-- Testimony before the New York Task Force on Women in the Courts by the Coordinator of the Erie County Citizen's Committee on Rape and Sexual Assault
The legal system plays a key role in determining how sexual assault is handled in Georgia. It offers the possibility of justice for victims in rape cases. However, many victims never have the opportunity to see their cases resolved and rapists punished to the full extent of the law. Research shows that only 2% of rapists are ever convicted.
Areas of great concern to lawmakers are low crime reporting rates and low conviction rates, since less than 1 out of 10 victims report the crime of rape. As a judge, you have an opportunity to make a difference in how rape cases are handled in your courtroom to ensure the fair and just treatment of rape victims.
Below are suggestions for how rape trials can be handled in the justice system.
Recommendations For Action
The following are suggestions for judges that enhance the fairness of rape trials and minimize re-traumatizing the victim without compromising defendant's rights.
Guiding Officers of the Court, Law Enforcement Officers & Others
- Communicate to Prosecutors, Defense Attorneys, Law Enforcement Personnel, Probation Officers and Emergency Medical Personnel who do rape examinations your expectation that they will take non-stranger rape and marital rape as seriously as you do.
- Make clear that you reject the mistaken belief that only blitz rapes by strangers are "real rapes."
- Encourage police departments and prosecutors to establish specialized Sex Crimes Units and encourage the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) approach.
- Enforce the Rape Shield Statute of Consistency, and discourage and discipline attempts to abrogate or circumvent it.
- Get educated about use of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) as expert witnesses, and encourage and allow their testimony.
- Encourage an accelerated trial schedule and try to avoid continuances and trials on the anniversary of the rape.
- Permit rape crisis counselors in the courtroom and encourage victim-witness assistance programs.
- Prohibit inappropriate courtroom behavior by supporters of the complainant and the defendant.
- Minimize the use of the victim's name.
- Voir dire must educate jurors to ensure that they will avoid biases and stereotypical thinking in relation to sexual assault. This may pose a difficult task, but efficiency of how to do this must not be at the price of a rape victim's rights.
Interacting with Victims
- Create a private waiting area for complainants in the courthouse.
- Eliminate comments that trivialize rape and sexual assault cases.
- Do not ask complainants to show on their own bodies how they were touched or to demonstrate the position in which they were raped.
- Do not leave complainants on the witness stand during lengthy sidebars or colloquies in chambers.
- Permit expert witness testimony to explain victim's reactions to rape.
- Utilize the same standards in setting bail and sentencing offenders in stranger and non-stranger cases.
- Encourage victim impact statements.
- Invite victims to be present at sentencing.
- Acknowledge the victim and the impact of the assault at sentencing.
- Encourage revision of sentencing guidelines to take psychological injuries into account.
- Set sentences commensurate with the gravity of the crime and the trauma to the victim.
- Sentence adolescent and young-adult rapists with appropriate severity.
- Encourage involuntary pre-conviction HIV testing of rape defendants.
Source: Understanding Sexual Violence, The Judicial Response to Stranger and Non-stranger Rape and Sexual Assault, The National Judicial Education Program