Increasing Reports: Collaboration Building and Outreach

Cases in which adults are having sex with underage teens have been seriously underreported. Encouraging reporting often involves changing attitudes about the seriousness of these cases. Unless these cases are reported, teens may be left alone to cope with problems associated with these cases and the adults may operate with impunity.

Historically, statutory rape cases have been underreported. Encouraging increased reporting involves changing attitudes about the seriousness of these cases. Increased reporting would serve two goals. First, it would help identify young teens in need of services to deal with damage done by the relationship with the adult. The teen may desperately need protection from the abusive actions of the adult. Second, increased reporting begins the process through which justice professionals can assess whether criminal prosecution is appropriate in the case. Unless statutory rape cases come to light, teens may be left alone to cope with problems, and adults may operate with impunity.

In this chapter, we present specific, concrete examples from communities we visited or officials interviewed about promising approaches to increase the reporting of statutory rape cases. We have identified two phases in the process to increase reporting. First, inter- and intra-agency communication structures should be assessed and then strengthened. Second, outreach plans should be developed for several different audiences.

Collaboration Building

Assessing and Strengthening Communications

The first step in increasing reports of statutory rape is to assess what is currently happening. A task force or other authorized individual or body should conduct a historical study (past year or past 5 years) of case files and records from a variety of sources, such as local law enforcement agencies, courts (misdemeanor, felony, family, and domestic relations), prosecutor’s offices, probation departments, rape crisis centers, and hospital emergency rooms. This should coincide with interviews of professionals currently in these departments. The assessing body can then begin the task of bringing agency representatives together to develop a collaborative philosophy that will hopefully result in a consistent approach to reports of statutory rape.

Through a grant from a local foundation, the Child Advocacy Network in Baltimore, Maryland, conducted an analysis of statutory rape prosecutions. The researchers looked at birth certificate data to discern births to young teens to determine the number of situations that may have been charged as rape or statutory rape, depending on the age of the father. They also collected data from investigations and prosecutions of cases referred through the city police department and the Child Advocacy Network, including the length of investigations and court proceedings. They analyzed data from three different court venues in which statutory rape cases could be handled, including outcomes. Researchers also conducted interviews with police and hospital offcials on protocols and reporting issues.


Once the assessment of communication and consistency has been completed, the task of “pulling together” begins. In communities studied to develop this Training Guide, there was often one person in a position of authority, usually the prosecutor in charge of the child abuse unit or the statutory rape unit. This person was able, by sheer force of personality, to generate consensus among disparate agencies with varying philosophies and mandates. This “charismatic leader” had three identifiable characteristics: commitment, availability, and flexibility.

The Assistant States Attorney for Onondaga County (Syracuse), New York, is the Chief of the Special Victims Bureau (SVB) and a good example of a “charismatic leader.” This prosecutor has demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing “challenging” statutory rape cases by stating, “We dont ignore a crime because its too tough to prove. We accept the difficulty of prosecuting these types of cases.” His availability and leadership is evidenced by his observed work style, arriving at 7:00 a.m., leaving at 7:00 p.m., answering his own phone, and returning calls immediately. Accolades from colleagues describe him as providing the enthusiasm and impetus for opening lines of communication. Officials from the Department of Social Services, the Probation Department, and the Abused Persons Unit (a combined city and county police sexual assault unit) described the SVB Chief as the catalyst for improving coordination between agencies and the prosecutors office in handling statutory rape disclosures. Evidence of his flexible leadership includes developing a pilot reporting program with the Child Welfare division of the Department of Social Services; hammering together the agreement that combined the city and county sexual assault units into the Abused Persons Unit; and encouraging the Probation Department to refer situations involving adolescent charges who are sexually active with adults for prosecution.

Most important, this person is committed to giving statutory rape disclosures the same attention that child sexual abuse and domestic violence cases have recently begun to receive. This leader has a vision of how that can be accomplished. His or her commitment imparts confidence to collaborative professionals that, when an allegation is referred, it will be taken seriously. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that referrals will be made.

In addition, this person is available to assist prosecutors and law enforcement and prosecutorial investigators. This availability is essential because it provides law enforcement officers someone to consult for assistance with arrests, charging decisions, and evidence-gathering strategies, including interviewing victims and offenders, obtaining affidavits, and requesting search warrants for diaries or DNA tests.

