Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I Met With A Sexual Assault Prosecutor

I had the enlightening opportunity yesterday afternoon to meet with a Deputy District Attorney. I have known Tamara since I was in Elementary School and she was the mother of a friend of mine. After I released my post Why I Never Reported My Rapist to the Police she reached out to me and invited me down to her office to learn more about the process of reporting and convicting domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

I found our meeting yesterday to be very informative. I have to be honest, I was a little anxious leading up to it, but when I first saw her and we opened with a hug all of my fears went out the window. It was like meeting up with an old friend.

I enjoyed learning about the process and specifically the many steps and programs in place here in Bakersfield for the victims. All of my knowledge came from my initial experience reporting and statistics I had researched.

She was able to explain to me more in depth how the process worked and why at first glace some of those statistics can be misleading.

Tamara works in the DA's office and specifically handles domestic abuse and sexual assault cases. She told me how the team she works with was brought together and transformed about seven years ago when her new boss came in who has a passion for prosecuting these crimes and helping keep victims safe and comfortable.

One of the first things Tamara taught me about was the Victim's Services Unit. This unit is full of advocates whose sole responsibility is to the victims. A victim is always allowed an advocate. They can be there from the initial report all the way through to sitting with them on the witness stand in court. The Victim's Services Unit is separate from the DA's office and if it is the victims wish they even uphold their rights when it comes to engaging with the prosecutor. To top it all off, they have a dog! Legend is a sweet dog who is able to sit with victims on the stand and help them feel safe when they have to testify. Tamara has worked with Legend on multiple occasions and she reports he is especially helpful with children she has worked with.

We also talked about some statistics that I found from RAINN about how few rapists are ever convicted. The report stated out of every 1000 rapes, 310 are reported, 57 arrests will be made, 11 cases will go to prosecutors, and 6 will lead to incarceration.

I was understandably concerned when reading these statistics, how can so few rapists go to jail? Tamara was able to answer some of my concerns about this. Part of the reason is another thing their office does to help victims of sexual assault have the power and feel safe. A lot of victims don't want to go to court for a variety of reasons. One way they always have the control is that the choice is up to them. Tamara told me they will never prosecute a sexual assault case without the victim consent.

I learned that all the detectives in Bakersfield always want the case to get prosecuted and work tirelessly to make that happen, all the prosecutors she works with want the rapists punished, but they will not force the victims into a trial. That is a big reason those numbers are so low. I do want to be clear. I am in no way blaming victims for this. There are a whole list of reasons why a victim would not want to report or prosecute and I understand all of them, so does the DA's office.

I asked Tamara what she would tell a victim who was afraid of the process. I loved her answer; it came in a couple parts. She would, of course, let the victim know that they had the choice. It was up to them. She would also tell them that even though it's about them, it is also about others. Tamara informed me that many times it has happened where one girl reports and with that the police are either able to connect other reports or through investigating find other victims. Both of those things make the cases stronger. A big thing she told me she would tell them was that she has seen so much empowerment come to the victim through the court process.

A lot of the times for people I have talked to and in my own experience when I think of court  I think fear, but Tamara let me know that while there can be some scary instances in her experience it empowers victims more than anything else.

One of the last things I learned yesterday was that it's never too late. Sure reporting right away and getting a rape kit done and potentially having DNA makes a case strong, it's not the only way to get a case done. Tamara let me know that both her team and detectives who handle sexual assault cases have had extensive training and understand how reporting works. A lot of times reporting is done late, sometimes stories are inconsistent. They know this and are patient when working with victims. The police also have many tricks up their sleeve for investigating these cases and can a lot of the time make a case even if there is no DNA. Bottom line: don't give up.

I am so grateful to have been able to meet with Tamara yesterday and learn about reporting and prosecuting sexual assault cases. I learned this and so much more. This information helped me and I hope that it is able to help some of you out there who are going through this process, know someone going through this process, or are considering starting the process.

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