Helping the Victim and Making the Case: A Collaborative, Multidisciplinary
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
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.
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 prosecutors 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 prosecutors 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 prosecutors
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
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 sheriffs 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 units 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
|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
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 victims 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 teens 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 adults 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 teens birthday
|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
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.
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 casebefore 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 victims 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
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 victims 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
|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 interviewthe
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 victims 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
jobsthe 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
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 victims
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
Be Prepared To Deal With the Cultural
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
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
Listen to the Victim
Prosecutors and advocates need to take the time to listen
to the victims 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 prosecutors
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 victims life or helping to create a new support
|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 victims
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 victimand thus the casebegins
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
Victims should be consulted before a plea agreement
is reached. To achieve victim empowerment, a victims 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 victims
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 victims 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
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.
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
defendants 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
|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.
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).
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 crimes 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 defendants
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
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.