The third element of leadership is flexibility—a useful tool for working with agencies that may not share the same vision or that express concern about the efficacy of doing so. Flexibility allows agency leaders to decide together how and under what circumstances they will report allegations of unlawful sexual activity involving adults and teens (of course, this presupposes that statutory rape does not fall under the State law of mandatory reporting). For example, hospital staff, welfare intake officers, and juvenile probation officers may be reluctant to officially agree to report all cases of teenagers who have an adult as a sexual partner or who fathered their child, citing confidentiality or other concerns. The prosecutor could request that officials report only those relationships that meet certain criteria, such as cases involving age differences of 5 or more years, cases involving teens and preteens 12 to 13 years old, and those relationships characterized by violence or exploitation.

The Chief of the Dade County States Attorneys Office Sexual Battery Unit (SBU) began in 1995 to call monthly meetings, attended by representatives of the 27 county police agencies, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), the rape treatment center, child protective services, guardians ad litem, Family Services, and others. Her goals were to advise everyone on new laws passed by the legislature on statutory rape and other sexual crimes and to have consistency among agencies on enforcement of the laws. The thrust of the meetings was, “This is how to use the law, and how it will help you.” At the meetings on statutory rape laws, the goals were to explain: What is a crime? What is the message to our young people when we go to a high school to give a talk? What does the legislature want from us? The response has been gratifying. Everyone at the participating agencies knows the laws and can educate the staff. The Chief of the SBU has shown shes a willing-to-listen prosecutor who will work with others to get results. She sent a list of all participants to each member of the group so they can contact each other to discuss common concerns, such as a serial rapist. Sometimes a local police agency will report a crime to the group, asking if there have been any similar crimes in other jurisdictions.


The prosecutor in Marion County, Indiana, has launched a media campaign to inform the public about the illegality of statutory rape incidents. In the first year following the campaign, reports of such cases doubled, and the reports doubled again after the second year.

Outreach to the Public, Teens, and Their Families About Reporting

The first step to ending the silence that allows adults to engage in sexual activity with young teens is to inform the public that these relationships are unlawful and destructive. Unless the public realizes these activities are both criminal and harmful, underreporting will likely remain high. Further, if members of the public do not understand that statutory rape is not consensual sex and that it is not a “victimless” crime, persons called to jury duty are not likely to convict. Even if the prosecutor proves a statutory rape case beyond reasonable doubt, an uninformed jury may engage in jury nullification (basically, ignore the law and fail to convict). Clearly, public education about statutory rape is critical to the successful prosecution of these cases.

Through media outreach and presentations at public forums, some communities have made great strides in educating the public about the illegality of these relationships and in encouraging the public to report such cases to authorities. Innovations include the following:

  • Placing Public Service Announcements/Advertisements.

Public service announcements and media campaigns can address multiple goals in reaching various segments of the public about the inappropriateness of statutory rape cases.

Community leaders (prosecutors, police, mental health agencies, and others) may place advertisements or public service announcements on public buses, billboards, and radio and television broadcasts and through other media. These ads and announcements may be targeted at teens, their parents and families, their friends, and/or adults involved with young teens.

In Santa Clara County, California, the prosecutor in charge of statutory rape cases has cultivated an excellent working relationship with the local print, radio, and television media. As a consequence, she has been successful in obtaining considerable positive coverage of statutory rape cases.

The goals of these ads and announcements include the following: (1) to prevent teens and adults from becoming involved in this illegal sexual activity; (2) to change the erroneous attitude that this activity is a private matter outside the criminal justice system; (3) to provide counseling to young teens, their parents, and friends to help them understand the possible consequences of this activity and to make referrals for services; (4) to explain why this activity is illegal and to encourage reporting to the police; and (5) to explain why prosecution is important.

