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RH Reality Check | Investigative Report: How Victim-Blaming Led to the Rape Kit Backlog

(06/22/2015) Part of the reason behind victim-blaming attitudes that persist throughout America’s criminal justice system, experts say, is the ignorance of how trauma affects victims’ behaviors—both during and after the assault. The reality is that many sexual assaults are much more nuanced than the type of stranger rapes in the woods that are the default on popular media. [ . . . ]

Explaining this phenomenon to juries and judges has become an important tool to try to quell victim-blaming bias, said Jennifer Long, the director and co-founder of AEquitas, a global organization based in D.C. providing resources to prosecutors worldwide in an effort to improve justice in crimes that primarily affect women, such as sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, and human trafficking.

A former Philadelphia prosecutor, Long told RH Reality Check that expert testimony on the neurobiology of trauma is admissible in sexual assault cases in every state now. Pennsylvania was the last state, in 2012, to enact a law allowing this type of testimony, and is currently awaiting the results of a constitutional challenge from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But despite the extensive research on the science of trauma, Long said victim-blaming is a persistent contributor to what researchers say are high rates of attrition when it comes to sexual assault cases in America.

“There’s a disconnect between the rapes happening and the criminal justice response to them,” Long said. “And the key piece that comes up again and again and again is victim-blaming, that the victim is being blamed somehow for either inviting the attack or being disbelieved because they engaged in some behavior that is misunderstood.”

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