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Criminal Justice for Rape & Sexual Abuse Survivors
- Chat Transcript


The Pandora's Aquarium chat room welcomed Joanne Archambault on June 11, 2009.  Archambault is the President and Training Director of SATI, Inc, which provides effective, victim centered, multi-disciplinary training and expert consultation regarding crimes of sexual assault.  Archambault also founded EVAW, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to providing affordable training for all disciplines with an emphasis on the law enforcement investigation and proper criminal justice responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. EVAW (End Violence Against Women) also supports and conducts research on the sexual assault of women and adolescents.

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Jennifer: Thank you for joining us, Joanne! We're very excited to have you here!

Kristy: Welcome Joanne! We're just waiting on a few more of the members who signed up to be here & then we'll get started.

JoanneA: Sounds good. It is my honor to be able to join all of you.

Kristy: I am happy to introduce Joanne Archambault, the President and Training Director of SATI, and founder of EVAW (End Violence Against Women). We are thrilled to have her here to talk about her work with law enforcement agencies and sexual assault. We will start by asking Joanne a set of pre-determined questions. I will remind you that this chat is moderated, and any questions you ask will not appear until the second part of the chat.

Member question: What changes do you think law enforcement agencies need to make in order to better serve victims of sexual assault?

JoanneA: Training is always important but the truth is we won't see a significant change in case outcomes if we don't work to change society's perception about sexual violence. One of the areas needing the most improvement is in how victims are interviewed.

Member question: What do I do if the police won't believe me or blame me?

JoanneA: Unfortunately, this is a very common problem and it happens because most sexual assault doesn't look like the stereotypical sexual assault often portrayed in the media. The more the case doesn't resemble the stereotype, the more often a victim is not believed and the case goes nowhere. I have a lot of good resources available for free on my web site.

Member question: The detective assigned to my case isn't calling me back. What should I do?

JoanneA: Call his supervisor, typically a sergeant and relay the problem. You deserve a response.

Member question: I'm considering reporting, but the assault happened years ago. Where should I go? Will the police do anything?

JoanneA: It depends on your state and your statute of limitation. If the statute of limitation has expired, for example, CA has 10 years unless a DNA profile is obtained and then the statute is suspended until the suspect is arrested and then we have one year to charge the suspect. Because of the positive results from DNA hits, many states have no statute of limitation for sexual assault any more. If an agency is doing the right thing, they should still be interested in at least writing an informational report the suspect will most likely assault again.

Member question: What tips would you give someone who is considering reporting a rape?

JoanneA: I would make sure to have an advocate with you. You almost might want to write down the most important details so that you don't forget them when you have your interview. Do not allow the officer to force you to make a decision about prosecution at the point of reporting. Explain that you would like the agency to do the investigation and then sit down together to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the case and whether it can be prosecuted. This way you won't be labled uncooperative and then denied victim/witness compensation funds for counseling and other needs you might have like emergency housing, medical bills, etc.

Member question: I'm scared to report, because I'm afraid of what the police officer will think of me. Can you tell us how law enforcement views victims of assault?

JoanneA: Unfortunately law enforcement often has the same views of many others in our society where victims are often blamed for their assault. Part of it has to do with the increased reporting of alcohol and drug facilitated sexual assault. Victims should never be blamed for their assault but unfortunately they often are. Recently a suspect in Philadelphia was found not guilty by a jury in two different trials. The suspect posing as a doctor met his 10 victims (that we know of) on match.com The jury found him not guilty because they didn't like the fact that the women met him on match.com and then went to a bar with him. We need to help victims from internalizing all the shame and we need society to understand the harm of sexual violence. We won't ever be able to get there without talking about the perceptions people have about sex period and then sexual violence.

Member question: In your experience as a child abuse detective what are the three biggest warning signs of a child abuser that people are likely to see e.g. personality traits, things they say or do?

