzzi also stated that the work of the Special Commission (continued by CRCC) urged greater collaboration between CPD and the FBI. This has directly led to the assignment of two CPD detectives to the FBI’s Violent Fugitive Task Force.
CRCC is so pleased to be recognized for our work to foster greater collaboration and advocate for victims! Publicity around this will be done in March 2011, closer to the time we accept that award, but I wanted to let you know now! A picture from yesterday’s presentation is attached. Here’s a little info about the award from FBI’ s website:
Honoring Community Leaders
It's a fact: the FBI can only conduct investigations and protect the American people from crime and acts of extremism if it has the support and understanding of the American people. That's why the special agents in charge of each of our 56 field offices work so closely with their communities and community organizations.
The honorees come from all walks of life. They include a mayor and a pastor, an imam and an investigative reporter, a pediatrician and a former professional football player. Many have worked with us directly—to investigate and prevent crime and terrorism, to raise awareness about our mission, to build new and stronger relationships with all segments of society, or to publicize wanted fugitives and missing persons.
- 2009 Winners