Section 1: Supervision of Sex Offenders
in The Community:
An Overview of The Training
3 hours, 45 minutes
TOPIC: VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Before we proceed to a discussion of supervision, it is important
to begin with a focus on the victims of sex offenses. Sexual
assault is a destructive crime. It is often shrouded in shame,
secrecy, and denial. People who have been sexually assaulted,
whether as children or as adults, often struggle for years
and decades to achieve a sense of safety and well-being following
the assault. As professionals working with people who perpetrate
sexual assault, we have the power to promote victim healing
in our interactions with victims, as well as the power to
help prevent re-offense, in part by hearing what victims have
to say about offenders.
Note: It's very important to include the
voices of victims in this part of the training,
either as part of the training team or through a
reading or video clip. It is difficult for anyone
who has not experienced sexual assault or worked
closely with sexual assault victims to understand
the depth and the impact of the trauma, and personal
stories are one of the best ways to make this issue
real for participants. "A Rape Victim's Plea for
a Maximum Sentence," a victim's statement, is included
among the participant materials for Section 1 of
this long version of the curriculum.
A primary concern facing professionals working with sex offenders under supervision
or in treatment is preventing sexual re-offense by the offender.
Jurisdictions across the country that apply a multidisciplinary
model of sex offender management are learning that no single
entity can prevent sexual assault alone. Only through
the use of collaborative approaches can those responsible
for sex offender management contain these offenders and minimize
the risk of future sexual victimization. Victims and victim
advocates are an essential part of this equation. When probation
and parole officers and offender treatment providers engage
victims and victim advocates in their work, the goal of victim
and community safety is served.
Note: For additional information on this topic, please see CSOM's forthcoming module on the role of victims and victim advocates in sex offender management.
Note: It may be appropriate to pause at this point and ask participants to comment on the degree to which their agencies currently involve victims. For some agencies, this will be a clear departure from past and current practice, while other agencies will have significant experience in this area.
Sex offender management asks us to reconsider the role of victims. The question is not only "what are we obligated to do for crime victims?" but "what can working with victims of sexual assault teach us?"
? Discussion Question: Is working with victims and/or victim advocates part of your current strategy? What is your agency's policy on working with them?
The picture of the victims may be surprising to many of us.
Sexual victimization is perhaps more prevalent in our society
than we realize. Many victims are assaulted in their own homes
by people they know. Childrenboth boys and girlsare just as much at risk of sexual assault as adults are.
In addition, many victims remain reluctant to come forward
and report the abuse to the criminal justice system. The experience
of victimization is a life-altering event. Victims must learn
to live with fear.
|WHO ARE THE VICTIMS OF SEX OFFENSES?|
For many years, our knowledge about the incidence of sexual assault and its
victims was ill-founded in fact and research, but that picture
is changing. The information under review today comes primarily
from three studies: Rape in America; Prevalence, Incidence,
and Consequences of Violence Against Women; and the National
Survey of Adolescents. These studies are based on victim
surveys and clearly indicate that, contrary to what we might
believe, sexual assault is a widespread phenomenon that reaches
into every socioeconomic group and into all age groupsparticularly
the young. Every single hour, 78 rapes of adult women take
place.3 One in four young girls and one in six young boys will
be assaulted by age 18.4 The NVAW Survey indicates that 1 in
6 U.S. women and 1 in 33 U.S. men have experienced an attempted
or completed rape as a child and/or as an adult5 (rape is defined
as "an event that occurred without the victim's consent and
involved the use of force or threat of force, and involved
sexual penetration of the victim's vagina, mouth, or rectum").6
Although the typical victim of sexual assault is often thought
to be an adult woman, these studies also reveal that sexual
assault is a major threat to children and young people. Rape
in America found that 62 percent of victims of sexual
assault were under age 18 at the time of their first victimization.
The NVAW Survey found that 22 percent of victims were under
age 12 and 32 percent of victims were between ages 12 and
17 at the time of their first assault. The National Survey
found that 8.1 percent of adolescents reported experiencing
at least one sexual assault in their lifetimethat
translates to 1.8 million adolescents assaulted in their lifetime
(based on 1995 U.S. Census data). Sexual assault is a tragedy
of youth in America.
Many of us also imagine the "typical" rape or assault to be
one perpetrated by a stranger preying upon a person in some
unfamiliar, inherently dangerous settinga lonely park
or a dark alley. Contrary to the myth of the "dangerous stranger"
as the typical assailant, these surveys document that 78 percent
of adult women who were assaulted knew their perpetrators. Among
children under the age of 12 who were assaulted, 90 percent
knew their offender.8
The National Survey of Adolescents found that nearly
3 of 4 victims were assaulted by someone they knew well.
Almost one-third were friends of the victim. About 1 in 5 were
family members. Only 23.2 percent were strangers to the victim.
