Helping the Victim and Making the Case: A Collaborative, Multidisciplinary Approach

The criminal justice system needs to be diligent in responding to statutory rape cases. These cases pose challenges for investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates as they try to make the case and help the victim.

Chapter 2 provided suggestions to increase the reporting of cases in which adults are having sex with young teens. As reporting increases, the criminal justice system must be ready to respond to the reports and diligently follow through. These cases often pose many challenges and require considerable time and dedication from law enforcement, victim advocates, prosecutors, and service and care providers. Criminal justice personnel and service and a health care providers must make a special effort to build rapport and trust with the young teens. Often these young people fail to see themselves as victims. They may be reluctant to have their boyfriends or girlfriends arrested and prosecuted. Successful investigation and prosecution of these cases require collaborative efforts by all professionals involved.

A collaborative approach could include the type of multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) many communities already use in child sexual abuse cases. Medical and law enforcement professionals and prosecutors jointly conduct investigations and interviews of the children, if possible, or they investigate and interview separately, sharing the information. In either case, the goal is to work together to improve the response to victims and to make a stronger case than would be possible if each agency acted independently, guarding the information it gathered.

In Onondaga County, New York, cases in which adults are having sex with underage teens are handled by a multidisciplinary team consisting of professionals from the medical, psychiatric, and psychological fields; caseworkers from the Department of Social Services; advocates and counselors from the Rape Crisis Center; social workers; probation officers; prosecutors; and police officers. These professionals meet regularly and discuss the cases generally and individually. They cross-train one another to develop a better understanding of each profession's roles and responsibilities.

Cases involving sex between adults and young teens especially benefit from using a collaborative approach. To facilitate use of the collaborative approach, conduct joint training among agencies, establish memoranda of understanding or protocols to define interagency responsibilities, and/or convene interagency task forces.

These cases benefit from a collaborative approach among investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates. Joint training, memoranda of understanding and protocols, and/or interagency task forces are tools for making a collaborative approach successful.

From the field, researchers have learned much about successful strategies for investigating and prosecuting statutory rape, working with victims, and sentencing that can help make the case. It is possible for professionals to successfully investigate and prosecute these cases while remaining sensitive to the victim. The courts can issue sentences that hold adults accountable for their actions. The following information was gleaned from the professionals interviewed for this Training Guide.

In Santa Clara County, California, there is a 99-percent conviction rate in cases in which adults are having sex with young teens (three cases were dismissed because the acts did not occur in the jurisdiction and in one case the wrong defendant was arrested). Of the 60 defendants convicted between July and December 1997, 48 were sentenced to local jail time and formal probation and 12 were sentenced to State prison.

Prosecutors in Alameda County, California, have never lost a case in which an adult man was involved in sexual activity with an underage girl. They have never had to go to trial; all the defendants pleaded guilty.

Investigative Strategies

Statutory rape cases may be investigated by law enforcement or prosecutorial investigators. In either case, the following investigative strategies appear promising and deserve consideration.

In many locations cases in which adults are having sex with young teens are handled by a specialized law enforcement unit. For example, in Baltimore, Maryland, these cases are sent to sexual assault detectives in the First Responders Unit; in Onondaga County, New York, they are sent to the Abused Persons Unit; in San Diego County, California, and Marion County, Indiana, they are sent to the Sex Crimes Unit.

Use a Special Unit or Specialized Officers

Investigators, both law enforcement and prosecutorial, need special expertise to investigate statutory rape cases. One of the best ways to gain this expertise is to handle these cases in a specialized unit within the police department or the prosecutor’s office. In smaller departments, it may not be feasible to establish an entire unit dedicated to these cases, but it is still possible to designate an investigator within the department who is responsible for statutory rape cases. In larger departments, these cases may be delegated to a specialized group or unit such as a child abuse unit, a sexual assault unit, or a juvenile unit that specializes in handling youth and/or sexual assault victims. There are certain advantages to sending a case to a specialized unit.

Specialized training is critical. “Both police officers and ADAs [assistant district attorneys] have to be reminded that despite the willingness or consent of the underage victim, the law prohibits sexual contact between an adult and a child. With ever-increasing caseloads and dwindling resources, it is tempting to ignore cases if the victim is unwilling to follow through on his/her complaint. It is important that investigators and prosecutors understand the dynamics of the abuse.” (Special Victims Bureau Memorandum; Office of the Onondaga County District Attorney; January 19, 1996)
  • Identifying Opportunities for Special Training. Fiscally, it is not feasible for all investigators in a police department or in a prosecutor’s office to receive specialized training in handling statutory rape cases. However, by choosing specialized investigators, it becomes manageable to train the necessary persons. Training is extremely important in these cases. Trained personnel can get these cases the priority they deserve in the system. Trained personnel have learned and practiced the skills necessary to interview the young, often reluctant, victims in these cases as well as the adults. Police must develop and prosecutors must rely on good evidence to make the case. Good interviews are particularly critical because the victim and the offender may change their accounts about the relationship as the case proceeds.

  • Selecting the Right Person for the Job.

Carefully selecting investigators suited to pursuing cases in which adults are having sex with young teens is important. Dealing with victims and their families takes patience, time, and a commitment to the job.

Not everyone in a police department or in a prosecutor’s office will have the appropriate personality, attitude, ability, and fortitude to investigate statutory rape cases, even with special training. By creating a specialized unit or training specialized investigators, the police chief and the chief prosecutor can select people who are both enthusiastic about the job and good at it. Also, the process of selecting good candidates for the job will screen out unsuitable candidates. This increases the chances of making good cases while treating victims with sensitivity.

  • Developing Expertise. Training provides the basis for cultivating a good investigator, but experience handling cases provides the day-to-day skills and knowledge that can make or break an investigation. Having a specialized unit in action affords opportunities for newly trained personnel to gain the day-to-day experience necessary for handling more challenging cases later.

Experience handling these cases provides the day-to-day skills and knowledge that can make or break an investigation.

  • Developing a Collaborative Approach.
In Pontiac, Michigan, investigators and prosecutors work closely in a collaborative atmosphere that fosters teamwork and a willingness to go beyond one's job description to get the job done.

Collaboration has advantages. When investigators specialize and work with specialized prosecutors, the result is a limited number of professionals handling statutory rape cases. Successful collaboration occurs when the specialized individuals working together understand their specific roles and responsibilities as well as their shared roles and responsibilities. Often, collaboration leads to familiarity and informal communications, breaking through the red tape that sometimes entangles a case.

In Monroe County, New York, a collaborative approach facilitates a team effort in these cases.

In Newark, New Jersey, police officers, an interview specialist in the prosecutors office, the prosecutor, and the victim advocate work together to win these cases and help the victim.

Use a Consolidated Law Enforcement Approach

Overcoming inconsistent law enforcement responses is a challenge. Within a single jurisdiction may be many law enforcement agencies such as a city police department, a county sheriff’s office, and any number of local, town, or village police departments. Each may have a different philosophy, protocol, practice, and expertise in handling statutory rape cases.

One solution to inconsistencies among law enforcement responses is to develop an interdepartmental agreement among all law enforcement agencies that provides them with the same protocol for responding to statutory rape cases.

Interdepartmental agreements among law enforcement agencies in a single county may help mitigate inconsistent handling of these cases.

Another possibility is to gather and consolidate the special units of the largest police departments (usually the city police department and county sheriff), provide training and support to detectives in those units, and require the smaller local police departments to immediately refer statutory rape cases to the large, trained consolidated units. Protocols would specify reporting requirements. For example, a report coming in at a local level would immediately be transmitted to a liaison who would notify the specially trained consolidated unit. That unit, available 24 hours a day, would send a trained detective to interview the victim and begin investigating. While the combined unit might be physically located in the same office space, each agency could retain its separate command structure and administrative responsibilities. A committee of law enforcement and prosecutorial professionals could monitor the unit’s progress and help develop solutions to problems.

In Onondaga County, New York, there is a consolidated police unit consisting of the City Police Department and the County Sheriffs Department (Abused Persons Unit). The officers receive special training in investigating sexual assault cases, including those in which adults are having sex with young teens. A protocol exists directing smaller local police departments in the county to immediately refer all sexual assault cases, including statutory rape, to the consolidated, larger unit. For example, a local report is immediately transmitted to a liaison who notifies the consolidated unit. That unit, available 24 hours a day, sends a trained detective to interview the victim and begin the investigation. The combined unit is located in the same office, but each agency retains its separate command structure and administrative responsibilities. A committee of law enforcement and prosecutorial professionals monitors the unit's progress and assists in developing solutions to problems.

Conduct Early, Separate Comprehensive Interviews With the Young Teen and the Adult Perpetrator

Police and prosecutors say it is very important to conduct early, separate, comprehensive interviews with the teen victim and the adult. The young teen should be interviewed first, and the information and specific details learned from the teen can be used to interview the adult.

Law enforcement officials in Santa Clara County, California, see the initial contact with the victim as “critical” because teens usually admit to what has been going on before they realize the seriousness of the situation. It also affords the opportunity to tell the victim that she or he does not have to talk to the defense attorney, which many victims do not know.

In San Diego County, California, a law enforcement representative reported that the adults in these cases often admit to the sexual activity, failing to see what's wrong with it.

