Why Coaches Should Use Caution When Referring Victims of Domestic Violence (DV), Sexual Assault (SA) or Rape to the Police

There has been much controversy about whether mental health practitioners should encourage clients of domestic violence, sexual assault, or rape to the police. It is crucial that mental health professionals know the potential consequences of reporting, or not reporting, and accurately discuss this with their clients.  Here are a few cases to take into consideration during this process.

In 2015 Chanel Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner while unconscious at a party. Despite two witnesses that saw and intervened to stop Turner, Turner pled not guilty and argued that it was consensual. Pre-trial Chanel was investigated by private investigators working for Turner’s defense team. Even though the jury convicted Turner of sexual assault, the judge imposed only a 6-month prison sentence (of which Turner served half) stating that a longer sentence would have “a severe impact” and “adverse consequences” on Turner’s future. [1] Similarly, Kelli Garrett was kidnapped and held in a torture chamber where she was tortured, and raped by David Parker Ray, a man who would later become known as the “Toybox Killer.” Ray claimed that Kelli had consented to being tortured and held captive and despite an abundance of evidence against Ray, Kelli’s trial resulted in a hung jury because some jurors didn’t believe her. Thankfully, Ray was convicted of other crimes. [2]

These cases seem like failures of the criminal justice system but unfortunately, the criminal justice system would consider them victories. It doesn’t matter that Turner’s future took priority over Chanel’s or that Kelli wasn’t believed. Both perpetrators were ultimately convicted.

The sad truth is that for every 1000 sexual assaults only 50 perpetrators will be arrested and only 25 perpetrators will be incarcerated. [3]. Police and prosecutors often make decisions on whether to arrest and prosecute a perpetrator based on their own judgments of a victim’s credibility, mental health, alcohol/drug use or risky behaviors. [4]. Can you imagine if a prosecutor stated that they couldn’t charge a murderer because the victim had been drinking? The world would be outraged. But when it comes to SA, DV, and rape, this is the norm. Unless you are the ‘perfect victim’ it is unlikely police will even arrest the perpetrator.

Even if your client is the ‘perfect victim,’ the criminal justice system almost always ends in re-traumatization and re-victimization of the victim. [4]. Just like in Chanel’s case, defense attorneys will frequently hire private investigators to dig into every aspect of a victim’s life. They will usually adopt one of three strategies for defending their client: the victim is lying, the victim consented, or by flirting with or kissing etc. the defendant, they gave the defendant the impression they wanted it. [5]. Again, can you imagine if a prosecutor said, “Your honor, my client is innocent of murder because the victim walked down this street and so my client thought that they wanted to be killed.” No judge or jury would tolerate that. Yet, sadly, it’s the norm in SA, DV and rape cases and oftentimes these defenses work. Kelli’s case is the perfect example. Once Ray kidnapped her, he had her listen to a tape recording (which the police obtained) explaining that he would be torturing and raping her and explaining that she must obey him, or risk being killed. Yet members of the jury still believed that Kelli had consented. [2]

Those of you familiar with the law might be thinking “but what about rape shield laws?” Rape shield laws ban the defense from bringing up the victims past consensual sexual encounters in court. They do not, however, prevent defense counsel from bringing up the victims past non-consensual sexual encounters. [6]. In these cases, the re-traumatization the victim suffers is immeasurable. Now, not only do they have to convince the jury that this crime happened, but they also must convince the jury that past traumas happened as well. Past perpetrators can be brought in as witnesses for the defense and abusive spouses from whom the victim has successfully escaped can be contacted and given details about the victim’s whereabouts. It’s a far too frequent defense tactic with potentially lethal consequences for the victim.

I am, in no way, saying that victims shouldn’t file a police report. However, far too often the first response is to encourage the victim to report. As coaches, we may be in the position where a victim discloses an assault to us. It is our responsibility to not only understand how victims are treated within the criminal justice system, but to prepare our clients and allow them to make an informed decision. If they choose not to report, it is our responsibility to understand and support them in that decision, just as we would support them in their decision to report.

References:

1. Miller, C., 2019, Know My Name, Penguin Random House, LLC.

2. Podcast, This is Monsters, S8, E21, “David Parker Ray: The Toybox Killer, 2022.

3. RAINN, n.d., The Criminal Justice System: Statistics, Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system

4. Webster, K., 2019, Why Do So Few Rape Cases End In Arrest? University of Massachusetts, Retrieved from: https://www.uml.edu/news/stories/2019/sexual_assault_research.aspx

5. Blank-Becker, N., n.d., Sexual Assault Defense Strategies, Blank Law PC, Retrieved from: https://nicoleblankbecker.com/sexual-assault-defense-strategies/

6. See Mo.Rev.Stat 491.015

Jacinta (Jay) Brett is about to be a 2023 graduate of the Nickerson Institute. She started working in the mental health industry in 2009 when she co-founded a support service for people struggling with eating disorders. Jay graduated from the University of North Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree specializing in psychology. She has studied master’s level social work courses at Washington University in St. Louis and JD level law courses at St. Louis University School of Law. Jay has previously worked as a law clerk in a personal injury law firm and a crisis specialist for Lifeline’s 988 program. Currently she own’s her own Mental Health and Wellness Coaching business, “A Fearless Tomorrow,” where she works in conjunction with therapists to help and support people recovering from mental illness and trauma. Jay also specializes in helping victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other crimes safely escape their situations, access the help they need and navigate the legal system, if needed.

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