A Broader Sense of Justice: Respecting Victim Autonomy While Pursuing Offender Accountability

Prosecutors seeking justice in crimes of sexual and domestic violence must often balance holding perpetrators accountable and valuing victim autonomy. Many victims are unable to participate in the prosecution for reasons including fear, ongoing trauma, love for or loyalty to the perpetrator, intimidation, financial harm, self-blame, or embarrassment. Reliving the traumatization of their sexual assault or domestic abuse while feeling like they are in the spotlight can be overwhelming and lead to reluctance to participate in the process. When this happens, the pressure to ensure offenders are fully prosecuted may tempt prosecutors to utilize more extreme methods such as material witness warrants or to seek body attachments or bench warrants—without full appreciation of the impact on the victim or a consideration of possible alternatives.

This presentation discusses the obstacles victims face when considering whether to participate in the prosecution of domestic violence or sexual assault and suggests strategies that prosecutors can use to minimize these barriers to facilitate victim participation. Presenters highlight the negative impacts that pre-trial detention and other next-level measures have on victims and on the community. In circumstances when victims are unable to participate, presenters will discuss possible alternatives for the prosecutor and considerations for balancing public safety risks with victim self-determination.

At the conclusion of the presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Identify barriers faced by victims participating in investigations and prosecutions of sexual and domestic violence.
-Develop strategies to support victim participation.
-Balance public safety concerns in holding offenders accountable with victim interests in autonomy and self-determination.
-Employ the least restrictive methods possible to enable victims to testify when next-level measures must be utilized.

 

This project was supported by Grant No. 15JOVW-21-GK-02220-MUMU awarded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). The opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this presentation are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.

Upstream Violence Prevention: The Role of Extreme Risk Protection Orders in Mitigating Gun Violence

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), also known as Red Flag Laws, are a promising tool of intervention but are relatively unknown to prosecutors across the nation. ERPOs are court orders that temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals at elevated risk of harming themselves or others. As caseloads swell and rates of violence surge, prosecutors, law enforcement, and advocates can learn about and begin to deploy tools that can help mitigate and prevent future harm upstream— when warning signs first come to light.

This presentation is led by national experts from the Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit of the King County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Presenters discuss how criminal justice professionals can utilize ERPOs to restrict firearm access for individuals exhibiting a wide variety of high-risk behaviors. They also explore the efficacy of ERPOS to reduce gun violence.

As a result of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Understand the purpose and scope of extreme risk protective orders
-Incorporate extreme risk protective orders into existing protective order practice

A SANE Approach to Human Trafficking Cases

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are invaluable collaborative partners in a prosecutor’s response to human trafficking. Victims of sex and labor trafficking are at risk of serious injury, as well as short- and long-term physical and psychological health consequences, and SANEs provide much-needed medical care to these patients. Trafficking investigations and prosecutions are also enhanced by the addition of SANEs to a multidisciplinary team. SANEs document injury, collect evidence, and provide critical insight into medical issues and survivor responses to trauma that can educate criminal justice practitioners and jurors alike.

Co-presented by SANE and prosecutor subject-matter experts, this presentation demonstrates the value of collaboration in trafficking cases. The SANE explains the health risks associated with sex and labor trafficking, the content of a medical forensic examination, and documentation of victim statements and demeanor. The prosecutor provides strategies to improve the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases by using SANEs as fact and expert witnesses and litigating the admissibility of victim statements under the medical hearsay exception.

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Enhance prosecutions by ensuring that victims of sex and labor trafficking are provided meaningful access to health care and injuries and medical history are documented
-Articulate the role of the SANE in providing medical-forensic exams
-Present medical evidence and expert testimony at trial

 

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.

Bringing Offenders into Focus: Prosecuting Image Exploitation

Image exploitation involves the nonconsensual creation, possession, or distribution of an image or images depicting victims nude, semi-nude, engaged in consensual sexual activity, or being sexually assaulted. It exposes victims to immeasurable trauma of essentially infinite duration, permanently invading their autonomy and security. As technology continues to evolve more quickly than the law, investigators and prosecutors must be prepared to address image exploitation crimes by collaborating on digital investigations; leveraging existing, if imperfect, statutes; and combating victim-blaming attitudes. 

This presentation explores the various forms of image exploitation and the types of statutes under which this abuse can be prosecuted. The presenter provides strategies to introduce relevant digital evidence while ethically safeguarding victim privacy. Resources are also be provided to support victims who would like to explore non-criminal avenues of achieving justice. 

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Identify crimes of image exploitation and available statutes that may be used to prosecute offenders.
-Make charging decisions that hold offenders accountable for the full extent of their criminal behavior.
-Combat victim-blaming attitudes and articulate the harm caused by offenders who commit crimes of image exploitation.

Not Just a Credibility Contest: Sexual Violence Prosecutions That Go Beyond “Offender Said, Victim Said”

Sexual violence cases are often mistakenly reduced to a contest of credibility between the victim’s disclosure and the offender’s denial. Even though jurisdictions do not require corroboration of the victim’s testimony at trial, jurors may find it difficult to convict a defendant absent additional evidence. While crimes of sexual violence typically do not occur in front of other individuals, there are always witnesses and evidence to corroborate what happened before, during, and after the assault. By presenting the full scope of admissible evidence, prosecutors will increase the likelihood of success at trial while reducing the burden on victims.