The first interviews are significant for two reasons. First, the teen and adult are more inclined to admit to the relationship when first confronted because they may not believe it is wrong. They may “explain” that no one is getting hurt. This is especially true for the young teen who may be proud of the love affair. Second, information obtained from the interview can be enormously helpful in providing services to the victim and in prosecuting the case. The first interviews should conclude with the teen signing an affidavit swearing to the story and the adult signing any confession given. These signed documents can be used later to move the prosecution forward even if the victim or the adult becomes uncooperative and changes or recants the story (discussed below).

Collect Evidence Carefully

Collection of solid evidence, rather than relying solely on the victim's and offender's accounts, can increase the chances of successfully prosecuting cases.

From the start of the investigation, assume that the victim and the adult may change their stories to minimize what happened and avoid prosecution. To increase the chances of successfully prosecuting the case without the victim’s cooperation, investigators must rely on collecting solid evidence rather than the victim's word. Below are some investigative tips from the field.

Obtain Search Warrants

Search warrants can be a very effective tool in investigating these cases. An investigator in Santa Clara County, California, recounted that young teens often like to keep mementos of the time spent with the adult or letters received from the adult, or they write about the adult in a diary.

During the initial interview with the teen and the adult, investigators should probe any physical evidence documenting that the two had sex. In many cases, a teen records information about dates and times of sexual encounters in a diary or keeps letters (written to the adult or from the adult acknowledging sexual activity). Also check answering machine tapes saved by the teen and so on. Learn about such items early in the case. Obtain a search warrant to collect them before the teen or the adult destroys them to thwart prosecution.

To avoid the perception that the system is treating the teen’s possessions as State property, arrange for a victim advocate to discuss with the teen why a search warrant may be needed. The advocate can assure the teen that the property will be returned as soon as possible.

Establish Knowledge of the Teens Age

A common defense in these cases is that the adult did not know the victim was underage. To derail this defense, ask questions during the investigation to establish the adult’s knowledge that the teen was underage. For example: Was the victim picked up at school? What did the teen and the adult talk about when they were together? Did they talk about the school day? Intermural sporting events the victim participates in? Attendance at school dances? The teen’s birthday party?

Advice for interviewing victims from an investigator in Alameda County, California: Ask questions that establish the adult knew the teen was underage. Did they talk about the teens day at school? Did the adult pick the teen up at school? Did they talk about the teens age? Did the adult ask the teen not to tell anyone the teen was dating someone much older?

Collect Evidence About Any Baby Conceived During the Relationship

If the teen had a baby fathered by an adult, there may be a paper trail connecting that baby to the man. Who is named on the birth certificate? Who was with the teen at the hospital? If she applied for welfare, whom did she name as the father? DNA and blood tests of the baby, the mother, and the named father should be conducted to establish paternity. If the girl has an abortion or miscarries, a DNA test should be conducted on the fetus before it is destroyed.

Advice from a law enforcement representative in San Diego County, California, and a prosecutors investigator in Santa Clara County, California: If a baby was born from the union, look for a paper trail. Conduct DNA and blood tests of the baby, the mother, and the named father to establish paternity. If the girl has an abortion or miscarries, conduct a DNA test on the fetus before it is destroyed.

Prosecution Strategies

Use a Special Unit or Specialized Deputies

The argument for establishing a special unit or training specialized prosecution deputies is based upon the same logic as having specialized investigators. As discussed earlier, having a special unit to handle statutory rape cases offers advantages. Personnel are screened to ensure the right persons are on the job, the unit provides opportunities for personnel to train and develop expertise, and the unit can develop a collaborative approach to the cases.

Get Involved Early in the Case

Many of those interviewed advised early involvement by the prosecutor in the case because it

  • Encourages police and prosecutor collaboration.

  • Begins the process of building rapport with the victim.

  • Adds confidence to charging decisions.

  • Prosecutors and victim advocates should get involved early in the case—before arrest or at the screening stage or, at the latest, soon after the case is filed. Early involvement encourages the prosecutor and law enforcement officer to work together to build the strongest possible case. This may mean gathering evidence before it is destroyed or avoiding problems such as illegally obtained evidence. Early involvement allows prosecutors and victim advocates to begin building rapport and trust with the victim early in the case.

    Specially trained victim advocates can help in several ways. They can identify a victim’s service needs. The advocate can discuss with the victim why the relationship is wrong and why the teen may need help if the teen does not see the need for help. With patience and time, the advocate may help the teen recognize the need for help. The advocate can also help prosecutors work with uncooperative or scared victims.

    Early involvement in the case ensures filing of the proper charges. If the prosecutor becomes involved shortly after filing, the proper amendments to the charges can quickly be filed. Early involvement also gives the prosecutor the maximum amount of time to make decisions before the “clock starts ticking” on due process time limitations.

    Use Vertical Prosecution

    Vertical prosecution is important in prosecuting statutory rape cases. A prosecutor in Clark County, Nevada, explained that vertical prosecution in a specialized unit allows the prosecutor to develop the special expertise needed to manage these cases. She noted that these cases take much more time because the prosecutor works with the victim and her family. These victims need more individual attention, so the deputies in her unit carry lighter caseloads than deputies who handle cases horizontally in nonspecialized units.