Monroe County, New York, used a billboard campaign entitled “Not Me, Not Now” to reach young teens to convince them that older men having sex with them was wrong and that they were crime victims. The prosecutor perceives that these billboards were effective in delivering that message.
  • Developing Reporting Hotlines. Special hotline numbers may encourage young teens and their friends and families to reach out for help anonymously in cases in which they would otherwise be afraid to call authorities.
In Santa Clara County, California, the prosecutor started a media effort that resulted in ads being placed on city buses encouraging the public (including teens and their parents) to report statutory rape cases via a special hotline number. This generated a large number of calls, some of which the prosecutor believes would never have been received had the anonymous hotline number not been advertised widely to the public.
  • Working With Local Journalists. Strategically placed articles in local newspapers could highlight programs aimed at prosecuting adults involved in statutory rape cases; the consequences to teenagers of sexual activity with adults; how the sexual activity can impact the local economy through unintended pregnancies; the complexities involved in reporting and prosecuting these cases; and other topics germane to the problem in particular communities.

Outreach to Schools About Reporting

Young teens involved in sexual activity with adults and the teens’ families need to be identified and encouraged to seek help. Police and prosecutors need to talk with, not at, the teenagers and their families about the importance of reporting these cases to the criminal justice system. Middle school personnel are in a unique position to identify young teens who are involved in sexual activity with adults. The collaboration of middle school personnel is vital in preventing and prosecuting adult males engaging in this activity. Below are examples of how police and/or prosecutors have engaged schools in their efforts to increase reporting.

  • Training for School Personnel on Identifying and Reporting Options. Prosecutors and other criminal justice professionals can provide training to teachers, school nurses, school counselors, and administrators. Such training could include educating school staff about the illegality of adult sexual activity with minors and a discussion of the legal obligations and actions of police and prosecutors once they receive a report of statutory rape.
The prosecutor in Maricopa County, Arizona, trained school personnel on their requirements to report statutory rape cases. The prosecutor concludes that these efforts have been worthwhile in achieving a greater understanding among school officials of their obligations and have increased the number of incidents reported.

Training should include the message that the criminal justice system will take allegations of statutory rape seriously. This could help win the cooperation of school officials in reporting cases. It is equally important to explain how the criminal justice system can serve as a source for referrals for needed counseling. Further, the criminal justice system is in the best position to supervise adult offenders, usually through probation. The criminal justice system helps ensure that the youth is no longer victimized and that the adult does not replace this victim with another young teen.

In Alameda County, California, the prosecutor in charge of statutory rape cases works with school officials to explain the seriousness of statutory rape cases. The prosecutor also explains how his or her office responds to help teens and hold adults accountable for their criminal acts.
  • Training for School Personnel on Identifying Predatory Adults. Teachers and administrators may also be trained to identify adults preying on young teens. Police and prosecutors can encourage school officials to report suspicious activity, such as an adult picking up a student at the end of the day or hanging around school property.

  • Training in Teacher Health

School officials can play a pivotal role in reporting suspicious activities such as adults picking up young teens at school. This can help prevent statutory rape if caught early enough or stop further incidents of statutory rape from happening.

    Certification Courses. Teacher health certification courses provide an opportunity to educate teachers about statutory rape. In many States, teachers are required to take a health education class to obtain certification or renewed certification. The State Board of Education may wish to mandate that the required health education class include training about the health and mental health risks experienced by young teens involved in sexual activity with adults. The curriculum might include tips on how to identify young teens at risk and how to help them obtain counseling and services.

  • Parent, Teacher, Student Association Presentations. PTA or PTSA meetings may present opportunities to reach out to students, parents, and family members. Police and prosecutors may find that presenting information in these meetings encourages reporting, moves young teens into counseling and services, and helps build rapport and trust between parents, young teens, and criminal justice officials. Involving the medical and therapeutic communities in a joint presentation with police and prosecutors at PTA/PTSA meetings may prove very effective. These meetings can serve as a forum to help those attending identify young teens who are sexually involved with adults, communicate the message that this activity is illegal and harmful, provide information about community resources available to help the young teens, and explain how the criminal justice system responds to such cases.
PTA or PTSA meetings afford opportunities to discuss with teens and their parents the illegality of statutory rape incidents and encourage reporting. In Santa Cruz County, California, the prosecutor who handles statutory rape cases has found this venue valuable.
  • Student Assembly Presentations. Presentations aimed at students can help young teens understand that they are being victimized by adults who are having sex with them. Especially powerful are presentations by peers who realized they were being abused by adults. Also persuasive are frank discussions with young teen moms who tell how their freedom was taken away by adults who impregnated them and failed to support the child financially.
A victim advocate in Alameda County, California, noted that peer presentations focused on why it is wrong for adults to have sex with young teens. Peer victims can deliver powerful messages to teens. She explained that teens are much more likely to listen to "one of their own" than to an adult authority figure.