Again, we think of potential victims being most at risk in public or strange places. The surveys reveal the contrary. In the National Survey of Adolescents, over 30 percent of assaults were reported to have taken place in the victim's own home; 23.8 percent in the victim's neighborhood; and 15.4 percent at the victim's school. The experience of being assaulted by a known person in one's own home or another familiar place may actually increase the trauma of assault. Such a violation of trust may make it all the more difficult to feel any degree of safety againeven in seemingly safe surroundings or with trusted friends.9
Despite efforts to make the system more responsive to the needs of victims, according to the FBI, only about 10 percent of sexual assault victims actually report their victimization to authorities. Rape in America indicates that 84 percent of those assaulted never report their offense, and for those who do not report within the first 24 hours after an assault, the chance that they will ever report drops off dramatically.10 The National Survey of Adolescents also found that 86 percent of those assaulted did not report the assault to authorities. Only 13 percent were reported to police, 5.8 percent to child protective services agencies, 5 percent to school authorities, and 1.3 percent to other authorities.
||Use Slide #12:
Location of Sexual Abuse (National Survey of Adolescents)
[Click to Enlarge]
Other mythssuch as the frequency of false allegationare subject to confusion. There is really no way to track false allegations. The statistic that is often used to discredit sexual assault victims is based on "unfounded allegations." Reasons for a case to be labeled "unfounded" vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and can depend upon such things as resources and training for law enforcement personnel who respond to sexual assault cases. Cases can be declared "unfounded" for such things as late reporting, the recall of additional facts, specific allegations that are determined to be false, insufficient evidence, or the fact that the victim reported the crime to someone other than law enforcement.11 None of these reasons is equivalent to finding that the assault did not happen and that the allegation is truly false, yet they are frequently discussed as if they were the same thing.
As many as 70 percent of the victims of sexual assault do not experience visible injury. This does not mean, however, that the trauma associated with the assault is insignificant. Victims who have no obvious physical injuries may experience extensive trauma related to the guilt associated with not having the physical injuries to prove that they resisted and are not "at fault" for the assault perpetrated on them. Indeed, some of the most devastating effects on victims include guilt, shame, embarrassment, powerlessness, fear, anger, and a sense of betrayal.12 A typical reaction of someone who has been sexually assaulted is denial that the abuse occurred and a great desire to forget about the incident.13
Why do these myths/misconceptions matter?
Some of you may be asking yourselves, "So what"? Who cares if people have the wrong idea about sexual assault? Unfortunately, this is not just an issue of people having inaccurate information. Rather, the things we believe about sexual assault affect how we as professionals respond to victims and offenders.
One consequence of holding misconceptions about sexual assault is the tendency to question the credibility of victims who do not fit the stereotype of how victims should behave or who they are. For example, common myths about sexual assault can influence police practice, in that cases may be investigated as if the offender is unidentified, when in most cases the offender is known to the victim. Additionally, offenders who do not fit the stereotype of an offender, such as looking like a "dirty old man" or acting mentally "unstable," may be treated with less concern, increasing the risk that they may re-offend.
|CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT|
The experience of being involved with the criminal justice systemhaving to discuss one's experience, appear in public, and testify in courtmay result in a victim reexperiencing some of the stages of trauma that Burgess and Holmstrom outline.14
Note: Burgess and Holmstrom coined the
term "rape trauma syndrome" to refer to the long-and
short-term physical and psychological responses
common to female victims of forcible rape. Trainers
are encouraged to reference the article from the
American Journal of Psychiatry.
Rape in America indicates that women and girls who have been victims of sexual assault are much more likely to experience serious consequences later (e.g., prostitution, psychiatric problems, homelessness, HIV, eating disorders, suicide, substance abuse, self-esteem problems, and teen pregnancy) than women who have not experienced sexual victimization.15 Secondary victimizationimpact on the family, friends, and partners of victimsmay also occur. Nonoffending parents and siblings of incest victims are often resistant and confused and need specialized supportive services.
The National Survey of Adolescents found that adolescents who are the victims of sexual assault experience long-term risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other consequences, such as substance abuse and a greater likelihood of becoming involved in delinquent activities. That study documented the initial and long-term effects of child sexual abuse on its victims. Initial effects include fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and hostility, sexual behavior problems, aggressive/delinquent behavior, substance use/abuse/dependency, impaired social functioning, distorted cognitive schemata, and impaired affective processing.
||Use Slide #15:
Sexual Assault and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (National Survey of Adolescents)
[Click to Enlarge]
||Use Slide #16:
Initial Mental Health Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
[Click to Enlarge]
||Use Slide #17:
Long-Term Mental Health Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
[Click to Enlarge]
Long-term mental health effects include sexual disorders, PTSD, depression, suicide attempts, anxiety disorders, substance use/abuse/dependency, sleep disorders, personality disorders, dissociative disorders, low self-esteem, impaired social relationships, and increased vulnerability to other victimizations and traumatic experiences.
||WHY IS THIS INFORMATION ABOUT VICTIMS
RELEVANT TO YOUR WORK?