    Specialized units and early involvement by prosecutors are natural tools to accomplish vertical prosecution. “True” vertical prosecution means the same prosecutor handles the case from the filing decision until the disposition of the case. “Partial” vertical prosecution is a variation of this and can take several forms. For example, the filing decision may be made by a screening unit and then the case goes to a prosecutor to handle through its disposition. Or, the case may be sent to a specialized unit and handled at different stages by whomever is available in the special unit. Or, in a two-tiered system, one prosecutor may see the case from start to finish in the lower court and another prosecutor from start to finish in the upper court.

    True vertical prosecution has the following advantages in statutory rape cases:

    • Building Rapport and Trust With the Victim. Having a single prosecutor manage the case from its filing to its disposition is a sensitive approach to victims for several reasons. The victim does not have to repeat her or his story each time a new prosecutor takes the case. There is time for trust to build between the prosecutor and the victim, a process that can be greatly enhanced by bringing a victim advocate into the case early on. Building rapport is key to successful prosecution (see specific suggestions for doing so below), and it helps the prosecutor and the victim advocate assess the victim’s service needs.
    Prosecutors working with victim advocates can help build rapport and trust with the victim and assess needs for services. Victim advocates in Maricopa County, Arizona, work as a team with prosecutors to accomplish these goals.
    • Keeping the Story Straight. Having a single prosecutor from start to finish in a case deters the victim and defendant from changing their stories each time a new prosecutor takes over. They may still change their account of what happened, but when the same prosecutor is in charge throughout, he or she can challenge the changes in the story. The same prosecutor can quickly and easily remind the victim and defendant of what they said earlier.
    In Alameda County, California, the same prosecutor handles the case from start to finish. She believes this discourages the teen and the adult from continually changing their accounts of what happened. If they do change the stories, she can remind them of what was said earlier and challenge them to tell the truth.
    • Avoiding “Shopping” for a Different Prosecutor. When a single prosecutor handles the case, the message is “the buck stops here.” No better offer will be coming from the next prosecutor assigned to the case because there is no next prosecutor. Having one prosecutor promotes consistency and avoids any misreading by the defense about earlier offers made by a different prosecutor.
    Having the same prosecutor handle the case from start to finish has the advantage of consistency in the plea offer. A prosecutor in Santa Clara County, California, explained that having the same prosecutor throughout the case prevents defense attorneys from “shopping” for a better deal from a new prosecutor assigned to the case.

    Interview the Victim Using a Team Approach

    We heard from the field that it is a good idea to interview young teens using a team composed of the prosecutor, the investigator, and the victim advocate. Why? There are several benefits. The victim may relate better to one person than to another and that person can take the lead during the interview. Working as a group, the team can “play off” one another, helping the young teen realize she or he is a victim. Each professional benefits from the team interview—the investigator can establish the facts, the prosecutor can take the facts and put them together convincingly for the judge and jury, and the victim advocate can attend to the victim’s needs and support her or him through the process.

    In Alameda County, California, the prosecutor, her investigator, and her victim advocate meet with the victim (and the teens parents/caretakers, if appropriate) as soon as possible after the case is referred to their office. The initial interview lasts about 1 hour. They work as a team to convince reluctant victims that a crime has been committed and the teen has been wronged (sometimes playing “good cop-bad cop” to get the point across). They see the team approach as critical because the teen may relate to one of them better than another. It also allows each professional to cover the topics they need covered to do their individual jobs—the investigator to obtain the details needed to collect the evidence, the prosecutor to determine what crime(s) have been committed, and the victim advocate to find out what services the young teen needs. The teen is told that the victim advocate is there to help obtain services; the investigator to gather the facts and evidence needed; and the prosecutor to prosecute the case. Questions the teen has about services should be addressed to the victim advocate; about the investigation, to the investigator; and about the prosecution, to the prosecutor. However, the group emphasizes that it works as a team and the victim may call any one of the members to discuss the case.

    Use Expedited Prosecution

    Several prosecutors told us that they try to expedite the case. A prosecutor in Santa Clara County, California, noted, “We always demand a speedy trial. The case only gets weaker as time passes and the teen ages.”

    Prosecutors tell us that, generally, a case gets weaker with the passage of time. This is especially true for statutory rape cases. Given time, the teen may recant the story, sometimes because of the conniving or intimidation of the adult. Over time, the victim grows older. Judges and juries find it more difficult to see the victim’s vulnerability as she or he ages and matures. Knowing this, the defense may try delaying tactics. Prosecutors can counteract this by being ready to proceed each time the case is on the calendar. Vertical prosecution avoids delays because no new prosecutor will be assigned the case and need to “get up to speed.” Another strategy for expediting cases is to offer the defendant a “best deal” at the beginning of the case. The longer the case drags on, the more punitive the offers become.

