OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Working With Victims in Cold Hit DNA Cases
Ilse Knecht, Michele Mallin  -  2014/9/10
https://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
What has been a common reaction from a victim when contacted with "new information" about your case?
 
1.  William Maxwell
 I would agree, the reaction is initially shocking, but after explaination they are thankful for the new information.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 Almost all victims feel numb or in shock. They feel anger, fear, grief, and anxiety. Some feel relief and gratitude. In many cases it takes time for a victim to come around to feeling thankful and happy.
 
3.  Michele Mallin
 I know for myself as a rape victim, my reaction 22 years later was shock, disbelief and horrible guilt at first. These seem to be common reactions as Iíve met and become acquainted with other victims in wrongful conviction rape cases from the 1980ís. I know I believed the rape was part of my past, it was done and I had worked through the emotions of it all and then I found out how wrong I was.
 
4.  Ilse Knecht
 The most common reaction is disbelief or shock. Overall, reactions to new information in their case varies. Victims or surviving family members may experience mixed reactions to the news of reopening the investigation. Some victims will be pleased to learn that there is news in their case and that justice may finally be served. For other victims, the news may be traumatic.
 
 
Are there standards for victim notification in cold hit scenarios as opposed to in an open investigations?
 
1.  Michele Mallin
 I do not know what happens in every state, but in Texas they are trying to put into place "best practices" to notify the victim. The way I was notified in my rape case where there was a wrongful conviction was in a way that made me feel horrible. And I certainly believe the right thing to do is to create standards where the victim's concerns are addressed.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 Detroit and Houston have been working on protocols under an NIJ grant and Houston's is online now. You can get to it though our site, victimsofcrime.org/dna and go to untested sexual assault kits and then protocols.
 
3.  Ilse Knecht
 Many communities have been working on protocols and some do exist. We have some on our website. I also wrote a sample policy for OVW that is on our website too at victimsofcrime.org/dna.
 
 
What is a best practice for law enforcement officers who have to contact a victim about new activity on the case? How should they approach the victim?
 
1.  Ilse Knecht
 We also have webinars on this topic on our DNA Resource Center. One in particular with a law enforcement/advocate team in St. Louis.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 Lastly, see our sample policy for notification on our website. It covers many of the usual concerns about notification. http://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/dna-resource-center/untested-sexual-assault-kits
 
3.  Michele Mallin
 I believe the way I was approached by the Lubbock, Texas DA office was not best practice in anyway whatsoever. I think sensitivity is key and there was no sensitivity by law enforcement in my case at all. My feelings were of no concern to them and that still holds true to this day.
 
4.  Ilse Knecht
 Tell the truth about the case and do not create false hope. Donít make promises like ďwe are going to put this guy away for life.Ē Ensure victims understand their rights in the criminal justice process and that they are afforded those rights.
 
5.  Ilse Knecht
 Provide options such as choices for meeting locations (some victims fear the police station because the only time they have been there was after the assault). Give as much information as possible about the case and the criminal justice process, when the victim is ready for it. Be prepared for lots of questions and pack patience!
 
6.  Ilse Knecht
 Privacy is a major concern in old cases with renewed activity. Remember that some victims may not have told their family or friends about the past and victim privacy is crucial. Be mindful of when and how you contact victims. Give victims time to digest the news. Do not rush them into any decisions. Let them gather their support system around them.
 
7.  Ilse Knecht
 Number one: Victims emphasize that the way they are approached and notified makes a difference. Remember the first contact with a victim is crucial to her willingness to engage with the system. A team approach to notifying victims of the news in their case is best. Having a victim advocate present with the law enforcement officer to provide support and information for the survivor can ensure that immediate victim needs are addressed and longer term plan for support is in place.
 
 
How can we prepare for how a crime victim may react to the news of a cold hit?
 
1.  Ilse Knecht
 Also, check out our sample notification policy at http://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/dna-resource-center/untested-sexual-assault-kits. It has a lot of helpful tips.
 
2.  Michele Mallin
 I believe every crime victim should be treated with sensitivity and care. Every reaction is different. My reaction, to learning the news of the wrongful conviction and the DNA hit on the true rapist, would be different than another victim's reaction might be. But sensitivity, care and respect for the victim are all key, in my opinion.
 
3.  Ilse Knecht
 Watch our webinars! We have one on the neurobiology of trauma with Dr. Campbell that is a must-see. We have several about working with victims in cold cases, including one by Sarah Chaikin in Denver's cold case unit - the first of its kind. And check out our report on the victim roundtable we held three years ago with survivors to ask them what worked in notification and what didn't. VictimsofCrime.org/DNA
 
 
What constitutes a cold case?
 
1.  Michele Mallin
 I believe a cold case is when they have no leads and cannot find the suspect.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 In Colorado, it is legislated. I believe its a case that has no leads after one year. And their cold case unit is legislatively mandated too. I think in most places the definition varies but I have heard that the guide is close to what CO uses. As you may know in many communities there are untested rape kits that are in some cases more than 20 years old.
 
 
Are there situations where there is a DNA hit, the victim is notified, but the case does not move forward? How does that effect the victim that was notified of the new information? Should the victim be notified after a more solid case is formed around the hit?
 
1.  Michele Mallin
 In my case, even though I was notified with positive DNA and a positive match for the rapist, the case will never move forward due to the ten year limitations in Texas where any rapist not found in ten years cannot go to trial. That was very hard for me to hear. But I'm still glad the truth came out and the rapist is serving two long term sentences for two other rapes. So he is in prison in Texas.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 Dallas, Texas, for example, created a cold case program that specifically selected SAKs past the statute of limitations for analysis. A team worked to solve these cases, knowing that these victims deserved answers, and they found many ways to help victims find a sense of justice. One survivor gave a victim impact statement in another case against her rapist. One survivor gave an impact statement to the parole board so the offender could be considered for stricter parole parameters. A few of the women worked on a law that allows DNA cold hit information to be put on a personís criminal record even if the case is not prosecutable
 
3.  Michele Mallin
 I do not personally know of cases such as this, but I personally believe from my case that I would prefer being notified after receiving a more solid hit. Had they notified me prior to the DNA test of the true rapist proving his guilt, then I would have just been worried about that, too. At least when I was contacted the DNA was done using items left from the rape kit two decades ago and it was a match, no question. I am glad I was not contacted before the DNA test results were in and we knew the truth.
 
4.  Ilse Knecht
 Ive asked victims about this issue. Most of them say they want information. In some cases just the DNA hit and the fact that an offender has been identified is helpful to their healing. In some cases the case can't go forward due to the statute, but victims tell me just knowing who the perpetrator is is important to them.
 
 
Are multidisciplinary teams often used for victim notification? I would imagine it would be helpful for victim advocates and/or chaplains (depending on the situation) to accompany an officer on a cold hit notification!
 
1.  Ilse Knecht
 Team approach is best if done in person, but sometimes that is not possible. If phone notification has to happen, a well -trained and victim-sensitive law enforcement officer can appropriately deliver the news.
 
2.  Michele Mallin
 When I was notified in my rape case of the DNA hit on the true rapist twenty two years later, I was contacted by the DA's office in Lubbock, Texas. No chaplain, victim's advocate or anything. It was very cold and truthfully, very insensitive, with no regards for my feelings. A victim's advocate would have been a much better approach to me learning of this breaking news in my case.
 
3.  Ilse Knecht
 We believe this is the model approach in old and new cases. Due to resources it can be challenging. A well-trained detective can make a perfectly wonderful notification. But at least pairing with an advocate means that there is someone there specifically for the survivor, to help with needs and concerns.
 
 
What is a victim's recourse in situations when the statute has passed?
 
1.  Michele Mallin
 I'm not sure about other states, but in Texas there is no recourse to my knowledge, the statute has passed and the rapist gets a free pass to rape more women. I have had no recourse whatsoever, I just had to accept that the Lubbock Police botched up the case bigtime. Misogyny is very big in Texas and I believe that is key in Texas as to why rape victims like myself just do not matter and recourse is something a rape victim in Texas in a case like mine will never receive.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 Victims can give impact statements in other cases against the same offender. They can also write letters to the parole board so the offender could be considered for stricter parole parameters.
 
3.  Ilse Knecht
 My favorite topic! I wrote a bulletin on this issue called Why Test Rape Kits After the Statute of Limitations Has Expired? Its on our DNA Resource Center at http://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/dna-resource-center/untested-sexual-assault-kits. I will say that there are many positive steps for victims in these cases....
 
 
Is there an approximate number of cold cases across the U.S.? Are they regularly "run through" CODIS?
 
1.  Ilse Knecht
 If a DNA profile from a rape kit or homicide is in CODIS, yes, it is regularly checked against offender profiles in CODIS. But the evidence has to be tested and entered into the database first.
 
2.  Michele Mallin
 I really have no idea, mainly because my expertise is coming from the aspect of a rape victim. So I have no idea how often cases might be "run through" CODIS.
 
3.  Ilse Knecht
 There are no hard and fast numbers for cold cases. We do know from a study done a few years ago that in 18% of unsolved rape cases, there was evidence sitting somewhere unsubmitted to labs. We also know these numbers of untested rape kits..California: 2,000 kits in Alameda County alone, 4, 000 in Cleveland; 11,000 kits in Detroit alone; 12,000 kits in Memphis, and the state of TX has 20,000 kits.
 
 
Did you find that you had a bond with the falsely accused/family due to the fact that you were both victims? (You were a victim of crime, he was a victim of the system). If not, do you feel that building that relationship would have been more traumatizing or a constant reminder of the initial crime because the falsely accused was associated with the occurrence?
 
1.  Michele Mallin
 I really did feel a bond with the family of Timothy Cole. We were both victims and what happened to both of us was nothing short of wrong, wrong, wrong! And I have grown to love and admire Tim's entire family, they are great people. They actually reached out to me through the Innocence Project of Texas to let me know that they cared about me and did not blame me in anyway, they blame the system. I will be seeing the family next week in Lubbock, Texas as a statue of Timothy Cole is unveiled on the Texas Tech University campus at a new city park in Tim's name. The park will be overlooking the Texas Tech University Law School to remind future lawyers and judges that justice is the most important thing.
 
2.  Ilse Knecht
 I just want to mention that we also have some information for original victims (and practitioners) in post-conviction, wrongful conviction and exoneration cases including a brochure and a few webinars. VictimsofCrime.org/DNA
 
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