Understanding and anticipating possible victim responses may make it easier both for you and for any victims with whom you will work. It may help to ensure that victims' needs and rights are respected and supported as you do your work. In addition, it will assist you in doing whatever you can to assure that victims are safe from revictimization. You may also be able to use these insights to design responses to the offenders on your caseload that are more beneficial to victims and others in the community.
The following are descriptions of the range of responses victims might experience as a result of the assault:
- Fear: Victims may still experience a tremendous amount of fear, regardless of how much time has passed since the last assault. Fears can be varied and numerous and be about physical safety and reassault, exposure to loved ones or the public, or retribution by the offender or his allies. Victims may be as fearful of the criminal justice system and process as they are of these other things. Both child and adult victims may have been threatened with violence or other consequences for disclosure. They may believe that cooperating with you will make the experience worse for them.
- Anger: Many victims are angry at the offender, the legal system, their families and friends, and/or themselves. Their lives have been transformed by the assault and its disclosure. They may act angrily toward you, even though your role is to help them. Don't take this personally, and don't hold it against the victim.
- Guilt: Many victims believe the myths about their own responsibility for the assault or assaults. In cases of intrafamilial assault, victims may see themselves as responsible for whatever may happen to the family in the aftermaththe economic impact of the offender losing his job, divorce, or fighting within the family. Some family members may blame victims as well and accuse them of fabricating the abuse. For children, this can be very confusing. Many victims need reassurance that the problem was caused by the offender's behavior, not by their reaction to it.
- Shame: Victims often feel embarrassed, exposed, and ashamed. They may feel as if they have been made dirty by what was done to them and that they are now unacceptable to others in some way. They may find it very difficult to talk explicitly about what the offender did to them.
- Ambivalence: One of the hardest things for many people to understandespecially when abuse happens within a family or intimate relationshipis that many victims still feel love for the offender. They don't want their relationship with the offender to end completely, they just want the abuse to stop. They may not want to see the offender hurt or punished, just prevented from re-offending. It's important to recognize and acknowledge these feelings. This may be particularly apparent when dealing with nonoffending parents.
- Boundary issues: Children rely on adults to teach them about appropriate relationships. When a child has been sexually abused by an adult, especially a parent or caretaker, the child can have a difficult time determining the appropriate boundaries in relationships and setting or recognizing limits. This is also true of adults who were sexually abused as children.
The aftermath of sexual assault or its disclosure can cause a lot of disruption in a victim's life. Adults may find it hard to work or to be with people they formerly trusted; in general, their lives may feel chaotic to them. Don't be surprised if they are not always consistent in their attitude toward you and toward the offender. The next section discusses ways to work with this information.
Research can be helpful to us in determining victims' needs, which primarily center on the need for information, the need to be believed, and the need not to be blamed. The practical application of those ideas suggests that the system should provide safety and security, ventilation and validation, prediction and preparation, and information and education.
In many states, legislatures are giving statutory definition
to the rights of crime victims. Although there is great variety
from state to state in terms of how this is handled, some "core"
rights are emerging across the nation. Regarding the right of
victims to notification about the progress of their case through
the system, The National Center for Victims of Crime has identified
63 possible points for notification. Other victims' rights include
confidentiality of requests for notification and the use of
automation combined with the "human touch" for sexual assault
victims. Restitution is another basic right of victims. Key
issues related to restitution include the following:
Establishing the priority of fines, fees, and penalties.
Refer to handouts: Included in
the participant materials for Section 1 of the
long version of this curriculum are two items
that will be of practical assistance in working
with victims: a Victim Impact Resource Package that provides suggestions and examples of how
to develop and utilize a victim impact statement
and a nationwide list of toll-free numbers for
organizations that provide assistance on victims'
- Recognizing restitution's key role in offender accountability.
- Considering "the victim's ability to pay" when "the offender's ability to pay" is considered.
- Providing assistance to victims in documenting short/long-term losses.
- Imposing sanctions for nonpayment by offenders.
Protection from future victimization can also be considered
a basic right of victims. Because victims may not always volunteer
their safety concerns, it is important to ask. Victims must
have access to all applicable protective factors and to a point
of contact for expressing safety concerns 24 hours a day, 7
days a week. Remember that victim information and notification
contribute to victim safety.
Victim impact statements can be very important in offering insights into the financial, emotional, and physical losses of victims. Along with direct discussions with victims, they can also provide valuable insights for offender case planning. Remember that continued opportunities for victim input are essential to victim safety and offender rehabilitation.
Victims' concerns can better be addressed through collaborative approaches to supervision that involve victim advisory councils and focus groups, training and cross-training among different agencies and professions, consistent information and referral, program evaluation and performance measures that change to reflect victim concerns, and the development of victim/offender programming (this approach must be pursued with extreme caution, always respecting the victim's right not to participate).
? Discussion Question: How is your agency currently
taking the victim perspective into account in its supervision
practices? Do you routinely develop or have access to victim
impact statements? Are there aspects of your supervision practices
that might be expanded, improved upon, or changed to better
accommodate the victim perspective?