In the last entry we discussed the gathering of some potential forensic evidence in a sexual assault case that Will and RJ are investigating. What they collected was a simple pair of girls’ underwear from the trash because this had the greatest potential to preserve aspects of the crime.
That the victim left the article behind is not at all uncommon. The victim will begin the processing of trying to distance themselves from the event, and this is one step in that direction. Will and RJ treated the clothing as part of the crime scene.
In this case, the woman’s body is a crime scene, and it should be treated as such. Unfortunately, you’re dealing with someone who has had something terrible inflicted on them, they have the right to lie to you, deny it, and refuse a trip to the hospital.
A word of explanation is in order here. Rape is not about sex. It’s about power over someone, the ultimate forcing someone to the perpetrator’s will. The investigator must be aware of that. You should never assume the victim led the perpetrator on, or asked for this to happen to them. With that in mind, the investigator must always keep the victim in mind. He or she did not ask for this to happen to them anymore than they would have asked to have been beaten up.
Back in the old days, more rape cases were blown because of the investigators attitude towards the crime. That’s why back in the day, few got reported. The few that did had a difficult time in court. Defense attorney’s were allowed to verbally beat up on the victim to include dragging their sexual past into the courtroom.
Thank God that’s changed. The law began to understand that this is an assault on a person, and had to understand that anyone, male or female, can be raped. I’m reminded of one case I heard about. In this case, we had a transgender individual who lived as Roberta. From what I heard, she was picked up at dance one night by an individual who upon taking her home discovered Roberta had more in common with Robert. He then beat her within an inch of her life, and then, you guessed it. He sexually assaulted her.
The then sheriff responded as saying, “You got what you wanted.”
What a person is or isn’t doesn’t matter. Roberta didn’t ask to be beaten and then have the act forced upon her. So If you really want your cop to become the bad guy, let him or her have the attitude that the victim got what they wanted.
In the real world, a cop would leave their prejudices or opinions at the door.
The bottom line is the victim didn’t ask for this to happen.
But I digress.
Let’s assume the matter is reported. What happens next?
One thing an investigator might run into is denial. When asked point blank if anything such as a sexual assault occurred, initially at least, the victim might deny it. Again, not at all uncommon. This is a very hard, psychological assault on a person, and it takes time to process it, and to finally admit to themselves and others that something happened. An investigator needs to be aware of this, and ensure the victim has their phone number and instructions that if they have anything to add to what they’ve told, then please call them.
Getting a person to admit they were sexually assaulted can be difficult. It’s not that they’re trying to hide anything from you. They’re having to drag out a very painful and humiliating incident and look it in the face.
From a prosecutors point of view, they need to understand that the defense will jump on this. They might want to make sure they have an expert in human psychology to explain that to the court.
But till they start talking, you’ve got evidence to preserve and the quicker that get’s done, the better.
The investigators should look for obvious bruising, scratches, or such. Anything seen should be photographed at that time. Look at the victim’s hands and nails. Broken nails are almost always a good indication the person at least tried to fight back. They can have physical evidence of the perpetrator under their nails. Tell them it’s obvious they fought back and you’d like to swab under their nails for skin from the person who did the crime.
There’s a couple of ways to do this. One is to actually trim the nails and keep the clippings. I’d be cautious about that simply because you’re not a doctor, and if you cut the person, then you’re liable. The best way is with a damp swab (an ordinary Q-Tip works fine). It should be moistened (moist, not saturated – there is a difference) in sterile water (in a pinch, tap water will do), and then swab under the nails. Make sure to place the damp swabs in a place they can dry. Once dry, you can bag them in a plastic evidence bag or test tube. You can do the same thing with a dry Q-tip, only not as well.
If at all possible, a medical professional should be the person that does this, but the victim might not want to go to the doctor. If they will, take the doc or nurse aside and tell them your suspicions. Oftentimes, the victim will open up to a medical professional where they wouldn’t with you.
Invariably, the victim is going to shower. Again, this is part of the psychological distancing process. If they shower before reporting the crime then 99.99% of your evidence just went down the drain with along with their shampoo. You can still run a successful sexual assault case, it just got a little harder. And sometimes you get really lucky and despite having showered, you still might get some evidence. Never assume it’s all gone.
Eventually, the victim might come into the hospital (usually within 24 hours after the event). A medical professional is the person who collects the evidence from the body at that time. As a detective, you’re standing outside the curtain where the exam is happening and being handed evidence. The hospital will have what we call “A Rape or Sexual Assault Kit.” It has swabs and so on and the means for you to secure and label them as evidence.
Ideally, a female investigator will work with a female victim, and a male investigator with a male. In the case of a transgender victim, it might be necessary to ask which the victim would be most comfortable with. Interestingly, Gay sexual assault victims might be more comfortable with a woman (after all, it was probably a man who raped them)
Sometime after this, you’ll need to talk with the victim. Again, a woman should interview a woman, and a man a man.
A bridge you should cross is talking with the ER staff who were present. Ask them if the victim said anything about the perp, vehicles, and so on. If so, they become a witness.
As a writer and as a police officer, you also must be aware that not everything is as it seems. A case I know of started when a girl was found walking naked down a back road. She claimed some guy had taken her out there, forced her to disrobe and then sexually assaulted her. Turns out her and her boyfriend had been out there parked and got in an argument. She got out and took off walking down the road, angry and naked. He took off also leaving her in a state of undress. Of course. to spare herself from looking stupid, she told a story that wasn’t true when she was found.
While it sounds funny, myself and another officer were barred from getting too close to the case. We were friends of hers and that automatically put us out. Also, had we gone with how it was initially reported, things could have gone sideways in a bad way had we ended up with a possible suspect.
However, twelve hours later the truth had come out. She was summoned into court for making a false report and ended up paying a nice fine.
As a writer, you might want to see if you can get a tour of an ER (where the rape kit would be run). You probably won’t be allowed to see an actual investigation, but you might have the chance to see an ER in action. An ER can be controlled chaos and frightening to a victim. Try capturing that feel.
Also, be aware, people react differently to the ER. I’ve taken a lot of people into ER and I’ve seen their reactions to the experience. Most people are hurting or ill, and bewildered by the experience. It can cause a lot of stress for them.
My reaction is different when I’m the guest of honor. II know what to expect. Therefore, my reaction is calm expectation.
Others will be terrified out of their minds.
Talking to a victim can be very insightful, especially to catch their fears and thoughts. It’s rare that you’ll find a rape victim that will share that, but they might.
The cops are a great source. Every officer goes through the training, even if they have detectives who handle the job. You just never know where you’re going to be working, and oftentimes the officer is all he or she has. Expect a very professional approach, but then you might be able to catch their emotions as they get to know you better. I admit from the get go, that I have more use for a serial killer than I do a rapist. That said, I still have to treat the rapist within the parameters of the law.
In “Against Flesh and Blood,” Will and RJ got lucky. They have Pam who has been trained to handle sexual assaults, and in a very big way, she’s responsible for helping them corral the perpetrator.
One thing to consider is that the body of a murder victim is often times processed with some of the same ideas in mind. Not only do we want to know how the person died, but there’s a good chance we can get evidence that will tie the victim to the murderer. we’d want to look for evidence of trying to defend themselves, look for fingernail scapings, and etc..
Next time, we start processing the place the crime happened.