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.

Foundations of Sexual Violence Prosecutions: Not Just a Box to Check: Building Trust and Rapport

This webinar is part of a 10-episode podcast-style series focused on the foundational elements of prosecuting sexual violence cases. In each episode, AEquitas Attorney Advisor Jane Anderson engages in conversations with other AEquitas staff, former prosecutors with years of experience prosecuting sexual violence. 

In this episode, Jane and Attorney Advisor John Wilkinson discuss the importance of building trust and rapport with victims of sexual violence and how this process can improve both case outcomes and victims’ sense of justice. They also discuss important conversations prosecutors should have with victims, strategies for overcoming challenges to building trust, and what to do if trust-building strategies do not initially work.

At the conclusion of this episode, viewers will be better able to:
– Assess victim needs and provide meaningful access to appropriate services
– Communicate effectively with victims at all stages of a case
– Improve victim disclosures

Additional resources related to this episode:
First, Do No Harm: Facilitating a Trauma-Informed Response
Integrating a Trauma-Informed Response in Violence Against Women and Human Trafficking Prosecutions
First, Do No Harm: Trauma-Informed Interviewing During the COVID Pandemic

 

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.

Foundations of Sexual Violence Prosecutions: The Perfect Plan: Accessibility, Vulnerability, and Perceived Lack of Credibility

This webinar is part of a 10-episode podcast-style series focused on the foundational elements of prosecuting sexual violence cases. In each episode, AEquitas Attorney Advisor Jane Anderson engages in conversations with other AEquitas staff, former prosecutors with years of experience prosecuting sexual violence. 

In this episode, Jane and Attorney Advisor Jonathan Kurland explore how offenders target, access, and assault their victims, as well as how they use victims’ vulnerabilities to escape accountability. They also discuss how prosecutors can reframe the narrative at trial to maximize accountability for offenders and seek justice for victims.

At the conclusion of this episode, viewers will be better able to:
– Identify and collect evidence of the offender’s predatory behavior
– Develop an offender-focused theme and theory
– Recreate the reality of the crime at trial

Additional resources related to this episode:
Model Response to Sexual Violence for Prosecutors (RSVP Model)
Overcoming the Consent Defense: Prosecuting Known Offenders
The Prosecutors’ Resource on Sexual Violence Cases Involving Victims with Intellectual Disabilities

 

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.

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.

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

Intimate Partner Violence Foundations: Bringing the Victim’s Voice into the Courtroom

This webinar is part of a 10-episode podcast-style series focused on the foundational elements of prosecuting intimate partner violence cases (IPV).  In each episode, AEquitas Attorney Advisor Jane Anderson engages in conversations with other AEquitas staff, former prosecutors with years of experience prosecuting IPV. 

In this episode, Jane and Attorney Advisor Jon Kurland discuss how to successfully prosecute cases of domestic violence, regardless of whether the victim is available to testify at trial. They discuss how to use the rules of evidence to litigate the admission of victims’ out-of-court statements and the ways in which expert witnesses can educate the judge and the jury on victim behavior and the effects of trauma.

At the conclusion of this presentation, viewers will be better able to:

  • Use jury selection as an opportunity to educate the jury;
  • Litigate the admission of victim statements; and
  • Offer expert testimony to explain victim behavior and provide context.

Additional resources related to this episode:

Intimate Partner Violence Foundations: Identifying and Combatting Witness Intimidation

This webinar is part of a 10-episode podcast-style series focused on the foundational elements of prosecuting intimate partner violence cases (IPV).  In each episode, AEquitas Attorney Advisor Jane Anderson engages in conversations with other AEquitas staff, former prosecutors with years of experience prosecuting IPV. 

In this episode, Jane and Attorney Advisor John Wilkinson discuss the co-occurrence of witness intimidation and intimate partner violence. They explore how collaborating with allied professionals can improve victim safety and how admitting evidence of witness intimidation can enhance prosecutions. This discussion highlights why victims of IPV often recant their reports of violence, as well as the trial techniques that can be used in the event that victims are unavailable to testify or recant their testimony.

At the conclusion of this presentation, viewers will be better able to:

  • Identify overt and subtle forms of intimidation;
  • Proactively investigate intimidation; and
  • Litigate motions to admit evidence under the Forfeiture by Wrongdoing doctrine.

Additional resources related to this episode: