When a sexual assault occurs, three different types of statements are sought from the victim of the crime. First, during the investigatory phase of a case, law enforcement officials will want to obtain a statement from the victim of the sexual assault. Second, during the sentencing phase of the case, court staff will want to obtain a statement from the victim as part of making a sentencing recommendation to the judge. Third, the laws across the country also establish the opportunity (in some areas, the right) of a victim to make a statement in court on the day of sentencing. These different types of victim statements are explored here to give you a better idea of what a victim of sexual assault faces in the aftermath of the crime.
Victim Statement During the Investigation of a Sexual Assault Case
When at all possible, investigators of sex crimes strive to obtain a statement from the victim as soon after the incident as possible. The reality is that due to the nature of these cases, obtaining a fairly immediate statement is not always possible.
There is a school of thought among law enforcement professionals and prosecuting attorneys that a statement obtained directly after a crime has been committed ensures that the facts are freshest in a victim’s mind. On the other hand, due to the traumatic nature of a sex crime, a victim very likely is in shock and dealing with an array of other emotions. Thus, in most cases, investigators attempt to obtain a statement directly after the commission of a sex crime but also seek a supplemental statement after some time – a couple of days or so – passes.
This type of statement is utilized in the investigation of the offense itself. A statement of this nature typically proves helpful in identifying the perpetrator.
There are cases in which a victim doesn’t want to participate in making a statement. A court will not order a victim of a sexual assault to give a statement. Such a statement will only be made if the victim desires not to be questioned.
Victim Statement as Part of Preparing Sentencing Recommendation
If the perpetrator of a sex offense pleads guilty or is convicted after a trial, what is known as a presentencing investigation is undertaken in most jurisdictions. This is an investigation by court professionals designed to develop a sentencing recommendation for the court.
As part of the presentence investigation process, the victim will be sought out to give another statement about the case and offense. The person preparing the presentence report wants as much information as possible about the circumstances surrounding the offense itself. Whilst a good amount of that information will be brought forth during plea negotiations or the trial, a great deal more can be ascertained and developed when the matter is discussed directly with the victim of the crime.
There are instances in which a victim will not participate in this process. As is the case during the initial investigation of a sex offense case, a victim cannot be pressed or ordered to participate in the presentence report preparation process.
Victim Statement During Sentencing Hearing
A notable number of victims of sex crimes want to be heard at the time of sentencing. Thus, across the United States, courts either allow victim impact statements to be made at sentencing proceedings or have established a victim’s right to make such a statement.
Making statement in open court can be a daunting experience on some level. On the other hand, many victims of these types of crimes felt a sense of empowerment upon taking advantage of the opportunity to face down the defendant who assaulted them. Many describe making a statement in court took them from the position of being a victim of a crime to an empowered survivor.
If a victim does not want to personally make a statement in court at the time of sentencing, she also has the option of preparing a submitting a written impact statement with the court. Many judges will read the statement into the record of the sentencing proceedings so that the parties to the case have a full understanding of how the crime impacted the life of the victim.
Victim Statements and the Importance of the Victim Advocate
Due to the horrific nature of a sex crime, the aftermath of this type of offense can be particularly traumatic for a victim. Consequently, a majority of jurisdictions across the country have developed victim advocacy programs. An advocate can prove particularly helpful – invaluable, really – to a victim of this type of crime. This includes during the three-tiered statement process outlined a moment ago for your consideration. An advocate can be particularly helpful in assisting a victim in preparing an impact statement for a sentencing hearing in a sexual assault case.