Too many people are learning misconceptions about sexual assault through TV shows. That's according to members of Normal Police’s Investigative Unit.
Detective Nicole Bruno said the public views sex crime victims as different from victims of other crimes, and it's not in a good way.
“You would never question the victim of a burglary or a robbery about what they were reporting. But it seems like what we’ve seen, or what I’ve seen through some of the cases that I’ve investigated is, that seems to be how those are viewed from the public,” Bruno said. “They look at it as putting the victim on trial, or questioning the actions that the victim did, or saying that it didn’t happen that way.”
Bruno said that trend is almost entirely unique to sexual assault cases.
“We’ve heard everything from, ‘Well they were flirting at the bar beforehand, then it wasn’t sexual assault.’ Well, it turned into sexual assault the minute there was no consent,” Bruno said. “It doesn’t matter what happened before that.”
So, why does the public have a hard time believing sexual assault survivors?
Bruno and investigative division head Lt. Paul Smith agree: A lot has to do with the way TV plays into sexual assault misconceptions.
“Unfortunately, the public sometimes gets their education from TV shows where it’s a stranger in the bush or a very violent situation like that,” Bruno explained.
They both agree: It’s everyone’s job to educate on the truths of sexual violence.
“I think, really, the reason we need to educate the public is because the public is going to make up our juries,” Bruno said. “So they’re going to be the decision makers when they see cases like this.”
She said education needs to focus on teaching what sexual assault is, because teaching what sexual assault is not often leads to the formation of those common misconceptions.
And educating on the matter is starting at younger and younger ages. Smith said teaching young adults about sexual assault is important, but that there should be a base-level of education before then.
“I think it’s a national conversation right now of do we train these kids in high school or junior high so that they grow up with it and it becomes ingrained in them long before they ever see the first day of college or boot camp,” Smith said.
By teaching the youth, Smith said, there’s a chance of curbing the misconceptions around sexual assault at a young age. But, younger generations aren’t the ones serving on sexual assault juries.
“We also need to figure out how to reach our juries that are currently seated and those that are being selected right now so that they have something else to bounce against the TV show or the detective story that they see on TV,” Smith said.
Smith said jurors also often have unrealistic expectations when it comes to DNA evidence. Some sexual assault cases result in no DNA evidence at all, even with having a rape kit, and others just take time. Time that Smith said jurors seem to misunderstand.
Illinois’ backlog of DNA evidence kits to be tested often leads to more than six months of waiting, Smith said. In worst cases, waiting for results can take over a year.
But when it comes to rape, Smith said juries often want to see clear evidence in the form of DNA samples. With the backlog, combined with other evidence complications, that is sometimes not possible.
“Some jurors come in believing that I have a lab tech in the basement with ponytails like 'NCIS' and that she can turn a DNA sample around to me in the next five minutes,” Smith said. “And you know, frankly, those people don’t exist. I can’t say that enough.”
It’s because of those misconceptions that Smith said education is paramount, “because people that believe that ... of course they exercise that in the jury pools when they go back to vote.”
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