Outreach to the Medical, Mental Health, Therapeutic, and Service Communities About Reporting

In a previous ABA research study, the medical, mental health, therapeutic, and service communities reported three barriers to reporting cases in which adults are having sex with young teens: the need to maintain confidentiality between client and provider, a concern that the teens will lose trust in the provider and drop out of services, and a fatalistic attitude that police and prosecutors will do nothing even if they report.

Prior ABA research uncovered the following strong, recurring themes in the medical, mental health, therapeutic, and service communities about why they do not report cases of adults having sex with young teens: confidentiality between client and provider prohibits reporting these cases to authorities; reporting would have a “chilling” effect, resulting in young teens dropping out of or going without needed services; and a fatalistic attitude that reporting would do no good, based on the belief that the police, prosecutors, and the criminal justice system would do nothing with such reports.

Police and prosecutors need to communicate with service providers about what will happen when a report is received. Later, when information on individual cases can be released because it is part of the public record, the police and prosecutors must follow up with the providers by giving feedback on the outcome of the reported cases, such as arrest or no arrest, prosecuted or not prosecuted, sentence imposed, etc. Providing feedback to service providers who reported may encourage more cooperation in the future.

Feedback to service providers on the results of their report of a statutory rape case can help build rapport between criminal justice practitioners and service providers.

Training, rapport building, and communication between police, prosecutors, and service providers can occur in many different arenas. Some suggestions for reaching out to providers include the following:

  • Make Conference Presentations.

Professional conferences attended by the medical, mental health, therapeutic, and service communities afford wonderful opportunities for criminal justice officials to communicate with other professionals about the importance of reporting statutory rape cases.

Criminal justice professionals can ask to be included on the agenda of conferences attended by medical care providers, allied health professionals, mental health providers, and service providers. In this setting, criminal justice professionals can explain the importance of reporting cases, how to report cases, and how the criminal justice system typically responds to such cases. Presenters may take this opportunity to encourage open, frank discussions about why providers are reluctant to report cases and why they should.

  • Offer Continuing Education Credits. Most States require health provider professionals to obtain continuing education credits each year. Offering continuing education credits to those attending a statutory rape presentation at the conferences encourages conference organizers to include the topic on the agenda and encourages participants to attend the presentation.

  • Provide Training at Local Hospitals and Health Clinics.
In San Diego County, California, the prosecutor in charge of the statutory rape unit provides training at the local children's hospital on how to identify such cases and their reporting requirements.
    Criminal justice practitioners can conduct training and make presentations at the local children’s hospital, county and private hospitals, mental health clinics, school-based health clinics, and other places where youth who are involved in sexual activity with adults may go for help. Practitioners should educate staff and volunteers about identifying and reporting requirements and use this training to alert providers that police and prosecutors will take their reports seriously.

  • Provide Training at Youth Centers.
In Oakland County, California, specialized prosecutors, investigators, and victim advocates assigned to statutory rape cases work together with YMCA staff to identify teens involved in sexual activities with adults and encourage the teens to prosecute the adults. They also work together to make sure each teen gets the services needed.

Police and prosecutors may also conduct trainings and make presentations with staff and volunteers at local YMCAs and YWCAs, runaway and drop-in shelters, and other places where young teens frequent. Practitioners should educate the staff and volunteers about identifying and reporting these cases and alert them that the criminal justice system will respond to their reports.

Outreach to Law Enforcement and Allied Agencies Reporting to Prosecutors

Police play a crucial gatekeeper role in deciding which cases to investigate and send to the prosecutor for filing consideration.

The public (including parents and teens), the schools, and the medical and service communities may report statutory rape cases to either the police or the prosecutor. If they report to the prosecutor, that office may investigate the report directly. Most prosecutor offices, however, do not have the personnel to conduct independent investigations, so they refer the case to the police for investigation. The police have several options. They may immediately open an investigation or they may place the case in a pending file awaiting resources for an investigation. Ultimately, the police may do any of the following: leave the investigation open pending new evidence, close the case due to insufficient evidence to proceed, arrest the suspect and send the case to the prosecutor, or decide not to make an arrest until the prosecutor makes a decision about filing the case. Whatever the outcome, the police play the crucial role of gatekeeper.

