Beyond Language Access: Confronting Bias & Implementing Strategies to Ensure Justice in the Prosecution of Sexual Violence, Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Human Trafficking Involving Survivors from Latine Communities

This web-based panel explores the ways in which bias against victims from Latine communities affects the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and human trafficking. Panelists address the following topics:

-Effects of inequalities and challenges that Latine communites uniquely face as victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and human trafficking;
-Barriers to reporting crimes, such as bias and stereotypes held by law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and jurors that can translate into disparate outcomes for victims through unfair credibility determinations;
-Impact of bias on endangering accurate assessments of the probability of conviction in cases, and collateral consequences on a victim’s ability to seek restoration;
-Necessary commitments offices must make to eradicate implicit bias among its staff and enhance recruitment, mentorship, and support opportunities for individuals who are Latine; and
-Strategies for prosecutors’ offices to enhance justice for victims by engaging in cultural humility, promoting criminal record relief, improving training, and ensuring accountability reinforced by data. 

This project was supported by Grant No. 15JOVW-22-GK-03987-MUMU awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Commonwealth v. Rogers, 8 EAP 2020, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Brief of Amici Curiae in Support of the Commonwealth

In this amicus brief, AEquitas, the Women’s Law Project, and 26 additional amici share their expertise in support of a determination that Pennsylvania’s Rape Shield Law does not permit the introduction of evidence of a complainant’s criminal record for prostitution-related offenses. Introducing this evidence would reinforce prejudicial gender and racial biases that would inhibit justice from prevailing and increase the burden of a criminal record on victims of sexual violence and exploitation.Amicus-Curiae-Brief-with-Time-Stamp

Shielding the Victim: Litigating Rape Shield Motions

Rape shield laws provide prosecutors with a powerful tool to counter defense attempts to introduce irrelevant and highly prejudicial evidence of a victim’s sexual history at trial. First codified into law in 1974 in the state of Michigan, rape shield provisions now exist in every jurisdiction in the United States. They seek to eliminate the influence of an archaic and dangerous body of law that protected only the chaste, perpetuated overly broad notions of consent, and left victims without justice. All rape shield laws require exclusion of the victim’s prior sexual conduct unless the evidence falls within a specified exception. However, these laws have not stopped defense attempts to stretch the limits of codified exceptions in order to admit evidence of the victim’s sexual behavior. Marginalized communities, in particular, have been negatively affected by rulings under these laws. Prosecutors must be vigilant in their efforts to safeguard victims’ privacy to ensure they are not humiliated, silenced, and blamed for their own assaults.

This presentation discusses the history and foundation of rape shield laws, identifies and discusses the most frequent areas of appellate litigation, and provides prosecutors with the tools to effectively litigate rape shield motions. Presenters also discuss trial strategies to employ if efforts to preclude information about a victim’s prior sexual conduct are unsuccessful.

As a result of this presentation, participants will be able to:
-Litigate rape shield motions to protect victim privacy
-Prosecute cases using an offender-focused approach
-Employ strategies to mitigate harm to the victim and the case when evidence of victim’s prior sexual conduct is admitted

This project was supported by Grant No. 15JOVW-22-GK-03987-MUMU awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication/program/exhibition are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Agriculture’s Growing Problem: Investigating and Prosecuting Labor Trafficking and Co-Occurring Crimes in the Illicit Cannabis Industry

Despite the recent legalization of cannabis cultivation, possession, and use in many states across the country, the illicit market for the drug is still booming. The illicit cannabis industry is causing profound harm to the communities in which it operates—harm that goes far beyond simply producing off-the-books marijuana. Illicit market growers often seek to sidestep agricultural and worker regulations, causing widespread environmental harms, including blackouts, water theft, damage to flora and fauna, poisoned waterbeds, and wildfires. The human cost of illicit cannabis growth is even greater. Across the country, investigators have discovered laborers who have been forced to work in inhumane conditions—often without pay—and in close proximity to dangerous chemicals at illegal cannabis cultivation sites. Workers are often threatened with physical violence or deportation if they report to authorities.