    Be Prepared To Deal With the “Cultural” Argument

    Another strategy the defense may use is to characterize the sexual behavior of the adult and young teen as accepted “normal” dating behavior in their particular culture. The defendant may actually marry the victim in a location where the youth's age does not prohibit the marriage, hoping this stops the prosecution. Prosecutors need to be aware of these possibilities and decide how they will deal with the “cultural” argument and “married” victims.

    Prosecutors should consider their response to cultural arguments the defense may raise. A prosecutor in Imperial County, California, reported that the defense sometimes argues that a sexual relationship is not wrong if it is part of the girls and mans culture of origin. The prosecutor counterargues that this is not true and uses testimony of university professors as expert witnesses to dispel cultural myths raised by the defense. A prosecutor in Santa Clara County, California, argues that to allow the excuse that society should ignore statutory rape cases because it is part of the couples culture of origin is simply a way of turning our backs on victims. She reasons that in all cultures, child molestation is usually wrong and sex is usually within the confines of marriage, even in cultures where this happens at a young age. Even if the practice is common in other cultures, the Santa Clara prosecutor stated that people do not have the right to pick and choose which parts of their heritage they want to continue once they come to the United States and are subject to the rules of our country. For example, the Mormons once practiced polygamy as part of their religion, but ceased the practice when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it illegal.

    The prosecutor must decide how to handle cases in which the teen and adult are married before the prosecution ends. This happens because some defendants think if they marry the teen, they will not be prosecuted. The Santa Clara County, California, district attorney decided that marriage would be viewed as a "nonevent,” having no impact on the prosecution of the case.

    Working With and Helping the Victim

    The outward “tough” appearance of some statutory rape victims belies their vulnerable state. A prosecutor in Onondaga County, New York, argues that no matter how difficult or belligerent the victim becomes, the focus must remain on the actions of the perpetrator. Otherwise, there is a risk of blaming the victim.

    From the time the first officer talks to the young teen through followup investigations and the prosecution, a message is being sent to the victim about how the system feels about her or him and how the system interprets her or his involvement with the adult. Even though some of the victims appear “tough” and “street-wise,” underneath they are young teens and often have very low self-esteem. Investigators, victim advocate professionals, and prosecutors need to look beyond the facade and find that young teen who needs protection and help. Victim advocates who specialize in working with these young people can be invaluable in developing rapport with the victim and identifying her or his needs. Early and continual involvement by advocates is paramount. Some suggestions for working with victims of statutory rape are presented below.

    Listen to the Victim

    Prosecutors and advocates need to take the time to listen to the victim’s concerns, needs, and wishes regarding disposition of the case. Most prosecutors interviewed for this Training Guide reported that they discuss with the victim, often together with the victim advocate, what the victim wants to happen in the case. The prosecutor and advocate explain to the victim that the ultimate decision about prosecuting the case rests with the prosecutor. They tell the victim that if the adult threatens the victim or tries to dissuade the victim from pressing charges, the victim can honestly say it was the prosecutor’s decision. It is hoped that this will protect the victim from harassment by the adult.

    Many prosecutors reported that although the decision of whether to prosecute is ultimately theirs, they urged that the victims wishes be heard and considered. For example, a prosecutor in Dade County, Florida, said she is very concerned about the victim. The desires of the victim and the family are always taken into consideration, even though the prosecutor ultimately makes the decision of whether to prosecute.

    The Onondaga County, New York, prosecutor in charge of statutory rape cases recognizes that the victim is “susceptible to the manipulation of the perpetrator.” He advises investigators and prosecutors to “relate to the teen without appearing condescending or judgmental” and to "strike a delicate balance between the wishes of the victim and the wishes of the parents," who may desire different outcomes in the case. The point is to provide the victim some input into the process. This may result in victim cooperation and a conviction of the perpetrator.

    Some prosecutors noted it is particularly important to ask questions about any forced sex by the adult. They explained that young teens often do not recognize elements of force. For example, they may not describe the sex as forced unless the adult physically beats them into submission. However, if queried further, the teen may admit having sex with the adult when she or he did not want to because she or he was afraid the adult would beat her or him (as the adult may have done in the past) or because it was easier than suffering the consequences of the adult's anger.

    Young teens often do not think sex is forced unless the adult beats them into submission. A prosecutor in Alameda County, California, discusses with the young teens other ways in which an adult may have forced the sex. She does this because she has found that some of the teens are also victims of domestic violence. The prosecutor and the teen need to realize this. The prosecutor works with the victim advocate to obtain services appropriate for domestic violence victims.

