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EVAWI > Resources > Forensic Compliance > FAQs > Philosophy
Forensic Compliance Frequently Asked Questions

Note: The information on this website is designed to: (a) communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and (b) offer recommended practices for implementation. The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013. For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

Q Why should we offer exams for victims who do not want to talk with law enforcement?
Q What if our state, territory, or tribe is already in compliance? Do we still need to work on this?
A Why should we offer exams for victims who do not want to talk with law enforcement?

In other words, “Why bother?”  Why should sexual assault victims go through the ordeal of a medical forensic examination, if they do not want to report to law enforcement or participate in the investigation?  As described in an article in Police Chief magazine:

There is a long version and a short version of the answer to this question.  First, the short one; we hope victims will change their minds.  For victims who initially come into contact with the community response system but are unsure about participating in a law enforcement investigation, they may later decide they can.  If so, it may be critical that forensic evidence was documented and collected at the time.

The longer answer requires a bit more background.  As anyone who works with victims can attest, many simply do not know what they want to do in the aftermath of a sexual assault.  Imagine for a moment the trauma of being sexually assaulted.  Immediately afterward you have no time to make sense of what happened to you, let alone figure out what to do about it.  If you are like most victims, you feel afraid, ashamed, and very confused about what happened.  You may feel exhausted, starving, dying for a cigarette, or still be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  You are probably not sure who to tell.  But regardless of who you tell, you are likely to be confronted with the question of whether or not you will report to police and “press charges.”  This question is asked, not only by community professionals (such as victim advocates, forensic examiners, and law enforcement professionals); it is also frequently asked by friends and family members as well.  In fact, it is often the first question people ask when victims say they have been sexually assaulted.
Unfortunately, this question is all too often framed as if it were “all or nothing” as well as “now or never.”  Victims often face intense pressure to report their sexual assault to police – frequently by well-meaning friends and family members as well as community responders.  Yet by reporting to police, many victims fear that they are boarding a train that is inevitably headed toward an invasive police investigation, scathing media coverage, and the horror of being cross-examined by a hostile defense attorney at trial.  After all, that’s what they’ve seen on TV.

Victims rarely have a realistic understanding of their choices, or adequate support to evaluate them. They often feel confused, overwhelmed, and terrified of what will happen if they report their sexual assault to police. Is it any wonder, then, that so many victims decide not to report? Unfortunately, victims are all too often given the impression by everyone they talk to that this is a decision they must make RIGHT NOW. As a result, their answer is usually “no” (Lonsway & Archambault, 2012, p. 51).

Source: Kimberly A. Lonsway & Joanne Archambault (2010). The earthquake in sexual assault response: Police leadership can increase victim reporting to hold more perpetrators accountable. Police Chief, Vol. 82, No.9, pp. 50-56.
A What if our state, territory, or tribe is already in compliance? Do we still need to work on this?

Although all of the states, territories, and tribal governments are currently in compliance with these rules, many details associated with their implementation remain uncertain. This uncertainty causes confusion for sexual assault victims as well as the professionals providing services to victims. For example, in some jurisdictions, there is confusion about where sexual assault evidence collection kits from victims who have not yet decided whether to talk with law enforcement will be stored - or how long such kits will be stored. Because responsibility for payment of the medical forensic exam falls to various entities in different jurisdictions, there is also great variation in payment practices across the country. In some jurisdictions, the use of alternative reporting options, often referred to as anonymous reporting, can create additional confusion. Few jurisdictions have policies in place that provide an avenue for a victim to change a case that began as unreported to a standard report to initiate an investigation. Few jurisdictions are vigorously investigating or charging converted cases. Finally, few jurisdictions have written policies in place on any of these topics. 

So, although jurisdictions are compliant with the letter of the law, more work needs to be done to ensure that they are compliant with the spirit of the law as well. The resources offered by EVAWI are designed to assist jurisdictions across the country with the creation and implementation of written policies on forensic compliance topics. We hope these resources can help eliminate confusion and ensure that victims of sexual assault receive the care that they are due under both federal law and laws at the level of U.S. states, territories, and tribal governments.

Implementing policies that are compliant with the letter of VAWA 2005 is relatively easy: victims must be provided with a medical forensic exam free of charge and without being required to cooperate with law enforcement or participate in the criminal justice process. Making that option viable and meaningful, however, is more complicated and requires collaboration, compromise and commitment among diverse professionals in your jurisdiction. So, your jurisdiction must ask: Once the medical forensic examination is provided to a victim of sexual assault who has not yet decided whether to talk with law enforcement, what happens next? The ultimate question is this:

Is there any possibility that a converted case will be successfully investigated and prosecuted in your jurisdiction?

When thinking of the policies currently in place in your jurisdiction, we hope you can answer “yes” to this “ultimate question.” If so, then you are well on your way to fulfilling the spirit of compliance. If the answer to the ultimate question is “no,” then this document will help you to engage more community partners and create policies that will help you get to “yes.” This chart may help your jurisdiction in the pursuit of the spirit of VAWA 2005, by identifying practices that meet the spirit of the law.
This project is supported by Grant No. 2013-TA-AX-K045 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.
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