Throughout Criminal Justice System Proceedings
This module provides tips for advocating for sexual assault victims during specific phases of the criminal justice system. For victims there are many concerns that persist throughout the criminal justice process for which advocates can provide support:
- Criminal Justice System Personnel: Advocates can help victims understand the roles of all those involved in the criminal justice system, such as the judge, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the bailiff, the probation officer, etc. As explained in Module 2, throughout the criminal justice system many different people will reach out to the victim. Each person performs a different function in the criminal justice system and each has different responsibilities and interests. Victims are often confused and unsure about whom they want to, or must, speak with.
- Accessibility: As explained in Module 6, the criminal justice system must be accessible for victims at every stage. What makes the process accessible is unique to the individual. Advocates should explore with victims with disabilities what accessibility services would make the criminal justice system more navigable for them and make efforts to ensure that these services are provided.
- Language Access Services: Victims with limited or no English proficiency must receive language accessibility services within the criminal justice system. Module 10 explains victims’ rights to language accessibility, the requirements of effective language access services, and how advocates can work with justice system professionals to ensure language access needs are met.
- Victims’ Rights: Module 3 explained commonly afforded victims’ rights. Consult your agency’s state-specific supplemental guide for local victims’ rights laws. Advocates can help victims understand their rights and determine if, and when, those rights are not being afforded. Advocates can communicate with justice system professionals in an effort to see that victims’ rights are being afforded. When that is not effective, advocates can assist victims in spotting issues for which they may want to try to obtain civil legal representation and assist victims in identifying attorneys capable of providing such representation. Module 8 discusses particular issues to which advocates can be alert in which victims should seek legal representation.
- Language use generally: The language we use to discuss sexual assault shapes the way we, and those hearing or reading those statements, understand what has been perpetrated. For example, when the media reports that an adult “had sex with a 13-year-old child” that connotes mutuality and consent. It does not convey force, coercion, fear, or illegality. Accurate and appropriate language is that an adult “sexually assaulted a 13-year-old child.” Module 11 delves into careful use of language that accurately describes sexual assault. Advocates are in a position to point out inappropriate use of language to those within the criminal justice system and suggest more accurate language in its place. Advocates working with victims whose case is reported by media can also call and/or write to media outlets that use inaccurate language when reporting about the case.
- Continuances and Delays: It is inevitable that as a case works its way through the criminal justice process there will be anticipated and unanticipated delays. Module 2 explained why continuances happen. What is often overlooked by justice system professionals is the impact continuances and delays have on victims. Each time victims prepare for a process or proceeding to take place and it is delayed, it takes an emotional toll. It is often a difficult process for victims to prepare themselves for appearances, impending judicial decisions related to the case, and/or testimony. Constant preparation and then delay can create such anxiety and trauma for victims that they stop cooperating with the process altogether. Victim advocates can help victims manage their expectations for the process by helping victims understand that continuances and delays are likely to happen. Victim advocates can also help victims communicate with justice system professionals, especially the case prosecutor, about the negative impact of continuances and encourage the prosecutor to fight unnecessary delays.