    The issue of force and coercion should be raised because some young teens who are having sex with adults are also victims of domestic violence by the adult. Prosecutors and victim advocates need to know this. At a humanitarian level, such knowledge can help prosecutors and victim advocates refer the victims to domestic violence services. At a practical level, prosecutors with such knowledge can expect that these victims may display many of the syndromes associated with victims of domestic violence, including changing their minds about cooperating with the prosecutor. Knowing this, prosecutors and victim advocates can use the techniques employed in domestic violence cases to work with uncooperative victims, including empowering the victim.

    Empower the Victim

    Many young teens who are having sex with adults have very low self-esteem and minimal support systems. Prosecutors and victim advocates can help empower these victims by calling upon any supportive people in the victim’s life or helping to create a new support system.

    A common comment heard from prosecutors was that young teens involved in sexual relationships with adults often have low self-esteem. A prosecutor in Marion County, Indiana, concluded that this makes prosecution very difficult. A plan for building the victims self-esteem should be developed by the victim advocate, the prosecutor, and the victim.

    The Rape Crisis Center in Onondaga, New York, tries to encourage the teen to maintain as much control over her or his life as possible. In the interview, they ask the teen how she or he feels about the relationship with the adult and how her or his feelings changed as the relationship progressed. In this way, the victim looks clearly at the relationship and decides for herself or himself whether it is a positive or negative experience.
    • Use the Victim's Support System. One reason statutory rape victims fall prey to adults in the first place is that many of these victims have little or no support system. If victims do have supportive people in their lives upon whom they count for guidance and comfort, then the prosecutor and victim advocate should find out who they are and contact them. The support and help of these individuals can help victims get through the legal proceedings and put their lives back together. Supportive individuals from the victim’s life can also be very helpful to the prosecutor and the victim advocate if the victim decides not to cooperate or becomes fearful of the prosecution. Engaging the help of supportive people the victim trusts early in the process can save the case if the victim—and thus the case—begins to fall apart.
    Engage the victims support system to help the teen through the court process. Victims should be encouraged to discuss whom they rely on for comfort and guidance. These people can help support the victim and the case. For example, an investigator and prosecutor in Alameda County, California, encountered a victim whose mother was too weak to support her daughters testifying in court because the mother had been a victim of domestic violence and was having difficulty dealing with the violence in her daughters relationship with the older man. The investigator and prosecutor learned that the girl relied heavily on her aunt for support. Therefore, when she had to testify at a preliminary hearing, the investigator offered to drive the victim and her aunt to the court so she would have “someone she trusted at her side.”
    • Create a New Support System. Some victims may have very weak support systems or none at all. Prosecutors and victim advocates can help build victims’ self-esteem by referring them to services that provide new avenues of support, such as mental health services, peer counseling groups, education programs, parenting programs (for victims with children), life skills programs, and self-esteem courses. These services can boost the teens’ confidence and help them make more appropriate life choices. A less obvious route according to some prosecutors and counselors is to encourage victims to join a team sport. Team sports can teach discipline, create friendships, build confidence, provide a healthy environment for having fun, and highlight the importance of relying on team members to accomplish a group goal.
    The importance of obtaining many different types of counseling for victims was reiterated time and again by investigators, prosecutors, and victim advocates. Many described a wide range of services in their county that have sliding fee scales for victims who cannot pay. In some places the counseling is paid for by the system. For example, in Clark County, Nevada, the victim advocate program pays up to $1,000 per victim for counseling. It is important to make referrals, but just as important to follow up to determine if the victim received the help needed. In Jefferson County, Kentucky, the victim advocate or the prosecutor follows up with victims to ensure they obtain counseling or services.

    Staff in the special prosecution unit in Alameda County, California, are ardent believers in the value of getting victims to take up a team sport. Based on research that links self-esteem building to sports and fitness, the prosecution staff worked with the Downtown Oakland YMCA to get victims into team sport activities. From that association came a project called FutureChoice, which was designed to raise self-esteem of adolescents through physical activity and fitness. FutureChoice also includes life skills training, tutoring, an SAT preparation course, and mentoring programs.

    The important thing is to provide victims with treatment choices and encourage them to follow up on referrals to services. You may have to discuss required services with victims several times because their needs may vary as the case proceeds and may change based on what else is happening in their lives. Advocates can be especially helpful in working with victims to develop treatment plans together.

    Keep in Touch With the Victim and Inform the Victim About Case Developments

    In many cases, victims will not have to testify at a grand jury, preliminary hearing, or trial because the defendant will plead guilty. Thus, conceivably only the prosecutor or the advocate will see victims or talk to them by phone at the start of the case. While it is possible to obtain convictions with minimal contact with victims, it is not good practice. Victims have rights in most States to be kept informed by the prosecutor or the victim advocate about what is happening with the case. Victims should be told when the arrested defendant is released from custody. The adult may be angry at the victim for incarceration and may try to retaliate.

