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Sexual Assault Legal Issues

The legal definition of rape, according to the Ohio Revised Code (ORC), is as follows: "No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another when the offender purposely compels the other person to submit by force or threat of force." Depending on the circumstances of the assault, other charges may include sexual battery, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition. All of these legal terms are further defined in the ORC, which also expands on the circumstances in which each of the charges would apply.

Following a rape or attempted sexual assault, the survivor is left in a state of crisis. Decisions are hard to make during this time, but the survivor needs to make some decisions which will affect possible prosecution. Survivors have the right to decide whether or not to report the assault to the police. However, if a survivor goes to the hospital, the medical staff are required to report the assault. Survivors need to understand that REPORTING IS DIFFERENT THAN PROSECUTING. However, once a rape is reported, it becomes a crime against the state, and the survivor becomes a witness for the prosecution who may be subpoenaed at anytime. In most cases the prosecutor will not pursue a case against the wishes of the survivor. There is no right or wrong answer to the question of reporting. It is a difficult decision to make, and NO survivor should be forced to report or made to feel guilty or responsible for not reporting. Looking at the pros and cons of reporting may help survivors reach a decision.

Why some survivors have stated that they report:

  • to hold the perpetrator accountable for the assault
  • to help keep others safe by possibly prosecuting an offender
  • to get revenge or to see that justice is served
  • so that other survivors might gain support and report their own victimizations
  • to prove to "doubters" that there really was an assault
  • so that they would be eligible for state monies (see "Compensation for Victims of Crime)

Why some survivors have chosen NOT to report:

  • fear of the assailant
  • fear of retaliation by the assailant's family
  • lack of confidence in the criminal justice system
  • fear of being blamed by others
  • wanting to forget the incident
  • fear of family, friends', co-workers' reactions
  • fear of loss of privacy

For a strong legal case, it is best to report the assault immediately and obtain medical attention for the gathering of evidence.

If the survivor chooses to report and a prosecutor decides to take the case, several steps are predictable, though police procedures may differ. It might be helpful for the survivor to receive assistance from a rape crisis advocate (contact your local rape crisis center) or from a Victim-Witness Program, which is part of most Prosecuting Attorney's offices. An advocate will explain procedures and support the survivor during the judicial process.

Reporting

If the survivor is treated at a hospital, the crime must be reported to the police by hospital personnel. Survivors do have the option of refusing to speak to law enforcement, in which case no further action will be taken. Otherwise an officer or detective will probably interview the survivor before she or he leaves the hospital. The officer will take a statement from the survivor describing the time, location and events of the crime, a description of the assailant, and the survivor's name, age, address, and occupation.

Unless the crime happened in the jurisdiction of a small police department, the report will probably be handed over to a detective. When speaking to the police, detective or Prosecuting Attorney, the survivor should not be afraid to ask questions about any words or procedures that are unclear. Survivors have the right to have all legal procedures explained in detail, prior to continuation. It is important for the survivor to write down names and phone numbers of all people who are involved, so they can be contacted if the survivor has further questions. Survivors have the right to be notified of case updates, but they must specifically request such updates from the prosecutor.

The survivor may be required to go through additional questioning with the police detective who will be handling the case. Since this is one of the most important phases of the investigation, it will be detailed and thorough. If there are bruises or other signs of attack that were not visible at the hospital, photographs may be taken at the police station. The survivor may also be asked to write out a report. This will include the survivor's description of the incident and what happened before and after. The place where the incident took place, including the survivor's home if that was the scene of the crime, may be searched and examined for fingerprints, stains, weapons, and other evidence. Do not touch or remove anything from the scene of the crime until this is done.

Compensation For Victims of Crime

Survivors may be eligible for Victim Compensation through the Court of Claims of Ohio. To be eligible for compensation monies a crime must meet the following criteria:

  • The crime must have been reported to the police within 72 hours (or be able to show good cause for not doing so);
  • The Victim Compensation Claim Form must be filed within two years of the crime date;

The availability of compensation money is limited to the following types of losses:

  • Allowable medical expenses and counseling fees;
  • Work loss as a result of the crime;
  • Any needed services loss (i.e. baby-sitting during court procedures or housekeeping assistance if injuries incapacitate the survivor).

Property loss or damage is not included.

Survivors, or anyone applying for compensation, can call either their local rape crisis center or the Toll Free Victims Hotline at: 1-800-824-8263. For further information regarding the rights of a sexual assault survivor, contact a local rape crisis center, victim rights organization, Prosecutor's Office, OCOSA at (614) 268-3322 or RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE.