After a sexual assault, there are many decisions to consider and many adjustments which will have to be made before a woman's life falls back into some peaceful order. Besides taking care of her physical and mental injuries, she must carefully consider the following questions:
These questions may come at a time when the victim feels least capable of decision-making. Though such decisions seem like intrusions, they can be used to regain some control over one's life.
We have listed the questions in an order which will facilitate decision making. The answer to one question will determine the answers to the others. For example, where a women goes for medical care may depend on whether or not she intends to report the incident to the police. In addition, calling someone for emotional support will make meeting the police easier to handle.
Though the answer to each question is an individual one, there are objective conditions and being aware of the experience of other women can help make this time less traumatic and the decisions more informed.
GETTING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
First and foremost, a victim of sexual assault should call someone she feels can offer her emotional support and guidance. Once a women feels that she is being cared for, supported and listened to, all the other decisions which must be made will seem easier to handle. She can also be assured that she has someone to depend on when the situation becomes difficult.
Choosing the support person is a very important decision. The attitudes a woman confronts right after the assault can help her feel better - or worse - about herself. The person she calls should be someone:
It is important for the person who is with the rape victim to respect her feelings, to listen, to understand, and to help her make decisions which are in her best interest. The rape victim can be encouraged to describe her experience and to express her feelings. The support person must try to be sensitive when making suggestions. Although there are decisions to make, there is no reason to pressure the victim. It is best to take one thing at a time, and proceed slowly bust consistently.
If the support person is unsure of the necessary procedures s/he should not hesitate to call a resource person for help.
The decision to seek outside help from someone who knows the ropes (someone for the rape crisis center, a family friend, a counselor) should be discussed with the rape victim. The person chosen should be someone who is comfortable to be with and trustworthy. The rape victim should be assured of continued person support.
DECIDING TO REPORT TO THE POLICE:
The victim of a sexual assault should have the final decision about whether or not to report the incident to the police. It is she who must deal with the procedures, the attitudes and the decisions of the police.
This is not an easy decision to make, especially since it must be made very shortly after the rape. Some of the factors to consider in the making of the decision are:
In Quebec, rape victims can apply for accident compensation. In order to be eligible, the rape incident must be reported to the police and a medical-legal examination must be done to substantiate the claim of physical and psychological damage. Accident compensation will pay medical costs above and beyond medicare and % of salary lost while not able to work. A victim does not have to prosecute in order to make the claim and receive compensation. A victim or friend, family member or Rape Crisis Centre person can call Crime Victim's Compensation, a division of Workman's Compensation.
In answering the above questions, it is important to remember that in most places there are several options for reporting a rape to the police. In the United States, rape laws are formulated in each state. There will be different procedures and different requirements depending on your state law. In Canada, rape laws are under federal jurisdiction. Though the procedures may vary slightly within each province, basically the options are the same across the country.
Some of the alternatives in reporting assaults to the police are:
Given these options, we recommend that some form of reporting be considered. One factor which can help change attitudes about rape, is the affirmative action by more women saying "I have been assaulted". Whether that statement is made for the record or with the intent of going to court, it is harder to ignore the magnitude of the problem when it is consistently identified.
If the woman has decided to report her experience to the police and also intends to go to court, she, or her friend, should call the police as soon after the event as possible. Usually, two constables will arrive where the victim is staying, and ask her to describe what has happened to her. They will accompany her and her friend for medical examinations and care.
If the woman decides not to report the incident to the police or has decided to make a report at a later date, it is still necessary that she get medical attention as soon as possible. It is always a good idea to go with someone supportive.
GOING FOR MEDICAL CARE
Even if there are no apparent injuries from struggle or battering, it is necessary to have medical treatment. Tests for sexually transmitted diseases, follow-up examinations for pregnancy and VD are part of the preventive care assault victims should have after a rape incident. If the woman has decided to press charges, she must also have certain tests to gather medical evidence required for the trial.
With these questions in mind, we will examine the various services which might give medical care to an assault victim. All of these alternatives may not be available in one area. The local rape crisis centre will probably have information on what facilities are available and explain how they will suit individual needs.