JoanneA: This is difficult because sex offenders are really very typical. However, you always want to sit up and pay attention anytime an adult is spending more time with children than normal. Pedophiles spend a huge amount of their time being the best teacher, best priest, best coach, living a double life so that when victims do come forward, they are often not believed. That is why so often you'll see neighborhoods, churches and other groups strongly support the innocence of an offender. Be sure to always talk to children about the people they are most at risk with, of course family members. Make sure they have a person other than mom and dad that they could go to if they were afraid that what they would say would hurt mom for example, if the offender is the grandfather.

Member question: Can you tell us a bit about your Make a Difference Project? What kind of progress have you made with this project?

JoanneA: This involves 8 Sexual Assault Response and Resource Teams in 8 different states. They competed with 80 other teams and these 8 were selected in 2003. These teams committed to challenging the status quo when it comes to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault. We are having a reunion to analyze the data we collected and map reform efforts July 13-15th in Austin TX. There is a lot of information available about the project on our web site www.evawintl.org.

Member question:: Is there a difference between reporting and pressing charges?

JoanneA: Yes, a very important different but even community professionals get confused about this. First an officer has to write a report. After the preliminary report is written, a detective should be assigned to do the follow-up investigation. Police arrest suspects on probable cause which is not difficult to establish. But, there is a huge difference between what is needed for probable cause and proof beyond a reasonable doubt in trial. Depending on the case and evidence, the case may or may not be referred to the prosecutor's office. It's probable cause, not probably.

Member question: I think I'm being stalked, but the police department won't do anything. What can I do to make them take it seriously?

JoanneA: This is a training issue. Make sure you are documenting everything. Stalking investigations are about documenting all the little things that if not seen together will not be recognized as stalking.

Ash: Next up, Jennifer will be asking the questions submitted by chatters. Please keep submitting any questions you may have and we'll do our best to get to them!

Jennifer: Thank you, Ash. As you remember, your names will appear by most of these questions for now, but will be edited out for the transcripts which will be made available later.

Member question: If my rape happened outside of my home area, i.e. another state in which I was only traveling, how would I go about reporting to the proper authorities?

JoanneA: This varies greatly. The agency where you live should be willing to take a courtesy report for the agency where the rape actually happened. This doesn't always happen. We saw victims sexually assaulted during Katrina who fled to TX being referred back to New Orleans which was ridiculous since the New Orleans PD obviously had their hands filled already. I've written an article on this to help provide guidance and provide best practices for law enforcement.

Member question: Can you report your abuser, yet not press charges?

JoanneA: You are not the person who determines whether charges will be filed. I do not know many prosecutors who would force prosecution on a sexual assault, but they definitely will on child abuse and domestic violence. The prosecutor is the only person with the authority to file charges in court. Technically, felonies are crimes against the state and not an individual which of course feels extremely wrong when it comes to sexual violence because it is such a personal crime.

Member question: What do you think are the three most important things that an officer should say or do on scene at an incident of suspected domestic violence and why are they so important?

JoanneA: It is important that we not judge the victim of DV as to why she stays. We need to listen to the victim to hear how we can best help them. For years DV victims have always been told what they should do and no one understands the realities of the danger and abuse better than the victim. We need to figure out how to give the victim the resources she needs. We also need to stop threatening to take their children away which is still a common tactic by both law enforcement and CPS.

Member question: I made a statement to the police about my assault, but now I have changed my mind about reporting. Am I able to retract my statement?

JoanneA: No. There is no such thing. You can but we just call that a recantation. It is very common in violence against women cases when the consequences of reporting have a negative impact on the victim's life or the lives of her family.

Member question: I was assaulted by a stranger years ago. I don't know his name and never went to the hospital, so I was afraid of not being believed by the police. Do you think reporting assaults is always worth it?

JoanneA: Obviously I'm biased. I hope for victims to report but then I have an even greater hope that she receives competent, compassionate services and that isn't always the case. I think we as communities are doing much better though. Even when there isn't a prosecution, we are often able to link series and that can be very gratifying for both law enforcement and survivors. I'm not sure most of you are aware but as of January 5, 2009, all states have to certify that sexual assault victims can have access to a forensic examination without reporting or cooperating with law enforcement. It also applies to US territories.

