As states and local jurisdictions work to eliminate their backlog of untested rape kits, it is important for them to establish formalized procedures for re-engaging survivors. These procedures should mitigate harm and put survivors needs and wishes at the heart of the process.
Creating and revising notification procedures is best done collaboratively with multiple stakeholders, including survivors, advocates and criminal justice professionals.
In this study, we interviewed over 90 survivors and criminal justice, medical, academic, clinical and advocacy professionals to ensure that the resulting best practice recommendations consider multiple viewpoints. The key recommendations are listed here for your convenience and are discussed in greater detail in the report.
1) Convene a Multidisciplinary Team
- To ensure that multiple aspects of a survivor’s needs are addressed in the notification process, a team of professionals with varying skills and knowledge should be convened to discuss notification policy.
- Multidisciplinary teams can include survivors and a variety of criminal justice and advocacy representatives, such as police, prosecutors, community-based and system-based advocates, and members of diverse social and cultural groups.
- The team should collaborate with advocacy organizations (e.g., immigrants, communities of color, LGBTQ and the homeless) to ensure that the notification process is culturally sensitive.
2) Ensure Survivor Determination
- Notifiers should seek to ensure that survivors are in control of how notification occurs so they feel safe and supported throughout the reopening of their cases.
- After the initial contact, survivors should be empowered to choose how they receive information about their cases including when and where they hear it as well as how much detail they receive.
3) Employ Kindness and Respect
- Survivors in our study were less concerned with how notification happened or who did it than with the way they were treated in the process. Being treated in a compassionate, respectful and empathetic manner can facilitate healing.
- Many survivors asserted that it was important that the notifier apologize for the length of time it has taken for the case to be solved and/or investigated.
4) Protect Privacy and Confidentiality
- Survivors on the whole were concerned with keeping news about their cases confidential. This had an impact on how they thought notification should occur.
- Notifiers should contact a survivor in the way that offers the most respect for his or her privacy for the first meeting and then follow the survivor’s wishes for the ongoing notification to ensure the utmost privacy. Depending on the length of time since the assault, the survivor’s family, friends and coworkers may not be aware of the crime.
5) Provide Complete Information
- Access to information about their cases is very important to survivors and can often promote healing. While ideally, full information would be given in a setting chosen by the survivor, notifiers should be ready to share information about the case at the initial contact if the survivor so wishes.
- Ensure that survivors know whom to contact with questions or concerns throughout the case progression.
- Written information was also seen as helpful. Participants recommended that, at a minimum, a written list of available services should be prepared ahead of time and provided to every survivor.
6) Train Notifiers
- Training can help ensure that officers and advocates are knowledgeable about the effect of trauma on survivors and the potential for a variety of survivor responses.
- Training can provide notifiers with information about different cultures and can help them be prepared for the diverse requests they may receive.
- Training can ensure that notifiers are prepared to answer questions about the backlog, DNA testing and the criminal justice system in the event that a survivor has such questions at initial contact and beyond.
- Training should inform notifiers about vicarious trauma, how to prevent it and ideas for self-care.
7) Offer Support and Resources
- Notifiers must be prepared to provide resources and connections to local service providers.
- Notifiers should be knowledgeable about and coordinate with local agencies serving diverse populations to ensure that all survivors’ needs are addressed.
8) Prioritize Safety
- Survivors’ safety must be a top priority when conducting notifications. Concerns about retribution from the offender’s family or other acquaintances can create real anxiety and fear for survivors.
- Advocates must be well-equipped to help survivors with safety planning from the time of the first meeting.