GOING TO A PRIVATE DOCTOR:
Cost/Compensation - In the United States, seeing a private physician can be the most expensive form of medical care. If the woman wishes to apply for victim's compensation, it will be necessary to check if reimbursement for private medical care is possible. If Canada, where medical care is covered by the government health plan, cost is not an issue. However, if accident or victim's compensation, is desired, it will be necessary to ask the doctor if s/he can do the medical tests required to substantiate the assault claim.
Hours - Usually private doctors have strict office hours. Unless the doctor is on call at night, the rape victim will have to wait until s/he is available to give medical care.
Atmosphere - Women who wish to keep the incident as private as possible, may see the doctor's office as offering more dignity and privacy than a hospital or clinic. If the woman has seen the doctor in the past, she may feel more comfortable in familiar surroundings.
Treatment and Care - Since private doctors do not usually deal with rape victims and their needs, it may be difficult to get all the necessary treatment and care here. Often the doctor does not have the facilities or expertise to collect medical evidence (if the woman is pressing charges), to test for venereal disease, or to deal with pregnancy prevention. The doctor may not be aware of the kind of understanding a woman requires to make the medical examination easier to endure.
Availability for Court - Most private doctors are unwilling to go to court, especially if they must cancel their office appointments to appear at the trial. Sometimes giving medical testimony requires several days of their time. If the woman is thinking of pressing charges, or has already started the process, she should be sure to ask her doctor if s/he knows how to collect medical evidence and is s/he willing to give some time to go to court.
GOING TO A COMMUNITY CLINIC
Cost/Compensation - This alternative may be cheaper than a private doctor's office through lab tests may cost more. In Canada, clinical care is covered by the government health plan. It will still be necessary to check if this kind of care is covered by victim's compensation, and if so, whether the clinic staff can do all the necessary testing and treating.
Hours - Most clinics have fixed hours and may not be open when the woman needs care, but some have 24-hour service.
Atmosphere - Most clinics provide a relaxed atmosphere which makes this a comfortable place for many women to go after an assault. Raised eyebrows and condescending attitudes toward rape are less frequent in the clinic setting.
Treatment and Care - Since many clinics are set up to operate on a team work basis, the diverse needs of the victim (medical, social and psychological) are more likely met by people who are understanding and aware of the trauma of sexual assault. However, medical facilities may not be adequate to do the examinations required for the collection of medical evidence, and the staff may not know what kinds of tests are necessary. It is likely that testing and care will be available here for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy prevention.
Availability for Court - Again, it may be difficult to get a commitment from a doctor working at a clinic to go to court. As with the private physician, s/he may consider testifying in court as lost time since s/he will not be paid for it. If she intends to press charges, the woman should make sure of the doctor's involvement before getting treated.
GOING TO THE HOSPITAL EMERGENCY WARD:
Cost Compensation - Care in the hospital emergency ward is free (in Canada) or may be covered by victim's compensation (in the States). Usually the hospital staff know what examinations and information are needed in order for the woman to apply. It may even be possible to get the forms and start the process here.
Hours - Hospital emergency wards are open 24 hours a day, although if one doctor is assigned to deal with all rape victims, s/he may not always be available.
Atmosphere - This is usually the biggest disadvantage. Most people who have been to emergency wards know that they can be depressing places. Often, it is necessary to wait hours before being seen by a nurse or doctor. A women should definitely go with a friend, not alone. Emergency wards are designed to see as many patients as possible in the least amount of time, and therefore do not focus on the individual person. For this reason, a woman may have to request (or demand) that her particular needs, which might be outside the routines, be met e.g., having her friend accompany her into the examining room.
Note from Aaron - I've noticed that some hospitals will now, if not able to treat the survivor right away, will give her priority for a room/bed. If it's a major metropolitan hospital, a social worker or staff psychiatrist can be dispatched while waiting for the doctor as well.
Treatment and Care - The care a woman receives will vary from hospital to hospital. It is a good idea to call the closest rape crisis centre to see which hospital is preferred for its treatment of assault victims. Often the bigger cities, there will be one hospital that has developed a protocol which covers the needs and treatment of women who have been raped. The lab facilities here are usually better and more efficient that what is available with private care.
Availability for Court - Many hospitals have one doctor who is either one call or is available to see and examine all rape victims. S/he will prepare to go to court to give medical testimony. Hospital records are usually kept in such detail that an examination here will leave the possibility of pressing charges open, should the woman decide to do so later. In places in the U.S., there are some hospitals which will not examine an assault victim unless the police are called and are present during the examination. If she is not going to press charges, a call to the hospital to find out their policy can save time and trouble.
In some areas of Canada and the United States women who wish to press charges must first go to a medico legal-centre for examination and tests which are necessary as medical evidence for court. The centre does not provide medical care, and it will be necessary for the woman to see a doctor or go to a clinic after the evidence has been collected. There is more information about the particular examination and the purposes in the next section.
THE PURPOSE OF MEDICAL CARE
The medical attention which a women receives after an assault should include three areas of treatment and testing:
Treatment of Injuries - The requires a thorough examination of the woman's body for any bruises or laceration incurred during the assault - scrapes on the shoulders, back, elbows, face, and head injuries, bites, etc. A shot of tetanus toxoid is required if there are open wounds and if the victim has not had a tetanus shot within five years.
Most likely a gynecological history will be taken to find out the age menstruation began, if and when menopause began, type of contraception used, and any major gynecological infection or surgery the victim might have had. This information will provide the doctor with a knowledge of how to treat the injured person. Also, included here will be an internal gynecological examination. Though this may be a difficult experience to endure so soon after this assault, it is necessary to see if there is any damage to the external genitals, the vagina, and the cervix. The woman will be given a bi-manual and speculum examination.
Pregnancy Prevention - The risk of becoming pregnancy is rare during a rape. Many women already use a continuous form of birth control (the pill, IUD, etc.). For women who are using no contraception at the time of the assault, there are three possible actions to take:
1. Take a drug to prevent the pregnancy. The woman must be sure she would consider an abortion before taking these drugs because of the possibility of damage to the fetus if the pregnancy is not prevented. The two most common drugs are Orval and Diethylstibestrol (or D.E.S.) with Ovral, 2 tablets are taken immediately followed by 2 more tablets 12 hours later. With D.E.S., 25mg/day are to be taken for 5 days; there is usually vomiting and nausea with this method. Both drugs will usually prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
2. Have a menstrual extraction when the menstrual period is due. During a menstrual extraction, a small plastic tube is inserted into the uterus to withdraw the uterine lining. If an embryo is present, it will be removed. In the United States, menstrual extractions can sometimes be obtained at women's self-help clinics, without proof of pregnancy. However in Canada, menstrual extractions are only used as a form of early abortion, so proof of pregnancy is required.
3. Wait to see if the menstrual period is late. If it is late, a pregnancy tests should be taken 6 weeks after the first day of the last period. This will ensure reliable results. Some of the newer pregnancy tests will show positive results sooner, but they will certainly be more expensive to use. The sooner the pregnancy is confirmed, the easier any abortion will be.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases - These diseases are spread from one person to another by some form of sexual contact. They can be passed through oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse. Two forms which can be commonly transmitted during an assault and which have to most serious consequences are gonorrhea and syphilis.
1. Gonorrhea - It takes about 10 days for gonorrhea to manifest itself, so any tests done immediately after the assault will merely indicate whether the woman had it at the time of the assault. To make sure that gonorrhea is not present, it is necessary to have two negative test results. These should be done starting 2 weeks after the incident at one week intervals. Women should be certain that they are tests in all areas which came into sexual contact with the assailant - vagina, anus, mouth, and/or throat.
2. Syphilis - To test for the presence of syphilis, a blood test (known as a VDRL) should be taken 4-6 weeks after the rape incident. Since 25% of people tests can have "false negative" results, it is important that the woman have a follow-up tests 3 months later.
Some hospitals will give antibiotics as a preventative treatment for gonorrhea. There is some controversy about this practice. It is possible that such treatment can prevent the diagnosis of syphilis. Some hospitals will give the antibiotics automatically while other places will only give them on request. If possible, the woman should talk to a doctor she trusts before making the decision to accept this treatment.