Member question: I read recently that kidnapping for the purposes of long term sexual slavery is one of the fastest growing crimes around the globe. Is this true and have many concrete steps to stop it been taken?

JoanneA: Actually the largest number of victims of trafficking in the U.S. are for labor, not sexual slavery. This could be true in other countries. There is an organization in LA, CAST, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking that has some good resources. (I meant that it could be true for sexual slavery in other countries like Thailand.)

Member question: I see sometimes in the newspaper reports about current cases. If someone reports their abuser, do the police ever provide information to the media about the victim? Are they allowed to?

JoanneA: Typically, law enforcement never provides the victim's information to the media. We also won't report on the offender if it would naturally take anyone back to the victim. Most states have some sort of law allowing us to keep this information from the public and the media. Many times victims don't feel they should be ashamed and they will talk to the media which is fine but law enforcement shouldn't release it unless they are compelled for example by a court order.

Member question: How did End Violence Against Women International come about and how can people get involved?

JoanneA: I founded EVAW because I wanted a truly multi-disciplinary organization to take an interest in improving the criminal justice response to sexual violence. Internationally, positive outcomes, meaning prosecution are rare and we as a society have to look at why this is and then try to do something about it. We just finished our big conference in Anaheim last month and we had over 600 people representing law enforcement, judges, forensic examiners, prosecutors, etc. It is very exciting because everyone gets reenergized to continue this hard work. We are a very small non-profit and what I really need is fundraising help. We had a fundraiser event at our conference and I lost $25,000.00 because we didn't even cover costs. It was heart breaking.

Member question: Are most law enforcement officials receptive to your training?

JoanneA: Very. I really believe with all my heart that most cops want to do the right thing. The truth is they aren't often given the appropriate training and resources they need. It's another reason why I stay optimistic. I started training nationally in 1995 and I can see huge differences in attitudes about investigating non-stranger sexual assault.

Member question: What are the biggest challenges you face in training other members of law enforcement about sexual assault?

JoanneA: Getting prosecutors to the table is difficult but I really don't face many challenges with law enforcement. They are usually pretty receptive. I get lots of e-mails and phone calls when they go back to work and try to apply what they've learned. It is very rewarding actually.

Member question: What changes have you seen over the course of your career in how law enforcement handles sexual assault?

JoanneA: Taking the forensic exam out of emergency rooms in many communities was huge. Having organized coordinated sexual assault response and resource teams in communities that meet regularly to improve standards of care and provide systems review, an increase in the understanding of the value of advocacy for victims and co-survivors. Violence Against Women Act Money has made a big difference and there is a lot more that will come out for victim services with stimulus dollars. I waited my whole career to be where we are today with DNA. It is revolutionary and thrilling.

Member question: In terms of cases involving child sexual abuse, in your experience what was it like to work with parents who were not in any way involved in the abuse? What kind of difficulties do they pose?

JoanneA: To be honest, most child abuse cases involve family members. One concern is that sometimes parents can make a bigger issue out of the abuse than the child and this can actually increase harm to the child. So, staying calm is important. Not minimizing the crime but also not making it more than the child is making it.

Jennifer: We have time for just one more question.

Member question: What do you think we can do to challenge the stereotypes and false myths about sexual assault (like the belief that the assault is the victim's fault), so that survivors would be taken more seriously?

JoanneA: If you ask individuals, they would deny that they themselves would treat a sexual assault victim so unfairly but we know it is true. I have long envision a mass media campaign where different victims report to different people and professionals and that responds with "I believe" or what can I do to help. The truth is we protect our property better than we protect women and children.

Jennifer: Thank you so much for sharing all of that with us. It was such a pleasure hosting this chat, and we learned a lot from your answers!

JoanneA: You're welcome.

Ash: Thank you so much, Joanne. This was a great chat!

Kristy: Thanks Joanne, this was a great topic chat, and your answers were very informative!


 

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