    Many States have enacted victim rights legislation that spells out the rights of victims, including the right to be kept informed of case decisions. Prosecutors, investigators, and victim advocates have taken those rights to heart. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, by law, they explain to the young teens the victim's right to be kept informed.

    Knowing when the defendant will be released gives victims time to develop a safety plan. For example, victims may avoid places where they are likely to encounter the defendant; arrange with friends or family not to be alone; or take up temporary residence at the home of friends or family to avoid the adult. Victim advocates skilled in helping victims of domestic violence are an excellent resource when working with statutory rape victims to develop an individualized safety plan.

    Victims should be consulted before a plea agreement is reached. To achieve victim empowerment, a victim’s opinion should be heard even though the prosecutor is responsible for deciding what is in the best interest of justice. Certainly, the victim should be told the outcome of the case by the prosecutor or victim advocate.

    There are practical reasons to keep in touch with a victim throughout the case. A victim may change her or his mind, sometimes several times, about cooperating with the prosecution. To be prepared to prosecute with an uncooperative victim, the prosecutor needs to know the victim's mindset. In addition, only by staying in touch with the victim can the prosecutor and the victim advocate be certain the victim is receiving appropriate services. As the case proceeds, the victim’s need for services and receptivity to services will change. By staying in touch with the victim, the prosecutor and the victim advocate can recognize and address the victim’s changing needs.

    Prosecutors may have to proceed in a case with an uncooperative victim. By keeping in touch with the victim throughout the case, prosecutors can assess the victim's willingness to cooperate. Should the victim change her or his mind about prosecuting, the prosecutor can prepare an appropriate prosecution strategy.

    Followup After the Case

    Although not compelled to do so, some dedicated prosecutors and victim advocates make outreach efforts to victims after their cases are over. Followup to see how the teen is doing and how services are working can go a long way in communicating to the victim that the prosecutor and victim advocate really care about what happened and are interested in the teen's future.

    Followup with victims after the cases are over communicates to victims that people in the system care. In Alameda County, California, the investigator purchases Christmas cards for all victims seen by her unit and has the prosecutor sign the card in addition to herself. She reports receiving “thank yous” in response to some of the cards she sent. She learned that, for some of the young teens, the card from their office was the only card the teen received.

    In Alameda County, California, the following contact occurred between a victim of statutory rape and the prosecutor after the case. Earlier the prosecutor had called the victims mother about the case outcome and the mother told the prosecutor about the victims suicide attempt. When the prosecutor called to inform the victim of the case outcome, she took the opportunity to ask the victim why she had been so depressed and to ask if the counseling was helping. The victim said the counseling was helping. The prosecutor said she would call the teen back in 1 month to discuss a book the teen was reading at the prosecutor's urging. The prosecutor said they could also discuss what team sport the victim had chosen at that time. Again, the prosecutor had previously urged her to join a team sport.

    Sentencing Strategies

    Have the Offender Evaluated

    When considering a sentencing offer, the prosecutor and the judge who imposes the sentence can be greatly aided by a psychological evaluation of the defendant. Particularly important is identifying whether the adult is a predatory sex offender, a child molester, or an individual attracted to a particular underage teen. Prosecutors and judges explained that answers to these questions are critical in determining who should be sent to jail or prison and/or placed on probation. Further, the conditions (sex offender treatment, batterer treatment, parenting classes, mental health counseling, etc.) and length of probation depend on the answers to these questions.

    Prosecutors and judges talked about the importance of having the adult evaluated to assess whether the adult is a predatory sex offender, a child molester, or an individual who became attracted to a particular underage teen. This information was described as critical in making a sentencing decision.

    Some jurisdictions prepare a psychological evaluation that is separate from a PSI (pre-sentence investigation). Other jurisdictions combine the two. Critical information obtained in a PSI include the defendant’s past criminal history, including other sexual offense charges; drug and alcohol dependency; employment history; financial ability to pay restitution and child support to the victim in appropriate cases; remorse for what he or she did to the victim; and a victim impact statement. All of this information is needed to make wise sentencing choices.

    In statutory rape cases in California, the prosecutor may request and the judge may order a psychological evaluation of the defendant (a 1203.03 report). In Alameda County, this is routinely requested and granted. The evaluation is prepared by a psychologist in the State prison. The defendant may spend up to 60 days in prison while awaiting the completion of the evaluation. One of the prosecutors noted that this gives the defendant “a taste of prison time” that may help him realize the seriousness of his actions.

    Ensure Consistency

    Imposing sentences on perpetrators convicted of statutory rape serves several purposes, including punishing the offender, sending out the message that the behavior is unlawful, enforcing the law, and preventing further victimizations. The communication of prosecutorial protocols and practices to assistant district attorneys and police officers will encourage them to work together, ensuring greater consistency in charging. Police officers responsible for arresting perpetrators of statutory rape should be encouraged to confer with prosecutors about the appropriate charges to file.