Many prosecutors report that they provide training to law enforcement officers to encourage them to bring cases to the prosecutor. Prosecutors assure police that these cases will be taken seriously by the prosecutor. This outreach was described by prosecutors in Maricopa County, Arizona; Alameda and San Diego Counties, California; Dade County, Florida; Marion County, Indiana; Jefferson County, Kentucky; Oakland County, Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; and Onondaga County, New York.

During research for this Training Guide, police said that an inhibitor to arresting a suspect or sending a case to the prosecutor is the “why bother” attitude. The police may think, “Why bother to spend limited police resources on these cases when the prosecutor seldom files them?” This means that prosecutors need to work with police, encouraging them to investigate and refer cases to prosecutors. After making outreach efforts, prosecutors active in working with police on this issue have reported considerable success and substantial increases in police reports of this crime. The following are innovative suggestions to increase reporting by police:

  • Working With the Police.
A prosecutor in charge of statutory rape cases in Onondaga County, New York, explained that police need continual reminding that prosecutors will actively pursue these cases to keep the message alive.

    A high turnover rate and competing demands on police officers make it necessary for prosecutors to regularly train officers on the importance of investigating and referring statutory rape cases. Police may give these cases a low priority. Prosecutors can bring effective change by explaining why these cases should be handled in the criminal justice system. By making it clear that they will aggressively prosecute appropriate statutory rape cases, prosecutors can send a strong message to police.

    • Which agents to train.

Training should be targeted at law enforcement officers at many different levels in the police department.

The chief prosecutor can communicate with the chief of police to set policy about enforcing the law in statutory rape cases. The chief of police can then send the message from senior staff to the officers on the street. Prosecutors can train patrol sergeants, lieutenants, and commanders who will, in turn, train their officers about the evidence prosecutors need to successfully prosecute statutory rape cases.

In each training episode, reinforce the importance of pursuing these cases and referring them to prosecutors. Patrol officers, especially in community-oriented policing sites, are likely to know their neighborhood residents best and are in a good position to encourage the public to report statutory rape cases.

Targeting a specialized unit within the police department for training is another option. Clearly, training the sexual assault unit and the juvenile unit responsible for investigating statutory rape cases is a priority. Other good candidates for training are those specialized units that come in contact with the men involved in statutory rape cases. For example, it is a good idea to target the gang unit for training. Gang members often equate having multiple sexual relationships as conferring status. When a gang officer makes a bust, he or she should be trained to observe if young teens are on the scene and ask questions about who they are and why they are there. Also, consider training specialized drug units to identify young teens involved in sexual activity with adults. Drug dealers often recruit young people to sell drugs. Some of these young people may be teens who are forced, or persuaded, to sell drugs for their “partners.”

Be creative in targeting which specialized units in the police department to train on statutory rape cases. Sexual assault or juvenile units are obvious choices, but other units may be fruitful as well. For example, the prosecutor in Santa Cruz County, California, who handles statutory rape cases provides training to the specialized gang unit in the police department. Gang members may be involved with young teens, and officers should investigate to determine that in individual cases. The prosecutor points out to officers that they may not have enough evidence to arrest a gang member on a driveby shooting but they may be able to arrest him for having sex with an underage teen. He notes “officers then become very enthusiastic” about investigating statutory rape cases.
  • Which media to use.The prosecutor should conduct the initial training in person at the police academy. Scheduled indepth, face-to-face, inservice training sessions can be designed to accomplish several goals: motivate officers to take cases seriously; inform officers about how to conduct good investigations; and encourage bringing strong cases to the prosecutor.

Consider other available means for followup inservice training. For example, roll call provides an opportunity for short training “reminders.” Use any number of means to make your training point, including in writing, in person, by videotape, by conference call, and so on. Prosecutors may wish to work with their local police to develop a comprehensive training program that fits the needs of the police department.

