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REPORTING TO LAW ENFORCEMENT
The legal aspects of sexual assault/abuse can be difficult, frustrating, and tedious. Remember, Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse is here to support you through the process, and we have legal advocates who are sensitive to the feelings you may have and understand legal processes.
A police report may be taken at the hospital, or, if you decide not to seek medical attention, you may file the report with your local law enforcement agency. At the hospital or doctor's office, an officer will arrive to talk to you and ensure that the chain of evidence procedures are followed if you choose to have a rape exam. The officer may stand in the doorway or just outside the door of the examining room to make sure the evidence from the exam is preserved. Law enforcement departments usually try to send an officer who is the gender that you requested, however, this may be difficult in rural areas where there are fewer female officers.
The officer will want to find out what happened and will ask you some questions. These questions are very personal and may seem accusatory, but by asking you such detailed questions, the officer is establishing exactly what happened so that law enforcement can make a determination on what to do next in the investigation of the crime. Some of the questions may include:
We understand that it is difficult to discuss such personal things, especially after experiencing a trauma such as sexual assault/abuse. Please remember that, in order to prosecute successfully, detail is important.
REMEMBER, RAPE IS NEVER YOUR FAULT!
THIRD PARTY REPORTS
If you do not want to file a report yourself, an informational third party report can be filed. This means that someone can give law enforcement details about the assault, as directed by you, on your behalf. Law enforcement will not do an investigation based on a third party report. Without your full cooperation, an investigation and successful prosecution is most likely not possible. Advocates through Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse are available to help you if you are interested in reporting by third party.
CONDUCT BOARD REPORTS
If you are a student at the University of Idaho or Washington State University, you also have the option of filing a report with the university conduct boards. Based on your report, the conduct board will determine the appropriate action and penalty, if any. If you are interested in pursing possible conduct board reports, advocates from Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse are available to assist you.
If you choose to report the assault/abuse to law enforcement, they may investigate the crime and interview all of the individuals involved. This includes the perpetrator and any witnesses that may have seen you either before or after the assault/abuse. Sometimes people who have been victimized by sexual assault/abuse are scared about what reporting might mean and sometimes change their minds. Law enforcement will usually take into consideration your concerns and/or wishes in deciding to pursue investigation and prosecution. However, it is possible that the case will be investigated and prosecuted even if you do not want to pursue charges. If you are unsure, law enforcement may or may not make an arrest and they will pass the information on to the prosecutor. The prosecutor will determine whether or not to file charges.
If the perpetrator is arrested and booked into jail, it is likely that s/he will be released on bail. If the perpetrator is released, you should be notified. Almost always a condition of release will be to have no contact with the victim.
Law enforcement investigates the crime and sends the report to the prosecutor. It is the prosecutor's decision whether or not to file charges. Victims of crime cannot "press" or "drop" charges. Depending on your willingness to cooperate with the prosecutor and/or the amount of evidence available, charges may be filed against the perpetrator. If you do not wish to cooperate with law enforcement and/or the prosecutor, your decision usually will be honored and no charges will be filed. However, it is always the prosecutor's decision to follow through with the case, whether you are cooperative or not. If the prosecutor believes that there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute, s/he may not file charges or follow through with prosecution, even if you want the prosecution to go ahead. The prosecutor will explain his/her decisions to you. If you are unwilling to cooperate, but the evidence is overwhelming and the prosecutor strongly believes that s/he can prosecute successfully, then s/he may proceed despite your preference. We encourage you to work with law enforcement and the prosecutor to the extent that you are able. Legal advocates through Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse are available to support you through this difficult process, explain the criminal justice system, keep you abreast of the status of your case, and accompany you to any legal meetings (law enforcement, prosecutor's office) or hearings.
A plea bargain is an agreement made by the prosecutor and the defendant's attorney that is presented to the Judge for consideration. This usually means a guilty plea for a less serious offense or lighter sentencing. The need for a trial, and therefore victim testimony, is not necessary. As the victim, your wishes concerning a plea bargain agreement should be taken into account by the prosecutor.
THE DEFENSE ATTORNEY
At some point, the defense attorney will want to question the victim as s/he prepares the defendant's case for trial. This request usually comes via the prosecutor. If you are contacted directly by the defense attorney you are advised not to speak to him/her but REFER HIM/HER TO THE PROSECUTOR. The prosecutor will then accommodate the defense attorney's request for a meeting at a time that is convenient for all involved.
The purpose of the meeting is to question the victim so that the defense attorney has all the information s/he needs to prepare for a defense at trial.
At the trial, evidence is presented which usually includes the victim's statements and any physical evidence (ex: photographs of bruises or injuries, saliva, hair, or semen) or other evidence that has been collected. The defendant (perpetrator) does not have to present any evidence, testify or put on a defense at trial. In cases of sexual assault/abuse or rape, the evidence often comes down to one person's word against another's. Your statement to law enforcement and the evidence collected during the rape exam and at the scene become an extremely important part of the evidence that can be presented by the prosecutor at trial. Therefore, it is important to remember that the longer you wait to report, the less evidence there will be and the harder it will be to prosecute the case successfully. Legal advocates through Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse are available to be with you to provide support through the trial and any other court hearings.
If the defendant either pleads guilty to the original charge(s), pleads guilty to a plea bargain, or is found guilty at trial, a sentencing hearing date will be set. A pre-sentence investigation is usually conducted to review any criminal history the defendant may have, and to gather other relevant information. It is at this point that a VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT can be made. Victims can write their statement and have it submitted to be a part of the court document, or can read their statement in person at the sentencing hearing, or do both. The VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT can include information about how the crime has affected the victim and the victim's family, and what sentence and/or penalties the victim would like to see given. Further statements can be made at future parole and/or release hearings.
REMEMBER: a legal advocate through Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse can assist and support you through every step of the legal process.
We at ATVP understand how very difficult the decision to tell someone and/or to report to law enforcement may be.
We are here to support you no matter what your decision may be.
Our mission is to help you recover from your assault/abuse, whether that recovery includes reporting to law enforcement or not.
Please be aware that although the legal process can be painful and difficult, many survivors have found it to have a healing effect.
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