Study takes a critical look at the response to adult victims of sexual assault

Click here to view a PDF version of the report


(Concord, NH) - On Monday February 28, 2011 a press conference was held at the Attorney General’s office in Concord to discuss the findings of a new study titled “The Reality of Sexual Assault in New Hampshire.”  This report was compiled by the Research Committee of the Governor's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence. The exploratory study was designed to examine how the criminal justice system responds to adult female victims of sexual assault. The report shows that misinformation, myths and stereotypes about what is “real rape” or who is a real or deserving victim plays a major role in the outcome of an adult sexual assault case. The further away from the “classic” perception of a victim, the less likely we are to find a positive outcome for the victim of a sexual assault in the criminal justice system. Only 13 out of 344 offenders (3%) were known to be convicted or pled guilty, according to information available from law enforcement for 2006. During the process of interviewing professionals from different disciplines it became clear that everyone is frustrated with the limitations of the current response.

Snapshot of Findings
I. Rapes don’t get prosecuted because of public misperceptions.
Jurors attitudes reflect public misperception of the reality of adult female sexual assault and thus make it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully prosecute these cases. Public opinion and lack of knowledge impacts the ability to successfully prosecute adult female sexual assault cases and decisions about whether to bring cases forward.
II. Different system goals hinder responses to victims.
There is a lack of consistent collaboration among the various disciplines responding to adult female sexual assaults. The responses of interviewees showed the ways in which different parts of the system have different goals and a different focus.
III. Real rape? Deserving victims?
There are inconsistent and ineffective responses to adult female sexual assault across the state.
The professionals interviewed understand the complexity of victim reactions, but everyone agrees that “the system” as a whole still endorses stereotypes about “real rape” or “deserving victims”.
IV. The system is broken.
The criminal justice system is not designed to respond to the challenges of adult female sexual assault cases. Interviewees across disciplines agreed that a new approach is needed to effectively deal with adult female sexual assault cases.

Grace Mattern the Coalition’s Executive Director says the impact of the public’s attitude toward sexual assault victims is very important, “If you ask someone if they support victims of sexual assault their answer is most likely going to be yes. However if you examine the public’s reactions to specific cases of sexual assault, in particular the victim blaming responses, you will see there is a major disconnect to that so called support” said Mattern. “The further away from the “classic” perception of a victim, the less likely we are to find a positive outcome for the victim of a sexual assault in the criminal justice system.”

Attorney General Michael Delaney talked about the need to act now in responding to the recommendations in the report, “As Attorney General, I recognize that during these tough economic times, resources are limited and it is difficult to take on more initiatives, but the fact that the study data showed that that only 3% of the adult sexual assault cases reported to law enforcement in 2006 resulted in a conviction or plea is unacceptable.”  He added that there are several projects underway to address the recommendations in the report. That includes the Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART) initiative which is housed by the Attorney General’s office. The goal of the SART project is to increase the successful prosecution of cases of adult sexual assault in NH through the development and sustainability of victim-centered SARTs. The Attorney General’s office has made this a priority and encourages all law enforcement agencies in the state to get involved in the process.

For more information or to receive a hard copy of this report contact the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence at 603-224-8893.

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