Webinar presenter Victoria Riechers answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Working with Sexual Assault Victims: Strategies for Justice Professionals. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: What is your advice or input about law enforcement wearing body cameras in the medical forensic room?
Victoria Riechers: I actually meant to put a slide on body cam, so I’m sorry I forgot to include that but in terms of in a medical forensic room, I would make sure to let the victim know. Obviously, the law enforcement person would not be there during the exam, and the medical forensic process. That’s not considerate practice so they should either wait outside and talk to them afterward, But definitely letting the victim know why you’re wearing a body-worn camera, what the purpose is and that you might not have control over whether or not you can turn it off. If you do have control, you could potentially ask the victim if they want it on or not. But I know most of the time, the law enforcement officers don’t have control when they are allowed to turn it on and off.
Audience Question: Is there a way to lessen any re-traumatization when I need to ask the individual to show me their injuries and to take photographs of them, especially injuries in sensitive areas – she goes on to say, I try to tell them all of what I am going to do and to tell them we’ll go at their pace, but I’m not really sure if that helps or not.
Victoria Riechers: I think it definitely sounds like you’re doing it well, keeping the victims informed of possible and presenting all of it in a very in a sensitive way, sensitive tone of voice, and acknowledging that there’s potential discomfort, I think that’s all really important and it sounds like you’re doing all of that, so that sounds great. Also making it clear to the victim that they can refuse any part of the medical forensic exam. Just because they agree to the exam doesn’t mean that they have to agree to every single part of it, and always letting them know that it’s their choice to do the different aspects of the exam. I think that’s very important too because the victim might feel some more sensitive control over what’s happening to them.
Audience Question: We had one of our audience members write in and share some insights – I love it when Justice Clearing House Members do this. Joe shared: System and community-based advocates have different levels of confidentiality with survivors, we should all be explaining these to survivors before we begin talking with them. They do have the right to know if their conversation will not be held in confidence and when it might be disclosed to others. Any insights there?
Victoria Riechers: I think that is going to vary by state. So in Arizona, both systems-based advocate and community-based advocates have privilege and so I believe their level of confidentiality is almost identical in Arizona, but it is going to vary by state because in Arizona we have 2 different statutes regulating that. And that is also again there -like the person mentioned that it is very important to communicate with the victim.
Audience Question: Could you touch on asking about strangulation to assess safety and medical needs?
Victoria Riechers: So strangulation is definitely something that we would want to screen for in all sexual assault cases because we know that strangulation can be very serious and lead to death hours and days after someone experiences strangulation. So, we recommend that any kind of medical care that they get they be screened for strangulation. I obviously didn’t have this in the slide but we do have a guide on what screening for strangulation can look like and that is in the appendix of our coordinated community response for sexual assault. I can see if I can email that pdf to Chris to share on the website.
Audience Question: How have you seen judges’ attitudes evolve over the years managing court cases involved in sexual assault. We talked about a lot of the difference – segments of the justice profession, we didn’t really touch on judges and their role. Are you finding the judges are understanding more of the challenges the victims’ testimony and being trauma-informed and memory recollection? What is your take on that?
Victoria Riechers: I feel like judges are often the hardest group to reach, to train them sexual assault. And often one judge can be very different from another judge in terms of their understanding of sexual assault and traumas. And so, I’m not sure if over the years that has changed. We just know that they are very difficult group to train. Their schedules are so incredibly busy, that even when we try to set up trainings it can be a huge challenge just to get them in a room. I’m not really sure about their attitude changing over time, unfortunately.
Audience Question: Are there any special considerations for victims with intellectual disabilities and mental health diagnosis – you and I know have spoken about having another webinar specifically around the disabled community. So, we’d love to hear your thought on that.
Victoria Riechers: Like you said, it’s really a topic for a whole another webinar, and we know that often times, services are often siloed so we might have an organization that specializes in disability services and an organization that specializes in sexual assault services, let’s say. If the organizations aren’t communicating, they might not know how to – the disability organization might not know how to respond to sexual assault, and the sexual assault organization might not know how to respond to people with intellectual disabilities. I would really, just say, just for now, further training for those folks who are responding and to make sure to include those disability organizations in the sexual assault response team so that you’ know how your community is able to respond to people. But, I don’t have any specific advice for today but I definitely think it’s something we can explore in a future webinar.
Audience Question: Victoria, knowing that you’ve interacted with a lot of victims over the years, what are some of the biggest mistakes that justice professionals make when interacting with those victims that you hear from the victims about?
Victoria Riechers: I think some of the biggest mistakes are asking those why questions like: “Why were you drinking?”. Any kind of victim blaming coming from the first responders, that’s always a problem because if someone’s being blamed for what happened, they’re probably not going to want to continue with the investigation. They’re not going to want to continue with those services. Another thing that we hear is just not believing the victim. Actually, research shows that is the biggest miss, that first responders believe and I’m talking about first responders including advocates and law enforcement. But the biggest miss that the first responders are believing is that victims aren’t telling the truth, and so that’s huge. I think, also just being cold and unapproachable. Not making the victim feel comfortable is also another big mistake that I see. I think sometimes some advocates are the touchy-feely ones. They’re the ones who need to be empathetic and to be kind but we all need to have that empathetic response. We all need to make ourselves approachable. One of my colleagues recommends to look in the mirror and try to make your face your approachable face and work on that if that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to you. This kind of thing also doesn’t come naturally to me but you can practice at it and get better at it.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Working with Sexual Assault Victims: Strategies for Justice Professionals.