State, Meet Federal: Prosecuting Law Enforcement Involved Sexual Violence

Those who commit crimes involving sexual violence often exploit the disparate power dynamic between victim and offender — whether the relationship is between teacher and student; producer and actor; coach and athlete; or law enforcement officer and arrestee, probationer, or inmate. By wielding weapons of authority, the perpetrator leaves the victim with little choice but to submit to sexual acts and stay quiet in the aftermath, fearing that they will be disbelieved or blamed if they try to report it. This is especially true in the law enforcement context, where victims are usually in the custody of their offender and have a history of criminal activity, which often has an impact on their credibility in the eyes of untrained professionals, juries, and the public.

This presentation addresses the reaches of federal jurisdiction to prosecute sexual violence by those acting under color of law at all levels of government. It discusses how coordination among federal and state authorities can enhance investigations into reports of sexual violence, and if the evidence permits, help determine in which jurisdiction to bring charges. It further focuses on three critical Federal Rules of Evidence that can be used to corroborate a victim’s account and build a strong case — even where there is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony.