CALL 6: Child advocates say more training needed for police, judges on handling teen rape cases

Trauma informed training focuses on experience

INDIANAPOLIS—  Child advocates and police are responding to a Call 6 Investigation that found Indiana teens feel unsafe after reporting they’ve been raped.

Girls we spoke with said they were re-victimized by the criminal justice system, and felt school, police, attorneys and judges blamed them for what happened.

“It hurts me to say this, but I was not surprised,” said Kirat Sandhu, training coordinator with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, after watching the Call 6 Investigations on teen rape. “I think systematically we know we have a problem in our schools.  And we have people in positions of power, like judges, attorneys and law enforcement who don’t believe victims.”

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The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA) says the solution is trauma-informed training for all involved in a sexual assault case.

Trauma-informed, victim-centered training focuses on what trauma does to a victim’s brain.

“It’s changing how we ask the questions,” said IUPUI Detective Kimberly Minors. “Police officers are used to asking questions in a timeline-- the who what where why and how.”

Trauma-informed interviews instead focus on the victim’s experience, emotions, and senses.

“It tends to pull out more information as opposed to asking questions based on a timeline,” said Detective Minors. “It’s paramount that everyone is trained in trauma.  Not only should officers be trained, but the prosecutors and judges need to understand the trauma and what it does to the brain.”

Detective Minors said sexual assault victims may not behave the way you would expect. They may alter their version of events or delay coming forward.

“Often what appears to be a victim changing their story, it's not necessarily them changing their story, it's how they are recalling the information," said Detective Minors.

Many rape victims do not scream for help or try to run away.

"We have victims who say ‘I just froze, i didn't do anything’, not realizing that is tonic immobility and they can't move and that's a symptom of trauma," said Detective Minors. “We tend to want to see a victim that is crying and bawling to legitimize what they have gone through, but they present in different ways, sometimes they may be giggling, sometimes they may be straight faced or crying. That doesn’t negate what has happened to them.”

Call 6 Investigates spoke with several teenagers, one from Noblesville and another from Hendricks County, who said they were sexually assaulted by a classmate and the alleged perpetrator was not criminally charged.

Cloey and Alyssa felt the criminal justice system questioned their every move including what they said and did after the alleged assaults.

Two separate magistrates recently denied both teens’ requests for protective orders against their alleged rapists.

PREVIOUS:  Court denies protective order for teen who reported rape

“I absolutely feel like I’m being punished and I can’t live my life anymore,” said Cloey. “I have to hide because I’m afraid.”

The Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault will be holding a 3-day training at the University of Indianapolis starting May 21.

Click here to sign up.

It’s the first training of this magnitude, and the coalition wants police, prosecutors and judges from across the state to attend.

“This really is a deliberate effort to get at people in positions that really affect victims,” said Sandhu.  “We don’t want it to be where we are the good guys and they are the bad guys. We are all here to support victims and we’re here to make the community safer.”

Participants will learn about the misconceptions about sexual assault as well as the neurobiology of trauma.

Cloey and Alyssa are hopeful police, prosecutors, judges and school leaders can become better informed about teens and sexual assault.

Meanwhile, the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault is working to change the definition of rape in Indiana to sex without consent.

Indiana state law says the perpetrator has to use force or the threat of force for it to be considered rape. 

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