The 4th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, the Women’s Center of Jacksonville (WCJ), and Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are partnering with End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) and VictimsVoice to create a self-guided, online interviewing tool for sexual assault victims to report to law enforcement. The project is funded through a prestigious American Bar Endowment (ABE) 2021 Opportunity Grant, one of only 15 awarded across the US.
Partner organizations are launching the project’s development in April, in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Research shows that for every 5 victims of forcible rape, only 1 will report the crime to law enforcement. “There are many reasons why sexual assault victims are afraid to call the police,” says Joanne Archambault, a retired sergeant from the San Diego Police Department Sex Crimes Unit and CEO of EVAWI, the lead organization for the project. “But without a report, we have no way to hold perpetrators accountable and prevent future attacks. We need to be much more creative about offering victims options, so they can feel comfortable reaching out to law enforcement and test the waters before they dive in.”
The tool, which will be piloted in Jacksonville, FL and Adrian, MI then distributed to the rest of the country, will be a software widget that can be easily installed on websites of police departments, sexual assault advocacy centers, and other organizations. It will guide sexual assault survivors through a detailed police interview, following trauma-informed principles and best practices in the field. Survivors will be able to access this tool from any digital device, at the time and place of their choosing. Executive Director Teresa Miles of Women’s Center of Jacksonville, the county’s certified rape crisis center, says, “Being able to submit the report directly to law enforcement, or have us submit it anonymously on their behalf, empowers survivors to engage the justice system on their terms.”
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams says the need to increase victims’ confidence in reporting rape is critical to community safety. “Receiving information from survivors who would not otherwise report could help stop repeat offenders. We want to offer survivors every tool possible to report violence.”
State Attorney Melissa Nelson agrees. “Any time we support survivors in disclosing their abuse, and treat them with respect, dignity, and compassion, it is a victory for justice.” She adds, “This tool could increase rates of reporting, allowing our office to hold more offenders accountable.”
The tool will be based on technology company VictimsVoice’s app that helps domestic violence victims document and report abuse. VictimsVoice Founder and CEO Sheri Kurdakul says, “We’ve seen how effective our self-guided tool has been for domestic violence survivors. We’re excited to partner with EVAWI to create one for sexual assault survivors too.”
Carolyn B. Lamm, the ABE’s President, noted, “The ABE is proud to provide an Opportunity Grant to EVAWI to launch this innovative initiative that will assist sexual assault survivors in seeking justice. Making grants such as these is the cornerstone of the ABE mission. Our deepest thanks go out to the ABE insureds who, by participating in ABE-sponsored insurance plans and donating their dividends, help make access to justice a reality for many with critical legal needs.”