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The Language of Sexual Assault Crimes By Detective David Williams Fayetteville Arkansas Police Department.

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Presentation on theme: "The Language of Sexual Assault Crimes By Detective David Williams Fayetteville Arkansas Police Department."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Language of Sexual Assault Crimes By Detective David Williams Fayetteville Arkansas Police Department

2 “Comfort Women”

3 Language Matters Cases are won and Lost Due to Excellent or Poor Language Choices During: Victim Interviews Documentation Testimony

4 Victim’s Behavior Characteristics: Self blame Humiliation and embarrassment Loss of affect or numb response Omission of details Reluctance to report Incomplete memory Nightmares/flashbacks Anger at others for not protecting him/her

5 Emotions Involved with Sexual Assault Humiliation Shame and self-blame Guilt Fear of people Grief and depression Denial Anger and irritability

6 Issues Specific to Sexual Assault Sexual assault is one of the few crimes that requires intense scrutiny into the believability of the victim’s description of the event It is probably the only crime in which the suspect can successfully defend himself by claiming the victim consented to the crime

7 Three Major Needs Victims Have 1. The need to feel safe. 2. The need to express their emotions. 3. The need to know what comes next after their victimization.

8 The Role of Professionals The dignity and healing of victims depends on the respect and assistance extended by professionals.

9 Re-victimization Insensitive questioning by police Criminal justice attitudes suggesting that the victim contributed to his/her own victimization Delays in the return of personal property Fear of reprisal by the defendant Lack of information on the status of the case

10 Things NOT to Say Everything is going to be alright Don’t cry You shouldn’t feel that way I know how you feel You must get on with your life I promise I’ll get this guy and he’ll go to prison for a long time


12 Language in Interviews Language is critical in victim interviews. The victim may be “the best evidence” in a case if approached with the right interviewing techniques,. Mistakes by an officer during the interview or in reporting can have a positive or negative impact on the case.

13 Language CAN Explain her thoughts and feelings Discover valuable corroborating clues Make a victim more willing and able to navigate the criminal justice process Lead to successful prosecution of a Known Violent Offender

14 Language CAN Also Shut her down Confuse or under-inform judges, juries, media Lose cases that should have been won

15 Good Verbal and Written Language Skills Maintains cooperation from victim. Clears up inconsistencies in statements. Encourages victim to tell the entire truth and not omit information which would later be used to challenge his or her credibility, e.g. drug or alcohol use. Builds a stronger case. Avoids re-victimization.

16 The Interview Build rapport and trust Explain the purpose of the interview Address questions the victim can’t answer Address concerns regarding prosecution Use open-ended questions Allow the victim control

17 Importance of a safe, nonjudgmental environment Encourages a more thorough and truthful report Remove the incentive to be untruthful. My favorite place

18 Information Needed by the Investigator Describe Victim’s behavior and relationship with the suspect Suspect’s behavior Document specific acts committed Suspects sexual behavior Establish force or threat of force Suspects description Establish M.O. or signature

19 Challenge: Lack of Physical Resistance Victims often don’t resist because they are surprised, confused or fear injury or death. They are threatened if the assailant is larger and/or stronger. They are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

20 Police reconstruct the victim’s reality Describe her account including her thoughts and feelings. Reconstruct her reality for prosecutors and jurors so they will understand why she didn’t physically resist her assailant.

21 Challenge: Delayed Reporting Delayed reporting is typical, especially in non-stranger assault. “Imagine a child molested by a stepfather or other relative versus a stranger in the park. In which case is the victim most likely to go to police?”

22 Why victims delay reporting? They fear they won’t be believed. Fear what will happen to their lives after they report. They don’t recognize what happened to them as a crime. They feel shame and guilt.

23 Overcoming the challenge of delayed reporting The interview should obtain information which explains the delay in reporting. Thorough documentation of actions and thoughts. Interviews with others the victim disclosed the assault to, especially the first person.

24 Dealing with Inconsistent or Untrue Statements Why will a victim make an inconsistent or untrue statement? Rape trauma syndrome Discomfort talking about sex Repeated interviews Fear of blame, shame Their own drug or alcohol use Their own illegal behavior

25 Problematic Language Areas in Documentation and Testimony Erotic/Affectionate Characterization of Sexual Assault “Suspect then made love with her…” “She then had sex with him…”

26 Problematic Language Areas in Documentation and Testimony Sexual Assault as Distinct from Violence He kissed her and then put his penis into her vagina. He held her and slid two fingers into her.

27 Problematic Language Areas in Documentation and Testimony Appropriate Resistance by the Victim or Questionable Actions of Victim Victim stated she didn’t do anything to stop him. Victim never made any attempt to scream or get away. Victim willingly drank alcohol with him. Victim never called the police after the alleged attack (delayed reporting).

28 Problematic Language Areas in Documentation and Testimony Good Character of the Offender Smith was polite and calm during the interview. He said he would never hurt a woman. Smith indicated that Victim is bi-polar and off her medications. Smith promised he would take care of her so we would not have to come back out.

29 Problematic Language Areas in Documentation and Testimony Grammatically Omitting or Minimizing Agent of the Assault Victim was assaulted. The woman said she is a victim of abuse. She said he is never violent unless he drinks.

30 Problematic Language Areas in Documentation and Testimony “Cop Speak” “Suspect exited the vehicle and proceeded…” Oral Copulation Digital penetration

31 Strategy Erotic/Affectionate Characterization of Sexual Assault Appropriate use of verbs and descriptions: Raped or Sodomized as opposed to “had sex with” or “made love with…”

32 Strategy Sexual Assault as Distinct from Violence Include the violence in your reports and testimony and use vivid verbs. Suspect clamped his mouth onto Victim’s and forced his tongue into her mouth… Suspect shoved his penis into her vagina and raped her…

33 Strategy Lack of Resistance or Questionable Actions by Victims Articulate her fears Understand WHY she didn’t report Be honest about drug/alcohol use (it’s the omission that’ll get you)

34 Strategy “Good Character” of Suspect or Suspect’s Efforts to Blame Victim Understand “Batterer’s M.O.” Recognize efforts to charm/manipulate you.

35 Strategy Grammatically Omitting or Minimizing Agent of the Assault NAME the Suspect and keep that person as the SUBJECT (action-taker) in your reports and testimony Bob Smith raped his girlfriend during the argument...

36 Strategy Cop Speak Talk and Write Like a Professional, Approachable Person The suspect jumped out of his car and ran… He then forced two of his fingers into her vagina…

37 Conclusion The words we use when speaking to victims and when documenting their responses and our findings are CRITICAL in terms of: Successful Prosecution Long-term Emotional Recovery of Victim The Safety and Well-Being of our Communities

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