It might be difficult for the woman who has been assaulted to remember to have the tests which must be done several weeks or months after the occurrence. While she may be trying to forget the experience and get back into her regular routines, such tests and examinations may be sure reminders of the painful experiences. But these follow-up tests are important for long-term good health. A person who has supported the woman through the initial decisions and experience could offer to be responsible to see that she goes to her follow-up appointments. The efforts will be well worthwhile, ensuring that there will be no lingering medical problems for her to contend with in the future.
DECIDING TO PRESS CHARGES
The decision to prosecute will probably be made jointly between the woman who has been assaulted and the police. For the woman, it is a commitment to follow through a long, legal process which culminates in a trial. There are several factors which should be seriously considered before any decision is made:
A woman pressing charges against someone who assaulted her will need continual support as she proceeds through the legal maze on her way to the courtroom. Ideally, there should be at least one person with whom she feels comfortable and who is willing to make a commitment to be with her through all the events. Rape crisis centre workers will usually accompany the victim through all the phases of the legal proceeding, explaining procedures and giving support when needed. Both information and emotional support will be necessary for an assault victim.
Women should be aware of the length of time to which they are committing themselves when they decide to follow through the prosecution. Usually it takes 1 - 1 1/2 years from the initial report after the assault to the actual trial. This process may take even longer if there are postponements of court dates or appeals. Although the woman will not be continuously involved over this period of time, there will be several major events spread out over the months (identification of assailant, meeting with the prosecutor, preliminary hearing, trial). The trial, which will be the most demanding experience for the victim, will be the last event, coming long after the assault.
Fear of Retaliation
A woman may fear that the assailant will retaliate if she presses charges. The man may have threatened her during the assault or even once she has pressed charges against him. A woman will have to judge how her fear of the assailant will effect her everyday life, especially since the legal proceedings will take over a year to finish. It is unlikely that the police will be able to provide protection for that length of time. With the support of friends and family, the victim can decide what measures she can take to obtain the security and protection she requires. In most cases, the assailant will be warned that threatening or hassling the victim will hurt his chances of acquittal in court; he will most likely leave her alone.
In most places, it will be the police who decide if a charge will be laid. This decision will be made after consultation with a prosecuting lawyer. The police will consider three factors:
This decision is rarely based on whether or not the police believe the victim's story about the assault. With conviction rates as low as they are, discouraging a woman from pressing charges can also mean there is little reason, in their view, for her to suffer the trauma of the trial when the assailant will most likely be acquitted.
Technically, it is not the victim who brings the assailant to trial. It is the Crown (In Canada) and the State (in the U.S.) that actually presses charges. The victim is the main witness to the event and her testimony will provide the most important evidence in the case. Although it is possible to bring the assailant to trial despite the protests of the victim (she would be subpoenaed to appear in court), this is rarely done. Only in cases where none of the victims have offered to prosecute and the suspect is considered dangerous, will the police and lawyers consider such action. There is little chance for a conviction when the main witness is hostile to the proceedings.
Most people have never been to criminal court, so this experience can be new and a little frightening. The atmosphere, the language, the procedures will be very different from the police station and the medico-legal centre. If there is time before a decision must be made about prosecution, it is a good idea for the woman to sit in on a rape case. This can help her with her decision and familiarize her with where she will go and what she will be doing when her own case comes up.
For assault victims, the trial is particularly gruelling. Often the woman will feel that she is the one on trial instead of the suspect. She will need to have solid support from people close to her during this time.
Possibility of Conviction
Of all the cases reported to the police, few make it to the courtroom. Of those that do, even fewer result in conviction. The factors which determine how a case will stand up in the courts are:
Women who decide to go to court cannot count of a conviction. The prosecutor and the police will have some idea of whether there is a good chance of a conviction, but even then, there are no guarantees. A woman must remember that she has not been invalidated if the suspect is convicted.
GOING THROUGH THE LEGAL PROCESS
The decision to press charges means that the victim must follow the medical and legal protocol set up by the authorities in her area.
Call the local rape crisis centre. They will probably know the protocol, can be with the woman and her friend throughout the process, will inform her of her rights and the purpose of certain procedures, and might even have a working relationship with the police, doctor, and lawyers with whom she will be in contact.
