He said, she said is not an issue in the crimes of robbery, murder, arson and burglary. However, it is often a major issue in crimes of sexual assault. Response to sexual assault was the topic for the September Civic Buzz of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters.
Television shows such as Law and Order SVU usually portray sexual crimes as bringing in a sympathetic police officer who take the victims statement, chases down and arrests the offender. That’s not how it works in real life says Kristen Houston Shaw, Executive Director of the Sexual Violence Center and Jude Foster, Statewide Medical Forensic Policy Program Coordinator of Minnesota Coalition against Sexual Assault. A 2012 nationwide study estimated that only 5 to 20 of 100 cases are reported to the police.
Shaw says the Sexual Violence Center crisis line is open 24-7 to take statements and counsel victims. They can be voluntarily referred or referred from 11 regional hospitals (telling a triage nurse that the individual has been raped triggers an immediate call to SVC and they begin counseling in the hospital). Services are free to anyone 12 years of age or older. Services are available to victims, family members or any concerned persons. She offered SVC services to anyone at the meeting who wanted to talk about any sexual violence issues, she brought a trained counselor with her. They have a separate room at the violence center for use of law enforcement if the subject requests it
Sexual victims represent a wide range of the populace with a ring of problem issues. About 85% of the victims know their perpetrator About 30% of the victims have some mental health issues. In Hennepin County, about 60% of the victims who went to a hospital were drunk.
According to Shaw, how law enforcement there are many problems with how law enforcement handles sexual assault cases. Many of the responding officers are poorly trained and are confused in dealing with the victim. Many times, sex crime assignments are part of a rotation through, robbery, homicide, arson etc. The interview itself may be complicated with trauma issues, the victim may tell the police officer a slightly different story than she told the sexual assault nurse. This can be the result of the way trauma affects the brain, recall changes over time.
The police reports are turned over to the county attorney who then decides whether to charge the case. Only 4% to 5% of the cases are prosecuted — which is often a major disappointment to the victim, but the attorney’s judgement is based on strength of the case before a jury.
Rape kit results may show there was sexual contact, but the results do not show if there was consent or no consent. The results are useful in identifying the perpetrator in the 15% of the cases that are stranger rape. Also, in the hospital examination there are very few cases of physical violence. Shaw cited childbirth as an example of vaginal trauma routinely occurring.
A viable case for prosecution needs:
Clear and creditable testimony of the victim.
Evidence ( a rape kit is not sufficient.)
Witnesses (The act is rarely performed before an audience.)
Shaw stated “There are far too many people being raped with impunity in our community. Something has to change. We bear witness to the trauma, pain and the suffering that is compounded on people when there is no justice for them.” She asks for more funding and clear direction in the police departments to properly deal with rape victims.
She says more incarceration is not an answer, but more police investigators are needed, Most of the time, the victim doesn’t want him incarcerated, they just want him to stop. Recovery therapy is complicated with so many homeless (victims and perpetrators), uncertain immigration status, drug use and other social factors. A key to recovery is stable housing and stable employment. Both Shaw and Foster pleaded for more funding for enforcement and recovery, noting that the issue involves all levels of government.
Foster reported than MNCASA has a staff of 17 people who deal with state-wide issues and legislative action.
When asked to describe SVC staff Shaw replied, “We have 16 members of staff and work with 70 volunteer sexual assault advocates. We are primarily funded through the government, through the MN Office of Justice Programs. However, as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, community support from individuals who believe in our work with victims helps keep us going too!
“We support about 1,300 individuals each year, many of whom use many of our services. Our main services are: 24/7 crisis hotline, individual and support group counseling, hospital advocacy and legal advocacy. 100% of the people we support are victims of sexual violence in one form, as we are a dedicated rape crisis center. There are a range of manifestations of sexual violence, that include ‘rape’, unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment, stalking, trafficking, revenge porn. We support people ages 12 and above, so we work with many victims of child sexual abuse as well.”
Shaw was asked to define success, she said, “As far as success, this sounds unusual but to be honest it is when more people come to us for support. We know the sexual violence is happening. Fewer reports of criminal sexual conduct to law enforcement, fewer victims coming to the hospital for rape kits, or fewer victims coming to SVC for advocacy does not, to us, mean there is less sexual violence happening. It just means that more people are suffering without support. We are working to reach more and more people throughout Hennepin, Carver and Scott counties. Most people do not know about SVC until they need us, and even then too few people know we are here to support them with free services. So, success for us would be our phone ringing off the hook…our counseling rooms full every hour our office is open, and our advocates racing around trying to keep up with demand. Don’t get me wrong: we are busy. But we would like to be busier still.”