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The Athens News | Local Police, Prosecutors Get Sex-Assault Response Training

(01/25/2015) The training session brought in Lt. Thomas McDevitt, retired from the special victims unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, and Viktoria Kristiansson, an attorney adviser for AEquitas, a resource base for prosecutors in cases of violence against women. [ . . . ]

The training itself consisted of McDevitt and Kristiansson walking participants through a variety of scenarios, getting feedback on how they would react as investigators and prosecutors.

The two played video statements from actual cases, where victims of sexual violence shared their stories. They played a 911 phone call and asked investigators how they would proceed with the case.

While the training session focused on various tips and techniques to aid in investigations, it also offered sensitivity training for speaking and communicating with victims.

"Ask how the victim felt," Kristiansson encouraged the officers, advising them to avoid lines of questioning that could make the victim feel at blame for her own assault. "It helps you to understand their thinking to know how they were feeling."

Asking a victim questions like, "Why didn't you leave?" or "Why didn't you fight?" might make a person feel at fault, or make the victim feel like the officer believes she or he is at fault, and in turn the victim might clam up and not be able to aid an investigation.

"Put yourself in their place," Kristiansson said. "Imagine what you'd think if you felt like the police investigating your case didn't believe you."

In the 911 call, she noted that the victim repeatedly said it was her own fault, with the dispatcher repeatedly assuring her that it wasn't and that she was doing the right thing by calling the police because nobody has a right to violate her. It is not uncommon for victims to be hesitant to seek justice, Kristiansson said, which is why it's important for investigators to be careful not to reinforce that hesitation in any way.

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