Today’s San Francisco Chronicle article, “Rape Allegation Leads to Federal Probe” February 5, 2017, documented one young sexual assault survivor’s struggle to access her rights after being raped. The article details the current Title IX complaint and how a federal investigation has been opened into the school’s handling of the report of sexual assault- an affirming and responsive action. However, it is also glaringly clear that this young victim was failed at various points in her path to seek justice and accountability.
The article mentions that at one point the young woman and her family sought legal advice as to her options. They were discouraged when the lawyer dissuaded them from proceeding with the criminal case as it was a difficult, “he said, she said” situation.
It is critical that victims of crime, particularly sexual assault and domestic violence, receive trauma-informed legal advice from victims’ attorneys. Through experience and training, victims’ attorneys know that many cases have no extrinsic evidence, as sexual assault and domestic violence often happens without witnesses. Sometimes there are police reports and hospital records, often times there are not. This does not mean a case is without merit or a victim is without options. Experienced victims’ attorneys know how to prepare a victim to testify, know the protections and supportive structures available to victims in the legal system, and know how to present evidence in an otherwise difficult “he said, she said” case.
Victims still have a right to pursue civil legal remedies including restraining orders, restitution, and monetary damages. Victims have a right to participate in the criminal justice system as a witness in the prosecution of their abuser. Yes, pursuing these legal paths can be difficult and they are not appropriate for everyone. But all victims should be aware they exist and be allowed to make the choice for themselves. Consulting with an attorney with a victim-centered approach to representation can make the difference in accessing and pursuing available remedies.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence and would like to explore your options, please contact the victims’ attorneys of ADZ Law, LLP.