    In Onondaga County, New York, the prosecutors goal is to send a message of accountability to adults and raise awareness that engaging in sexual activity with a teen is wrong. To that end, the felony arrest charges may be reduced to misdemeanor sexual misconduct charges if the perpetrator pleads guilty. The penalty associated with this charge is usually 3 years of probation and an order to stay away from the victim. Counseling for sex abuse or drug/alcohol abuse may also be ordered. If the victim has a child by the perpetrator, the father will not be incarcerated if he will agree to support the child and mother financially and/or emotionally. In a random sample of 25 statutory rape cases prosecuted in Onondaga, New York, in fall 1997, 14 met the prosecutors criteria for reductions to a misdemeanor (3 years of probation, with or without counseling or some jail time of from 60 to 365 days).

    Educate Judges

    Many prosecutors have stressed the importance of educating judges about the seriousness of statutory rape cases, the dynamics in such cases, and the impact on the victims. This general education can be bolstered in individual cases. Most judges do not see the young teens because most cases do not go to trial. The young teen may be in court at the time of sentencing and may make an oral victim impact statement, but, for the most part, the prosecutor provides the link between the victim and the judge. Thus, the prosecutor needs to tell the judge about the crime’s impact on the victim, ensuring the judge considers this critical piece of information when determining the sentence.

    A judge in Onondaga County, New York, believes in punishment, which she says depends on the defendant. If the defendant will work and support any offspring, then shell consider probation, weekend jail time, and therapy through Child and Family Services. She believes these adults are child abusers.

    A judge in Santa Clara County, California, acknowledged that he had to examine some of his own attitudes about statutory rape when he started presiding over these cases. He said the prosecutor did an excellent job of “educating” him.

    Consider Treatment Needs of the Victim and Offender

    Both the offender and the victim may need treatment for what happened. Victim services were discussed previously in this document. The defendant may need help in acknowledging responsibility for his or her sexual behavior and counseling to deter him or her from turning to another young teen for illegal sexual activity. The men and women who use young teens may have problems including low self-esteem, experiences of abusive childhoods, poor job skills, drug and alcohol problems, poor interpersonal skills, and other problems that contributed to them seeking underage teens rather than partners in their own age group. The criminal justice system has the power to order treatment as well as to punish.

    The adult involved in statutory rape may also need some help to make him or her a responsible person and to stop him or her from turning to another young teen for illegal sexual activity. The adults who use young teens may have low self-esteem, experiences of abusive childhoods, poor job skills, drug and alcohol problems, poor interpersonal skills, and other problems that contributed to them seeking out an underage teens rather than seeking out partners in their own age group. The criminal justice system has the power to order treatment for as well as to punish the adult. The prosecutors and judges interviewed in preparing this guide were acutely aware of this.

    Order Restitution and Child Support as Appropriate

    A defendant who can make restitution payments to the victim should be ordered to do so. It is one way to make him or her responsible for the harm inflicted. Restitution can help defray the costs of services for the victim. If the victim gave birth to the defendant’s child, child support needs to be paid. In some jurisdictions, this may be a condition of probation or a condition of the sentence. Other jurisdictions see this as a civil matter not to be confused with the criminal case. Each jurisdiction must decide how the child support issue will be addressed.

    Restitution and child support orders (if appropriate) are two ways to make adults responsible for their actions. Restitution is routinely ordered in these cases in Clark County, Nevada. Child support, when a baby is born from the union, may be ordered as a condition of probation, or a paternity stipulation may be a condition of the plea. In San Diego County, California, prosecutors require, as a condition of the plea, that any man who fathered a child with the victim sign an admission of paternity. The admission is sent to the Bureau of Child Support Enforcement. This eliminates the time and costs entailed by the Bureau in establishing paternity, thus expediting orders for child support.

    Be Aware of the Need To Enforce the Conditions of the Sentence

    It is not enough to order that the defendant receive treatment, stay away from the victim, and pay restitution and/or child support. Some person must be responsible for ensuring these things happen. If the defendant is placed on probation, it is often the responsibility of the probation department to monitor these provisions. If they are imposed as a condition of the sentence in lieu of jail or probation, some person must oversee that the conditions are met. As shown in previous studies, just ordering the offender to undergo treatment, to stay away from the victim, and to pay restitution and/or child support is not enough. These things need to be tracked and enforced, and the offenders who violate these orders must be punished if these orders are to have any real meaning (Davis, Smith, and Hillenbrand, 1991; American Bar Association, Final Report to the State Justice Institute, 1989).

    Conditions of the sentence need to be tracked, monitored, and enforced if they are to be meaningful. Previous studies document that simply ordering the defendant to do something without an enforcement mechanism does not work for many defendants.

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