This first episode in the 2022 Assault Awareness Month mini-season of the National Instituter of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Mary West, the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Supervisor of the Cold Case Unit, and Project Manager of the Sexual Assault Kit Task Force at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, who discusses the sexual assault response with victims in “vulnerable” populations.
Introductory information notes that distinctive challenges may arise when prosecuting sexual assault cases that involve vulnerable populations, including cases with male victims. The interview addresses the effective prosecution of cases with male victims; reasons why members of vulnerable populations may be targeted for sexual assault; and considerations for the safety, healing, and well-being of survivors. Weston defines “vulnerable populations” victimized by sexual assault as those “who are more likely to be targeted or victims of sexual assault crimes that are less likely to be prioritized in terms of investigations or prosecutions.” She views sexual predators as being more likely to select as victims those who are less likely to report the sexual assault or to be believed if they report it. Among those typically viewed as less likely to report being sexually victimized are sex workers, drug users, mentally ill persons, and persons who are LGBTQ+. Weston advises that in such cases, the “trier of fact” (jury or judge) should be informed about the higher risk that such persons will be sexually victimized because sex offenders select targets whose claim of sexual victimization is less likely to be believed or taken seriously. Weston suggests ways in which prosecutors can make this point. She addresses the cases of male victims of sexual assault as being difficult for prosecutors because jurors may believe they could have avoided victimization.
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