Nicole's Truth: Prosecuting Sexual Assaults in Reality
I was a victim of a sexual assault while I was studying criminal law at Syracuse University as a graduate student in the Forensic Science program. Suspects have the Miranda warning. This is the victim warning when you report your sexual assault to law enforcement that I created from my experience:
You do not have the right to remain silent, anything you said, did, and wore will be used against you in the court of law and public opinion. You have no right to an attorney, and no, your advocate cannot come in grand jury with you. There are victim’s rights and if you don’t understand them, we won’t explain them to you. Let us do our job and stay out of our way!
I worked in the criminal justice field for over a decade and always trusted the justice system. I trusted the justice system when I got divorced to decide custody for my children when I was being emotional, so of course I could trust the justice system to prosecute my sexual assault. How silly of me to believe when you add the word sex to a crime that it convolutes the investigation and prosecution? I was thrown into a world I knew nothing of, but it is so common in both developing countries and ours.
Imagine calling law enforcement and informing them you were held against your will for eight hours, in someone’s home, they repeatedly assaulted you every time you attempted to leave, when you finally left you got medical treatment, and your injuries were consistent with the assault. You told the police where the suspect was and where the crime happened. Initial police officer was amazing and wanted to go make an arrest, but the investigator said to wait. Why? Once you add the word sex before assault somehow you can’t treat the crime the same way you would if it was just a simple assault. That is the biggest hypocrisy in the justice system.
Comments made during my sexual assault made me believe that I was not his only victim. At the time of my assault I worked at an office that did character and fitness checks for students in law school. I knew what to look for in a person’s background. He was a Division I basketball player in college and senior year dropped to a Division II school with no major injuries noted. He went on to play in a Euro league. He repeatedly moves every year to a new state and couldn’t say why he was recently divorced. When I reported it to the investigator, nothing was investigated. By the time it went to the prosecutor, I had his past coach and a previous teammate tell me he had been judicial for sexually assaulting a girl on campus. A background checked also came up that he was arrested for assaulting his ex-wife in Georgia. Information was unclear but under Georgia law you cannot sexually assault your wife and he was only charged with domestic battery, which was later dropped to a disorderly conduct. According to the prosecutor, I was at least his second victim, if not his third.
My prosecutor did one thing that I wish every prosecutor in the United States did. That man called me, and he said, “ I believe you and I know this happened to you, but I need to know what you want to see happen out of this.” He asked that I not answer right away, but I take a day or two and I call him back. I only wanted to prevent him from hurting someone again. I wanted to warn a female of what he truly was, a sex offender. I called the prosecutor back and said I would agree to any plea deal that would label him as a sex offender. For three months his lawyers and the prosecutor went back and forth trying to prevent him from ever having to be labeled as what he was. During that time my sexual assault kit was lost and never put in the state crime lab. Once found it was submitted but not in time for grand jury.
I went to grand jury nine months after my assault with one witness who had heard my screams. I was having panic attacks before going because I was afraid of seeing him. I didn’t know if I should wear make up and how I would be judged. What I should wear because I knew that I would be judged. I testified in front of a grand jury of mostly middle-aged Caucasian people in Oneida County, which has the highest amounts of sexual assaults per capita than most counties in upstate New York. Onondaga County has double the amount of people than Oneida County and each year the amount of rapes reported in Oneida County are still more than Onondaga County. I lost all faith in the justice system the day the grand jury came back and decided not to indict. The district attorney asked them why and many of them said it was too unbelievable of a story to have happened. The grand jury is not able to hear about his history and doesn’t want to believe a monster walks among us. It is easier to believe in unicorns and fairytales, but then again, before grand jury I believed in justice.
In the state of Tennessee, I met Joy. Joy was assaulted by her live-in partner, granted an order of protection, and moved in her own house. While out on bail, he stalked her for four months, waited for the perfect time when she was alone to enter her home. Joy was bringing in groceries with a walking cast and this man physically assaulted her in her home. He told her he came back to “finish the job” and kill her. He was armed with a knife and broke her nose while he sexually assaulted her, but because she did not fight or verbally say no, the prosecutor in her case will not prosecute the sexual assault. This man made Joy wash in front of him and he hid the clothes so forensic evidence could not be saved. Joy risked her life to go back and get the evidence to be prosecuted. Tennessee also allows Defendants up to three years to register as sex offenders and this man was previously arrested for sexually assaulting an ex-girlfriend who tried to leave him. It does not matter that he is being charged with aggravated burglary and aggravated assault; those charges do not validate that Joy was sexually assaulted.
Survivors have voices. If prosecuting sexual assaults does not make you sick and uncomfortable, but instead you are comfortable and complacent with sexual assaults then I suggest you change to another area of law. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors have a way of treating victims like items on a conveyer belt. This may be your hundredth or even thousandth sexual assault case, but this is our first sexual assault case and we deserve the respect to be treated like it is your first. Remember when you first started your career, how energized you were and how you were going to change the world? We need that zealous person to investigate and prosecute our cases without prejudice of the word sex in assault. We did not choose to be victims of sexual assaults, however you chose to be law enforcement and prosecutors who fight sexual assault.