Sexual assault allegations can be extremely disturbing. While some survivors attempt to fight back, others freeze in the moment and don’t do anything.
In this situation, police investigators often question the accused suspect and use small details to corroborate the victim’s story. This can be very frightening and intimidating for the accused.
There are several steps in the police investigation. Depending on what type of crime is alleged, there may be searches and/or arrests that require probable cause and must be approved by a neutral and detached judge.
The police will interview the complainant in written, audio or video taped form as well as any witnesses. They will also obtain a forensic medical examiner to get physical biological evidence, if needed.
Most sexual assault cases involve a known person to the victim. This can make it more difficult for a victim to go through the process because they fear reprisal from the alleged perpetrator or others.
A felony conviction for sexual assault can have major consequences including loss of civil rights, such as the right to vote and certain employment opportunities, as well as the ability to join and serve in the military. It also labels the individual as a convicted felon for life and can make it difficult to find and maintain employment.
For a sexual assault case to result in a criminal conviction, the prosecutor must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a high burden that can be difficult to meet, especially when the victim testifies. The survivor is often asked to share personal details of her experience with the defendant and may feel uncomfortable sharing. A good sexual assault lawyer will protect her rights to a fair trial, such as by objecting to inappropriate questions and requesting that the judge intervene.
Defendants may also claim that they are innocent of the offense. They might argue that they did not engage in sexual contact with the victim or that, if they did, she was giving consent.
In some cases, victims of sexual assault are reluctant to report their experiences with law enforcement because they believe that police will not take them seriously. This is a serious concern that research shows continues to persist. It can lead to victims not reporting, even if the crime is very serious.
If the police decide that there is enough evidence to charge a perpetrator, they will bring the case to court. In some cases, a prosecutor may agree to resolve the case without a trial through a plea agreement. This can protect the survivor from reliving her trauma, while still punishing the perpetrator.
During the trial, both sides will present their arguments to a judge or jury. Defense lawyers often try to convince the jury not to believe the victim by highlighting inconsistencies in her account. They will also use myths and stereotypes around consent to discredit the victim.
During the trial, survivors are often called to give evidence and are asked questions under oath. This can be nerve-wracking. However, it is important to remember that the prosecutors are representing the public and the laws that the perpetrator violated, not you. Many survivors find comfort in having a supportive advocate with them to help them through this process.