Pursuing these crimes often requires a specialized skill set among prosecutors and investigators. This Strategies Newsletter demonstrates how investigators and prosecutors, working in conjunction with local and federal stakeholders, can ensure that labor traffickers in the illicit marijuana industry are held accountable for the full range of their conduct.Agriculture’s Growing Problem

Being Trafficked: What Prosecutors Need to Know About “the Life”

This article describes the pathways into exploitation and trafficking and the realities of the Life. It seeks to give context to the choices survivors make—or are unable to make—before and during their interactions with the criminal justice system. By examining survivors’ choices through the lens of their victimization, prosecutors will be better equipped to identify survivors, however they interact with the system; make informed prosecution decisions, and work with system partners to provide exit ramps from exploitation. Being Trafficked — What Prosecutors Need to Know About the Life

When Is a Threat a Threat?: A Forthcoming SCOTUS Ruling Could Have a Sweeping Impact on Gender-Based Violence

In the case, Counterman v. Colorado, the Court appeared willing to increase the threshold for identifying speech that rises to the level of a “true threat” and overturn a criminal stalking conviction as an infringement of the harasser’s constitutionally-protected First Amendment right to speech. Victim’s rights advocates and the state of Colorado warned that modifying the standard would have devastating consequences for victims of abuse and handicap prosecutors who would need to prove that an abuser intended to threaten the victim, rather than that a reasonable person would find the speech threatening.

Victims’ and women’s rights advocates—including Legal Momentum, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Crime Victim Law Institute and AEquitas—argued in an amicus brief that considering the speaker’s subjective intent would jeopardize future stalking prosecutions, as well as civil protection orders, and create another hurdle to prosecution in such cases, which are already underreported and lead to arrests in less than 8 percent of cases.

An Organized (Crime) Approach to Trafficking within the Illicit Massage Industry

Human trafficking within the illicit massage industry (IMI) is the organized and profitable exploitation of vulnerable individuals. Interrupting IMI criminal networks requires law enforcement to take an equally organized approach, including investigating and prosecuting financial and organized crimes. This presentation provides an overview of IMI organizational models as well as strategies to investigate illicit businesses using a financial and organized crime approach. Presenters share case examples of investigations, which highlight both lessons learned and keys to success.

Zoom Recording Password: ?Ug1HGNy

Tapping into Offender Accountability: Using Wiretapping in State-Level Human Trafficking Cases

Law enforcement are regularly challenged to build cases that can be successfully prosecuted when victims are unable to participate. There are a myriad of ways to build cases that are not wholly dependent on victim testimony, and one powerful strategy is to use wiretaps that can capture communications and ultimately establish the elements of “force, fraud, or coercion”. Eavesdropping warrant investigations are technical and resource-intensive, however they are highly effective in obtaining evidence to prosecute offenders without relying on testimony from victims who are often fearful, distrustful, intimidated, and traumatized.

This training focuses on how prosecutors and law enforcement can effectively use eavesdropping warrants to hold traffickers accountable and build strong, actionable investigations even if wiretapping is not ultimately employed. Presenters provide approaches to maximize resources, even when limited, to enable jurisdictions of all sizes to utilize eavesdropping warrants. Additionally, practical strategies to comply with ethical and legal obligations are discussed, including methods to minimize harm and trauma to victims and survivors.

Learning Objectives:
-Build an investigation sufficient to support an application for an eavesdropping warrant
-Define legal requirements before, during, and after intercepting electronic communications
-Litigate pretrial motions to admit out-of-court statements and expert testimony

This presentation was produced by AEquitas under 15POVC-21-GK-03263-HT, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this presentation are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

When and How: Admitting Expert Testimony on Victim Behavior in Sexual Assault Cases in Pennsylvania

On June 29, 2012, Pennsylvania shed its distinction of being the only state in which expert testimony to explain victim behavior in sexual assault cases was inadmissible by enacting Section 5920 of the Judicial Code, “Expert testimony in certain criminal proceedings.” The law, which became effective on August 28, 2012, is a critical tool for prosecutors seeking to provide a context for understanding sexual assault and sexual assault victims, as well as to counter entrenched myths and misperceptions about sexual assault and sexual assault victims. This article explains the prevalence of sexual violence myths among the public, how expert testimony on sexual assault victims’ behavior can help dispel these myths, and strategies for introducing such testimony at trial.AEquitas_When-and-How-Admitting-Expert-Testimony-on-Victim-Behavior-in-PA-Issue-18_5-2013