Understanding the Role of "Witness" in Sexual Assault Cases Reported to Police

Hannah Scott, The University of Memphis

When police investigate crime, often they look to witnesses in gathering evidence to build their case against an offender, with the goal of apprehension and obtaining a conviction. In the specific crime of sexual assault, often the victim is the only witness who can speak to the crimes committed against her/him. This research relays information collected on sexual assault cases (N=115) reported to police, and relays the results of an analysis of "witness" statements gathered in sexual asssault allegations. This research reveals that many "witnesses" to sexual assault, unlike in other criminal events, did not directly observe the assault. Instead, many witness statements serve to attest to the emotional state, and other victim characteristics, both before and after the sexual assault has occurred. Circumstances under which witnesses come to be identified are discussed, and their role in evidence collection in sexual assault cases will be examined.

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Updated 05/20/2006