A first and important thing for a woman who has just been assaulted to remember is she is intending to press charges, is.
No to bathe, douche or change clothing. These will probably be the first things she would like to do, but her body and clothing are part of the evidence needed for the case. If her clothing is torn or if there is not much of it left, she should put the remains in a bag to give to the police. She must also remember to take fresh clothes with her to the medical examination.
The people a rape victim meets throughout the legal process (the police, doctors, lawyers) will have varying attitude toward women and assault victims. Some of them might threat her as if it was her fault that she was raped. Others may not believe her story and feel that she is calling "rape" merely because she is dissatisfied with the sexual relations she has with the suspect. Some of them will be sympathetic and understanding, giving her real support. Consistent support from friends, family and people working with assault victims can be very helpful in dealing with these attitudes.
Basically the chronology of events in the legal process are:
When the police are first called with a report of an assault, two officers will arrive where the victim is staying. Because the police are organized differently from area to area, these officers could be:
These officers will ask for a description of the assault incident. They will take note of the victim's appearance, her reactions to their questions, and they will include a general description of her behavior. They will be responsible for collecting any evidence which can be used to 1) identify the suspect, if he is unknown, and 2) establish lack of consent by the woman.
They will then accompany her to the place where the medico-legal examination will be done. Most police departments have required protocol which assault victims must follow if they wish to prosecute - I.e. The examination must take place at a a certain hospital or centre, by a particular doctor. However, some police departments will allow the victim to choose where she would like to have the examination, only required that the doctor follow all necessary medical procedures for the collection of evidence and that s/he be available to testify in court.
The Medico-Legal Examination
As long as evidence of penetration and lack of consent are required by law to prove a rape, this examination is necessary. As it now stands, the woman's body will corroborate her claim of sexual assault. The medico legal examination searches for evidence of
How this examination is experienced by the woman will depend largely on the values and the sensitivity of the doctor and how well she is aware of the trauma the victim may be going through. A sympathetic doctor who examines and collects evidence in a gentle manner can help the woman feel that she will be supported through difficult procedures when pressing charges. A cold, condescending approach can make the victim feel that the examination is another invasion of her privacy, another act of humiliation. As difficult as it may be, if the victim is committed to pressing charges and examination is required, it must be done.
There are two major contradiction within the medico-legal examination which should be pointed out.
Evidence collected from the woman's body for the purpose of identifying the suspect is rarely used. Tests such as sperm identification, blood typing, samples of pubic hair and nail scrapings, all suggest that similar tests will be done on the suspect to match the evidence. However, our judicial system protects all people who are merely accused (and not yet convicted) of a crime, by not requiring them to undergo any testing of this kind. Evidence collected for identification of the rapist is only useful if the suspect has a previous record and the information is already on his file.
The collection of sperm from the woman's vagina to indicate proof of penetration will more correctly provide proof of ejaculation. What is often confused in the courtroom is the fact that penetration and ejaculation are 1) not the same thing, and 2) do not always happen together.
After these tests have been completed, the woman must still look after her medical needs. This care is usually not included with the collection of evidence.
A MEDICO-LEGAL EXAMINATION
Below is a list of procedures for the medico-legal examination. The purpose of this examination is to collect the evidence for the prosecution. Different places may require some of these procedures and not others.
In some places in the U.S., a police officer or detective may be required to be present during the examination. PURPOSE: 1) for the protection of the victim; 2) to see that all necessary testing is done and, according to the law, to identify the specimens. Many victims are uncomfortable with this and may request that the officer be out of view; (most police officers are uncomfortable as well) The woman may also request that someone be with her for support during the examination (friend, rape crisis centre counsellor, etc.).
The doctor or nurse on duty makes a note of the victim's emotional state upon arrival at the hospital or centre. PURPOSE: 1) to see if the victim requires psychological counseling; 2) to see if she needs tranquilizers or other medication; 3) to establish lack of consent. This last purpose is used in support of the myth that a woman who has been genuinely traumatized by a rape experience will be hysterical and sobbing. Even though this is not true, this myth still prevails in the minds of many people who deal with rape victims.
