For many law enforcement officers, investigation of sexual assault incidents is an extraordinary event. This is because as they investigate sexual assault incidents, the common cultural values and myths as well as the complex nature of sexual crime often impact them. In most cases, investigating officers experience difficulties when dealing with the details of sexual acts, or may feel helpless and frustrated in their efforts to prevent the crime. As a result, an officer may retreat from the victim so as to avoid getting personally involved due to the stress of dealing with the emotional issues culminating from sex offenses. Therefore, officers involved in the investigation of sex crimes must be aware of their feelings, thoughts, and values about sexuality in addition to being conversant with the law.
Sex crime is a pervasive and increasing phenomenon, not only in the U.S but in the whole world. Since the 70’s, statistics from the FBI indicate that the reported cases of sex assault have nearly doubled (Sample, & Kadleck, 2008).Despite the fact that reports continue to increase, sex crime remains an under-reported crime. Estimates indicate that at least two-thirds of rape cases are not reported. Moreover, victims of sex crimes may be least likely to report cases by acquaintances, and college students account for higher non-reporting case (Ratner, Jason, & Bischoff, 2009). For example, in a survey at the University of Illinois, only two in eighty-eight sexual assault cases were reported to relevant authorities (Sample, & Kadleck, 2008). It has been established that there are several common reasons that force victims not to report and they include, humiliation, embarrassment, and fear of retaliation. Others fail to report out of their dread of treatment by the justice system (Ratner, Jason & Bischoff, 2009). They fear that they will not be believed or blamed and they will face many obstacles in their quest for justice.
Ratner, Jason & Bischoff (2009) contend that a majority of adult sex crime victims are female, but males are also victimized. While female of all ages are at risk of sex assault, females aged 16 to 25 are three times more likely to be attacked than much younger and older women (Sample, & Kadleck, 2008). This means that high-school and college-aged female are mostly targeted. Marital rape has also been vastly reported, yet it remains a rare case for the justice system. On the other hand, sex crime perpetrators are mostly male, with those under the age of 18 committing 30 percent of reported cases (Hagedorn & Juhnke, 2005).
Investigation and Prosecution of Sex Crimes
There are very few crimes that attract as much attention and scrutiny as sex crime, especially in relation to the investigation, prosecution and eventual disposition of these cases. Due to the heightened attention from the public and media, victims and their families are demanding increased and prompt accountability for perpetrators of sex crimes as a means of enhancing public safety. The investigation phase is crucial as it often determines the disposition of the entire process. During this phase, the investigator hears the preliminary allegation of sex assault from different sources, which may include parents, neighbor, medical personnel, patrol officers, teachers, relatives, social workers or any other person who has been in contact with the victim. During this process, the victim should be treated with respect, fairness, dignity, and privacy throughout. He or she should also be afforded the chance to communicate with the prosecution, and be guided on any proposed plea agreement by the prosecuting attorney before entering into any plea agreement.
A sex crime victim should also be at liberty to refuse ex parte contact, interview or any other request by the defendant or other persons acting on the defendant’s behalf, unless the request is authorized by the law (Sample, & Kadleck, 2008). The investigator should make no assumptions as the whether or not the assault occurred. It is important for the investigator to collect all the facts available and then establish whether or not an assault has occurred and who the perpetrator is, if it did occur. For example, Ratner, Jason & Bischoff (2009) argue that investigators must determine the type of sex assault alleged and the time it occurred. Apparently, in cases of forcible rape, the investigator must preserve physical evidence as this is critical to the identification of the actual perpetrator.
It has been established that juvenile and adult arrest for sex crimes is minimal as compared to other forms of crimes. For this reason, the justice system needs to make significant investment of time and other relevant resources within the courts in order to make some improvement on prosecution. Hagedorn & Juhnke (2005) believe that the weight of prosecuting such cases rest heavily on prosecutors, who have the sole responsibility of making decisions about petitions or charges to be filed, partaking in plea negotiations, representing the state’s interest, and providing disposition recommendations in court (Hagedorn & Juhnke, 2005). During prosecution, charges are filed and decisions made as to whether defendants should be detained or released to the society pending resolution of the case. During prosecution, the court should consider a number of factors, including history of aggression or violence, severity and nature of cases, threat of harm to ones self or others and risk of abscond. Victim safety concerns should be critically observed, especially when allegation involves domestic violence, stalking, or child victims.
Hagedorn & Juhnke (2005) contend that in order to effectively and consistently handle sex crime cases, the policies and philosophies established within the offices of the prosecutor must be transparent. To achieve this, a vertical prosecution approach should be embraced, whereby only one prosecutor follows a sex crime from the initial stage of charging to the end phase of disposition. This will not only ensure that continuity and consistency of the case is guaranteed but the trust and rapport of the victim is established as well.