Community-based advocacy in "cold case" sexual assault prosecutions: A qualitative exploration of survivors' and advocates' experiences
Campbell, R., Gregory, K., Goodman-Williams, R., Engleton, J., & Javorka, M. (2023). Community-based advocacy in "cold case" sexual assault prosecutions: A qualitative exploration of survivors' and advocates' experiences. Qualitative Social Work, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/14733250231207344
Sexual assault survivors who report to the criminal legal system often need the assistance of victim advocates to navigate this complex and often retraumatizing system. In recent years, victim advocates have been called upon to assist more survivors in "cold case" sexual assault prosecutions. The term "cold case" refers to a criminal incident that is reopened years after it was initially reported, often because new evidence has become available. In this study, we interviewed sexual assault survivors and community-based victim advocates about their experiences working together in cold cases. These cases were reopened because victims' sexual assault kits (SAKs; also known as "rape kits") had not been submitted by the police for forensic DNA testing in a timely way. When these SAKs were finally tested, the biological evidence produced new investigatory leads, and prosecutors wanted to move forward with criminal charges against the offenders. Re-opening these legal cases caused significant emotional distress for survivors, but most did not want mental health counseling during their legal re-engagement. Instead, survivors wanted their advocates to provide emotional support while focusing on their tangible needs so that they had sufficient life stability to re-engage in the prosecution process. Survivors also needed extensive legal advocacy from their advocates throughout their hearings and trials. These results underscore the need for cold case protocols that train practitioners about the long-term impacts of trauma and the importance of centering survivors' individual needs.