The hospital staff will note the condition of the victim's clothing and will place each piece into a separate bag and label it. The clothes will be tested for seminal stains (presence of semen ) and blood stain. PURPOSE: 1) to identify the assailant; 2) to establish lack of consent.
The victim's injuries will be noted, described and possibly photographed. Some places require permission form the woman before the photographs are taken and some to not. If the woman has incurred bruises which only become visible several days after the assault and this examination, she should call the police and ask that further photographs be taken. This can be crucial evidence to the case. PURPOSE: 1) to establish evidence of bodily harm; 2) to establish evidence of a struggle which means lacks of consent.
An internal gynecological examination will be done. PURPOSE: 1) to check for any injuries to the vagina and the cervix; 2) to check the condition of the hymen to establish lack of consent and penetration. The condition of the hymen of a woman who has had an active sex life may not show any damage after a rape.
Secretions are collected from the vagina. A small aspirator is inserted and the fluid is collected from deep inside the vagina. If there is not much secretion, a small amount of saline solution (salt water) is inserted in the vagina so that some fluid can be obtained. This fluid will be tested for the presence of moving sperm indicating that intercourse took place very recently. The sperm can also be identified and recorded. PURPOSE: 1) to establish evidence of penetration; 2) to identify the assailant.
Pubic hair and hair from other parts of the body will be combed and taken from the victim to by analyzed and differentiated between her hair and foreign hair. PURPOSE: 1) to identify the assailant; 2) to show evidence of struggle to establish lack of consent.
The investigation by the detectives who will be working on the case will begin shortly after the initial report and medical examination. The investigation will include the following:
Several days after the initial report, one or two detectives will visit the assault victim. They will ask her again to describe her experience. They will ask her again to describe her experience. They will either prepare a statement from what she has told them and ask her to sign it or they will ask her to write out her own statement. If she knows the assailant, they will question her about their relationship. If the suspect is unknown to the victim, they will try to get a description from her. Some detectives who deal with a lot of assault victims are understanding and try to make the questioning as painless as possible. Others hold some of the popular beliefs discussed in the first half of this book, and as a result, treat the victim as if she were the guilty party. Women who have been assaulted can be particularly vulnerable, so it is very important to have support people around at this time.
If any of the detectives working on the case do not believe the woman's story, she may be asked to take a lie detector test (polygraph). It is usually used to increase the motivation of a particular detective, though in some areas it has become routine. This test cannot be used as evidence and the woman should know that she is not legally required to take it.
During the following few days or weeks, the woman may be asked to go the police station to identify the suspect. She may try to find him from mug shorts, composite drawings, or, if someone is apprehended, she will be asked to identify him in a lineup.
After the suspect has been apprehended and identified by the victim, a bail hearing will be held if 1) the suspect is considered dangerous to the community or 2) if there is a suspicion that he will not attend the trial. The rape victim is not required to attend. If no bail hearing is held, the suspect is released on his own recognizance (his work that he will show up for the trial).
The detectives will finish prepared the case and collecting the evidence. They will then send this information to the crown (or state) prosecutor who will prepare for the preliminary hearing and trial.
MEETING THE PROSECUTOR
Before a victim goes to the preliminary trial, she will meet the crown (or state) prosecutor. S/he is the lawyer who will be trying to prove that an assault did take place between the victim and the suspect. This meeting will take place a few days before the hearing.
Lawyers who work as prosecutors are on salary and do not choose the cases they will be representing. They usually have little control in determining how much time they can spend on any one case. Most prosecutors are working in this way in order to gain experience for their own future law firms.
There are prosecutors who hare very good at preparing assault victims for the trial experience. They are able to show the woman the kind of treatment she can expect in the courtroom, instruct her on how to deal with distasteful questions, and still remain supportive of her. Other prosecutors will leave the victim feeling like there is no one representing her. She may feel as harassed by the prosecutor as by the defense lawyer.