This presentation addresses strategies and tactics to understand and explain victim disclosures through a trauma-informed lens; utilize victim behavior experts to educate fact-finders about the range of victim responses to sexual violence; and examine offender characteristics, motivations, and behaviors, as well as the impact of the offender’s actions on the victim. The presenter suggests strategies for overcoming common misconceptions at trial, including establishing a compelling trial theme, introducing evidence of the defendant’s predatory behavior, presenting corroborating evidence to support witness credibility, and recreating the reality of the crime for the jury.

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Maintain focus on the offender.
-Support victim and witness credibility with corroborating evidence.
-Develop and present expert testimony to explain victim behavior. -Recreate the reality of the crime at trial.

Justice Systems from a Child’s Perspective: Supporting Young Trafficking Survivors

This webinar highlights the Center for Court Innovation’s (CCI) Child Witness Materials Development Project, an initiative funded by the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and a partner project of AEquitas. In 2021, OVC published a package of support materials for child victims and witnesses of crime that CCI had created, and in January 2022, OVC published an additional package of interactive support materials specifically for youth who have experienced human trafficking. A multidisciplinary group of national trafficking experts with professional and and lived experience contributed to the design and development of these materials.

In this webinar, participants learn more about how young trafficking survivors experience the justice system, and how they can address youth’s needs and provide developmentally-appropriate information and emotional support. Participants learn how to effectively use the Child Witness materials in their roles so youth feel more informed and empowered as they navigate their own healing process in addition to navigating the system.

The Perfect Plan: How Victor Rax Sexually Abused and Trafficked Boys in Salt Lake City

While awareness of human trafficking is on the rise, there are still blind spots that prevent law enforcement from recognizing all forms of exploitation.  Men, boys, and victims of labor trafficking through forced criminality are often overlooked because they do not fit the typical depiction of a human trafficking victim.   However, in the case of Victor Rax, Utah’s Attorney General’s Office was able to identify dozens of boys and young men from immigrant communities who were forced to sell drugs after being sexually, spiritually, and physically abused. 

The presenters use the Rax case as a backdrop to discuss the realities of labor trafficking through forced criminality, including how traffickers use grooming tactics common in both child sexual abuse cases and in gang culture to recruit and coerce victims to commit crimes.  Strategies to better identify and respond to cases of forced criminality are discussed through a detailed examination of the Rax investigation which led to his eventual arrest for sexual abuse and labor trafficking. 

At the end of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Recognize and describe methods traffickers use to identify, recruit, and coerce victims of labor trafficking via forced criminality
-Conduct trauma-informed investigations and prosecutions in cases where male victims have been abused and exploited to effectively hold offenders accountable
-Collaborate to provide support to and connect male victims of forced criminality/human trafficking with meaningful services

Maximizing Justice, Minimizing Harm: The Prosecutors’ Role in Achieving Survivor-Centered Justice

Prosecutors are leaders, serving their communities by protecting victims and holding offenders accountable. Prosecutors wield wide powers of discretion and therefore are tasked with being gatekeepers to, and from, the criminal justice system. When communities develop responses to human trafficking cases, prosecutors are uniquely positioned to guide policies and practices, including how victims and survivors are treated when they interact with the criminal justice system. Beyond the traditional role in the courtroom, prosecutors can also shape community responses by convening members of the community, educating the public, and prioritizing operations aimed at identifying and serving the most vulnerable individuals in our communities.

This presentation focuses on how prosecutors can collaborate with others to better serve their communities by holding traffickers accountable and protecting victims and survivors in meaningful ways. The presenters provide strategies to leverage the prosecutor’s leadership role to positively influence how investigations are initiated, conducted, and charged. Additionally, the prosecutor’s overlapping ethical obligations are discussed, focused on the duty to achieve justice over convictions and to proactively remedy wrongful convictions.

Learning Objectives:
– Leverage leadership role to promote trauma-informed, victim-centered policies and practices
– Collaborate with traditional and non-traditional partners to hold offenders accountable
– Partner with victim service professionals to ensure that survivors of sex and labor trafficking have meaningful access to appropriate services

Collecting and Analyzing Carjacking Data: Challenges and Solutions

As violent crime increases nationwide, reports of increases in carjackings has become a concern in many communities. However, because jurisdictions often include carjackings under a general category of robbery, it is difficult to accurately identify the number of carjackings occurring separately from those robberies. This webinar spotlights the experiences of an IPS grantee’s efforts to tackle this issue from a data collection and analysis perspective. Ryan Bokoch of the Cuyahoga County Office of the Prosecutor in Cleveland, OH discusses his Crime Strategy Unit’s effort to collect and analyze data concerning carjackings in the Cleveland area so that the Office of the Prosecutor and their partners would have an accurate understanding of the numbers, location and perpetrator/victim demographics associated with this violent and potentially deadly crime.

Upon completion of this session, participants will be better able to:

-Assess current data collection efforts regarding carjacking crime.
-Analyze data to create an accurate picture of carjacking crime within your jurisdiction.
-Utilize data to inform the response to carjacking crime.

Coercive ‘Love’: The Intersection between Intimate Partner Violence and Human Trafficking

Human traffickers control their victims through force, fraud, and coercion. In the case of intimate partner sex trafficking, these methods of control are uniquely manipulative and difficult to identify. Understanding the historical and circumstantial factors that lead to vulnerabilities exploited by traffickers in these relationships allows law enforcement and prosecutors to more successfully address and minimize harm to victims while effectively investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases.

This presentation describes how, in addition to violence and threats, traffickers exploit feelings of love and loyalty to maintain power over their victims and perpetrate sex trafficking and related crimes. The presenters discuss the importance of identifying victims of intimate partner human trafficking to ensure victim safety and provide access to services and support, while at the same time articulating offender conduct to ensure they are held accountable for their actions.