Thursday, April 08, 2010

Due Process Rights For Crime Victims

Many of my readers have heard or read someone who declares false allegations to be epidemic state that all girls and women who report rape should be subjected to police interrogations where they must prove their innocence and then be required to take and pass polygraph exams before their report is considered for investigation.

Unfortunately, this view of girls and women who report having been raped as the primary suspects is one that too many people who work in the criminal justice system still support. This belief taints the process and leads to statistics which are used to justify this belief.

Hostility and open suspicion can lead to rape victims who wanted to cooperate with the police deciding that doing so is unsafe. Many of these victims who were pushed away are viewed as if their decision had nothing to do with anything or anyone but themselves.

In Cleveland, Ohio the treatment of those reporting rape became a subject of review by the mayor's panel after failings were exposed after the arrest of Anthony Sowell for rape and for the murder of 11 women. This treatment is directly related to why so many cases stall early in the process. As the multiple cases against Sowell show, failures in investigations harm more than an individual woman who reported having been raped. These failures enable future crimes. But it shouldn't take the discovery of a house filled with the bodies of murdered women for the systems which harm women crime victims to be critically evaluated.

Those who continue to advocate for hostility as the default treatment of women who report rape simply ignore reality whenever it doesn't support their desired model for the criminal justice system.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 banned polygraphs of those who report rape, but that didn't stop an Ohio judge from ordering teen rape victims to submit to this test earlier this year.

Use of the polygraph and hostile interrogations where a confession of guilt is demanded as the price for the interrogation ending both can contribute to false confessions. No longer surprising to me, those who demand this treatment for rape victims often acknowledge false confessions when the person subjected to this treatment was accused of rape.

Those who want polygraph testing of all alleged rape victims or who tolerate other systemic problems such as those highlighted in Cleveland often defend their vision of how the criminal justice system should work as a needed action in order to protect the due process rights of the innocent. However, in these people's view those who report a rape don't have any due process rights.

They are wrong.

Crime victims do have due process rights and they must be given the same rights as suspects whenever they are treated as suspects for any reason. If any jurisdiction allows crime victims to be denied the types of due process rights given to suspects then the legislation in those jurisdictions must change.

Too often this seeming blindness to victims' due process rights is intentional because the violation of a victim's rights give those people the outcome they want.

Because of the widespread disregard for victims' due process rights I was glad to see that there is a conference focusing on this topic, Due Process for Victims: Meaningful Rights in Every Case, 9th Annual Crime Victim Law Conference sponsored by National Crime Victim Law Institute which will be held in June.

After stumbling across this conference I found that this organization has a scheduled webinar on victims rights related to college sexual assaults. Even though this webinar is only open to a limited audience, it serves as an important reminder that victims rights are important and must be upheld.

Here's information about the April 12 webinar Navigating Victims' Rights in Campus Sexual Assault Cases.
During this webinar, we will discuss civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings in connection with campus sexual assaults, and the importance of a victim's attorney in each of these proceedings. For a victim to go unrepresented can have severe consequences for victims. For example, victims may feel bullied by the administrative process (where the offender is often represented) and choose to forego involvement in the proceeding; or they may turn over privileged documents that could be used to their detriment in a subsequent criminal proceeding. Shelley Mactyre, a private attorney with experience in campus sexual assault cases, along with Meg Garvin, Executive Director of NCVLI, will be presenting.
With the number of people who continue to have no respect for many crime victims' rights, those of us who do care need to highlight these rights when people make demands that ignore crime victims rights.


Bookmark and Share
posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:24 AM   4 comments links to this post


At April 08, 2010 5:35 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

This makes my blood boil in anger! Thanks for writing it. I will link here and do a post on this topic after the end of the month. Why not do it now? Because a young friend of mine who reads my blog is going to speak out in court on 4/30 against a sexual abuse case. She is a teen, she is scared, she does not want to face him. I believe she will make the right choice because she's an incredibly strong and mature person. I don't want to but any ideas in her mind that the JUSTICE SYSTEM may be looking at her statement negatively. Its not too bad here in CA but you never know what the judge is going to be like.

At April 10, 2010 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anona said...

As someone who has personally experience the doubt of my account of a rape -- as well as someone who now studies criminology -- this phenomena makes me sick to my stomach. The idea that girls in college are lying about being raped because they regret the events -- but not because they were raped -- is preposterous. In our day and age, you would think there would be less of this disgusting habit, but it's just not true. Rape victims are still ostracized and less than 5% of rape cases actually go to trial.

Thank you for such a great article/blog post -- I tweeted it and will link it through my next post. I'm now following you and look forward to reading more insightful posts!

At April 10, 2010 6:50 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


You're welcome. My heart goes out to you. Rape itself is bad enough, it shouldn't be compounded by doubt.

At April 10, 2010 10:31 PM, Blogger Sonia said...

This post made me pretty mad too. I think lots of women see the police as a supportive presence. That can be and sometimes is true and given what we're faced with after dark, a police officer is often a welcome presence but my experience with my own dv situation and the response of police to me and other women friends who've had domestic abuse done to them is that police officers just aren't the answer. Utilizing the police and justice systems should be pursued, but lots of police officers are batterers (I have no statistic on this, it was kind of a word of mouth thing that I learned from women in DV shelters) and the justice system is primarily male. It is so enraging and frustrating to try to determined the expectations, options, etc after you've been victimized without a feminist consciousness. It's no accident that those types of experiences, whether rape or other kinds of abuse, leads women to discovering feminism. Because nothing else explains it and there literally is no recourse built into the system. The only people saying that the system works are male proponenets of said system. Aaaaarrrrrgh. I personally at this point because of my experiences and things I've witnessed avoid men, tread carefully everywhere, and use the police as a last resort with limited expectations. I try to rely on networks of other women where possible. Men aren't accountable to heal or pursue justice for women and they basically aren't interested.

thanks for this post.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home