Criminal Justice System Provides More Protections and Rights for Sexual Assault Victims 

The Office for Civil Rights’ Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) on sexual violence requires schools to create disciplinary procedures that “must meet the Title IX requirement of affording a complainant a prompt and equitable resolution.” The DCL also identifies specific protections available to complainants, including: an escort to and from classes, ensuring complainant and accused do not attend the same classes, changing dorm assignments; and providing counseling services, medical services, or academic support.

While these campus measures are important, the criminal justice system offers a far more robust set of protections to enable identified victims to report safely, stay informed, and participate as desired. Complainants should not be discouraged from reporting to law enforcement authorities. Listed below are the protections and rights afforded to identified victims in the criminal justice system:

Investigation

During the investigational stage of the criminal justice system, identified victims of crime are afforded many rights and protections. These protections ensure that victims are exercising their role in the criminal justice system. While a case is in the investigation phase, there is opportunity for communication between the police and victims to make sure that identified victims are aware of these rights which include:

  1. Right to be treated with fairness, dignity, sensitivity, and respect
  2. Opportunity to speak with the police department and investigating detective about the case
  3. Right to be informed when a suspect is arrested
  4. Right to be informed about their basic rights as an identified victim of a crime

Adjudication

Victim’s rights and protections do not end at the investigation stage. Once the case is investigated by the police and an arrest has been made, the investigation stage with the police is over. The adjudication stage then begins with the court and the prosecutor. At this stage, identified victims receive additional rights and protections. Many of these rights and protections follow the victim throughout the adjudication stage. These rights and protections include:

5. Be informed about the defendant’s release on bond

6. Opportunity to speak at the bail review hearing to help determine the defendant’s conditions of release

7. Notification of all court proceedings

8. Right to discuss the case with the prosecutor’s office

9. Option to have prosecutors use the alleged victim’s statement instead of providing oral testimony at the preliminary hearing stage

10. Be involved with the decision-making process of the prosecutor to dismiss charges against the defendant

11. Right to confer with the prosecutor to determine plea negotiations with the prosecution and the defense attorney

12. Ability to participate during the scheduling of continuances

13. Ability to obtain a civil restraining order

14. Police protection to and from court, for identified victims that have been threatened and or intimidated

15. Witness relocation for threats and or intimidation

16. Access to the victim criminal compensation fund, which may cover loss wages, and medical expenses as a result of the crime committed

17. Right to be present during the trial without witness sequestration

18. Right to have a victim advocate present in the courtroom

19. Protection of personal identifiable information, other than name and address, from official court documents

Sanctioning

After the adjudication stage has concluded, the victim is afforded additional rights and protections at the sanctioning stage in furtherance of their role in the criminal justice system.  These rights and protections include:

20. Right to make a victim’s impact statement to the court before sentencing

21. Conferring with the prosecutor to help determine an appropriate sentence recommendation

22. Right to be present during the sentencing

23. Ability to request restitution for crime-related economic loss

Post-Conviction

Finally, even after the sanctioning stage is over, victim’s rights and protections continue. These rights and protections include:

24. Notice of appeal

25. Be notified when the defendant has been released from incarceration or has escaped from custody

26. Right to attend and make a victim’s impact statement during the defendant’s parole hearing

Not all sexual assault victims will be willing or able to bring their case to local police. Nonetheless, the criminal justice system provides the best mechanism for protecting a complainant’s interests, offering due process to the accused, and holding proven offenders accountable. If college campuses are going to be safe places for students to get an education, we need to utilize all of these resources that law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, and the courts provide.