Because of these difficulties, some women choose to pay for the services of a private lawyer. A private lawyer can only assist the crown and cannot represent the case. Under these circumstances, they will see their lawyer several times before the hearing and will be able to establish some rapport and trust with her/him. They will probably get more information about he court proceedings and what the main issues will be during the trial. The main disadvantage, of course, is that lawyers' fees are very expensive and, therefore, this is not an alternative for the majority of assault victims.
THE PRELIMINARY HEARING
The time it takes for a case to come to a preliminary hearing will depend on 1) how busy the courts are and 2) whether or not the suspect has been released on bail. It will usually happen within 6-9 months after the assault.
The experience of the preliminary hearing is very much like a trial - only shorter. All the witnesses will be called to the stand. They will be questioned and cross-examined. The whole procedure will usually last not longer than one day.
The purpose of the hearing is to decide if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial. That decision will be made by a judge after all the evidence has been presented. If there is to be a trial, the woman will be notified a few months later of the trial date.
The trial follows the preliminary hearing. The amount of time between these two events will depend on how busy the courts are and whether the suspect is out on bail. Sometimes the trial date is set and later, postponed on the request of the defense attorney. A victim should expect about 6-9 months between the hearing and the trial. The trial will usually last about 4 days.
The trial is held in criminal court. The suspect, as any defendant, has the right to choose a trial by judge or a trial by judge and jury. Most often a jury trial will be requested since precedence has shown that there is a better chance for acquittal with this choice.
There are three types of arguments which a defense lawyer can use to prove the innocence of the suspect:
Lack of positive identification of the suspect: In this case, the defense lawyer will attempt to prove that the suspect was not the man who rape the victim. There will be no question here regarding if the rape occurred; the question will be who did it. This type of defense is usually used when the man is a stranger to the woman. He may have an alibi stating that he was not with the victim at the time of the assault.
Lack of proof of penetration: This issue will not only be pertinent in rape cases since there does not have to be actual intercourse to lay a charge of sexual assault or attempted rape. The defense lawyer will attempt to prove with the support of medical evidence, that there was not vagina/penis contact but will try to prove indecent assault.
Victim consented to sexual intercourse: This is the most common defense during rape trials. The defense layer attempts to show that the woman's claim of rape is false. S/he will distort the victim's testimony; if allowed s/he will expose her sexual history and previous relationships with men, and question her moral character. In short, the defense lawyer tries to prove that the victim had ulterior motives which changed her "yes" during the actual acts of intercourse to a "no" after the event.
Many of the statements about the victim which the defense lawyer will present to the jury will remember the popular beliefs which were outlined in the first half of this book. The acquittal of the suspect often depends on these negative images of women and rape victims. We have paraphrased some of the concluding statements which defense lawyers frequently resent when summing up their case to the jury, to show how these beliefs can be used:
"Everyone knows how hard it is to make love to a women who does not want to. We must look at how hard this woman actually tried to get away from this man."
"From the looks of the history of this woman's relationships with men, I would say it is questionable whether she even knows the difference between intercourse and rape - and if she does, I contend that she might even enjoy both!"
From the events which have been described, it seems that our 'victim' flirted and tantalized the suspect. And then, when he proceeds to indulge with her wishes, she suddenly changes her mind! And what is he to do? Is this the action of a nice, responsible woman?"
This case actually boils down to one person's work against another's . And from past experiences, we all know that there are hundreds of cases each year of women who cry "rape" after they have had an unsatisfactory sexual experience."
The woman must try to separate the defense lawyer's image of her from her own self image. It can be quite difficult and even traumatic when a woman hears herself described in these terms. Because the popular beliefs about rape victims extend to women in general, the negative images of the rape victim portrayed by the defense lawyer will be extremely difficult to resist. Many marriages, friendships, and families break down under the stress of a rape trial, just when the victim needs support most. It is well worth being prepared in advance. It must be re-emphasized that she must have solid support during this time from her family, her friends, and if possible, from a group like a rape crisis centre.
The woman can also be reminded that the suspect, even if wrongly acquitted, had to pay out his time and money for court process. There may be consolation in this for the victim. If the woman has been properly informed on the frequency of acquittal in rape cases, she will have less personal distress should the assailant not be convicted. Whether there is a conviction or not, the woman should receive continued support and recognition for her courageous effort.
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