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

Ten Strategies for Prosecuting Child Sexual Abuse at the Hands of a Family Member

Despite the volume of research and literature addressing sexual abuse perpetrated against a child by a family member, individuals inside and outside of the criminal justice system continue to misperceive common dynamics, misunderstand victim behavior, and minimize offender dangerousness. Judges and juries unfamiliar with the dynamics of sexual assault may overlook offenders’ grooming tactics or misperceive common victim reactions to abuse as evidence of the victim’s lack of credibility. Prosecutors handling these cases face unique challenges. This article contains ten strategies that will help prosecutors prepare and litigate cases of sexual abuse perpetrated against a child by a family member.

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.

Ten Strategies for Prosecuting Child Sexual Abuse at the Hands of a Family Member

Self-Collected Sexual Assault Kits: Assessing and Mitigating the Risks

This article focuses on self-collected sexual assault kits—sometimes known as “do-it-yourself” or “DIY” kits— that are self-administered post-assault and involve the collection and preservation of evidence from the body in a non-medical setting. It examines the rationale behind self-collected kits for victims of sexual violence who state that they want to address their trauma outside the healthcare and criminal justice systems; the challenges self-collected kits present for prosecutors; and the limitations of self-collected kits to provide critical victim care, treatment, and support traditionally provided through the sexual assault medical forensic exam (SAMFE) process. The authors discuss the available alternatives for those circumstances in which self-collected kits may be perceived to be the best available option. Finally, where self-collected kits have been used, the authors offer strategies to mitigate the evidentiary, advocacy, and legal challenges they present. SIB38_Jan22

Forced Criminality: Understanding Human Trafficking Through the Lens of Utah’s Victor Rax Case

 As human trafficking awareness has risen across the United States and the globe, there are still blind spots that prevent law enforcement from recognizing the exploitation of the most vulnerable people in the their communities. To bridge this disconnect, law enforcement must learn to see abusive and exploitative circumstances through a human trafficking lens, even if those circumstances do not match how movies, television shows, or even well-meaning awareness campaigns portray human trafficking within the United States. The reality of human trafficking is that it most commonly involves an offender who positions themselves as trustworthy and then identifies, recruits, and exploits vulnerable individuals to turn a profit. These same tactics used to identify, recruit,, and coerce victims are also designed to allow the trafficker to escape accountability. However, as Utah’s case against the prolific trafficker Victor Rax illustrates, when law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service professionals collaborate, human trafficking in all its forms can be identified, offenders can be arrested and charged, and victims can be supported to start rebuilding their lives.Forced Criminality Through the Lens of the Victor Rax Case

To Record or Not To Record: Use of Body-Worn Cameras During Police Response to Crimes of Violence Against Women

For a variety of reasons—officer safety, public accountability, evidence collection, and departmental transparency—an increasing number of police departments have adopted, or are considering adopting, the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs). While BWCs can provide helpful evidence in cases involving gender-based violence (GBV), their use may also adversely impact victim safety and privacy. This article discusses many of the issues law enforcement, prosecutors, and allied professionals must consider when BWCs are used in GBV investigations. The article describes the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration – at the local, state, and federal levels – in order to develop effective BWC policies that address victim safety, privacy, and autonomy. The article also addresses issues such as deactivation of a BWC at appropriate points during the investigation; privacy and safety considerations; discovery, redaction, protective orders limiting dissemination; and requests under freedom of information or open records statutes.


And Then There Was One: A Recent Minnesota Supreme Court Decision Has Left Pennsylvania as the Only State That Disallows Expert Testimony to Explain Victim Behavior

On March 24, 2011 the Minnesota Supreme Court decided to permit expert testimony to explain common victim behavior in adult sexual assault cases. This article outlines the facts and the impact of the case. The author concludes that the prosecutors in the case executed a successful strategy that can serve as a template for how to introduce expert testimony in trials before courts that are hesitant or even hostile to the idea of admitting it.