Different media should be used to train officers on statutory rape cases. For example, in Maricopa County, Arizona, the prosecutor conducts in-person bimonthly trainings with law enforcement personnel; roll call trainings (via videotape or in person) are used in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Riverside and Santa Cruz Counties, California. The prosecutor in Riverside County also uses the newsletter that is distributed to law enforcement officers every month as a vehicle to inform officers about the importance of investigating and referring statutory rape cases to the prosecutor.
  • How to maintain momentum. Nothing works like success! The best way for prosecutors to sustain the interest of the police officers is to provide them feedback about the outcomes of cases they referred for prosecution. Include an explanation of why the case turned out as it did. Once officers see that their efforts lead to successful results, they will be motivated to investigate and refer more cases to prosecutors.
Once officers see that their efforts lead to successful prosecutions, they will be more motivated to investigate and refer cases to prosecutors. This refrain was heard from prosecutors in Onondaga County, New York, and Alameda, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz Counties, California.
  • Working With Child Support Enforcement and Welfare Agencies. Strategically placing brochures at agencies where young mothers apply for public support and child welfare support may be an effective way to encourage them to report men who are failing to support their children financially. Child welfare agencies may even be willing to distribute brochures to teen mothers about ways to obtain child support from the father.
Child support enforcement agencies may provide a valuable source of referrals of cases to prosecutors when young teens seek child support. We learned this from prosecutors in three California jurisdictions: Alameda County, San Diego County, and Santa Clara County.

Public assistance intake workers may also make referrals to prosecutors. In fact, when a woman comes in and applies for welfare, some State laws require that she provide the name and sometimes the age of the father of her children. A memorandum of understanding between the welfare office and the prosecutor may require the intake workers to refer cases that meet the State legal definition of statutory rape or cases in which there is a large age discrepancy between the victim and the offender.

The Onondaga County, New York, prosecutor in charge of the Special Victims Bureau developed a pilot program with the Department of Social Services (DSS). Referrals are made by “income maintenance” (intake) workers taking applications for assistance. A common scenario is that a young woman comes in and fills out an application for public assistance (welfare). The law requires that she name the father of any children. A memorandum of understanding between DSS and the district attorneys office states that DSS will refer cases involving girls younger than a certain age if there is an age difference of a certain number of years between the girl and the male and if the relationship is exploitative or she is at risk. A reporting form was developed that requests information on the names and ages of the mother, the father, and the child.
  • Working With Juvenile Probation Departments. By working closely with the juvenile probation department, prosecutors can identify young teens who are having sex with adults. During the assessment for supervision and services, probation officers usually get to know their clients, their families, and school counselors. Disclosures about an adult partner or sexual activity with an adult may be made to the probation officer. Part of the motivation for referring the case to prosecutors is that the relationship between the probation department and the client will probably be long term. The probation officer ultimately wants to keep the teenaged client from being further victimized. The probation officer wants to help the client gain power and avoid making poor choices.
In Onondaga County, New York, the juvenile probation department works in collaboration with the prosecutor by referring cases when they learn that young teens (who are their clients) are involved in sexual activities with adults. Probation department staff started noticing that the juveniles they were working with were pregnant by or dating adults. The prosecutor in charge of the Special Victims Bureau said that, if probation refers the cases, the district attorney will prosecute them.
  • Working With Multiple Agencies. Another approach is to create a liaison position within the district attorney’s office, perhaps a paralegal, who can monitor and coordinate a case if it is being handled in more than one court. For example, a case may be filed in a civil court (family, domestic relations) because the minor (victim) is being adjudicated as a Person in Need of Supervision or because the minor's (victim's) parents are being charged with neglect. These cases may be concurrent with the criminal case involving the perpetrator charged with statutory rape. By monitoring all the cases, the liaison can provide each attorney information about the cases in other courts, keeping everyone informed.
In Dade County, Florida, the prosecutor has created a liaison position to coordinate the work of the district attorney and the dependency court (civil family court) in child sexual abuse cases. This persons tasks are to provide case tracking and management. The assistant district attorney involved will plan his or her case with the Department of Family Services (DFS) case in mind. The liaison will review all cases by checking the family court's computers; contacting the DFS attorney about each case; gathering information on upcoming hearings (which may be attended by the assistant district attorney); contacting the guardian ad litem; checking whether the defendant gets supervised visitation in the DFS case (because that often leads to recantation in the criminal case); letting DFS know the status of the criminal case; and keeping all parties informed on both cases.

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