Going to a deposition for a sexual assault. Advice, please.
July 2, 2013 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Last night an acquaintance told me that she was sexually assaulted last month. She's going in to talk to the State's Attorney this Friday afternoon. It sounded like she needed a friend so I offered to go with her. What can I expect? How can I help? This is in Chicago.

This is a person I've known "professionally" (think: like a hairdresser you see for an hour every couple months) for six years. I don't know her terribly well, but we've talked about a lot of things together in all that time. I saw her last night and when I asked her how things had been and if she was liking her new apartment, she told me what happened.

The facts:

-this happened in her apartment
-attacker is the boyfriend of a friend
-lots of people in her friend group have turned against her because she wants to press charges
-attacker recently spent over a decade in jail (in another state) for attempted murder
-she wasn't raped and he wasn't unclothed, but her shirt was ripped off and without going into details it was plenty awful enough to warrant being called sexual assault
-he also punched her in the face
-she called the cops as it was happening and they took over 30 minutes to respond even though she lives down the street from a police station
-when she went in the next morning to give a formal report and have pictures taken, one of the cops said to another cop "apparently this guy slapped around her titties"
-she doesn't feel the cops are taking this seriously
-she is seeing a counselor but she doesn't think it's helping much

I'm a comfort-with-tangible-help sort of person, and she seemed tremendously grateful when I offered to be there for her and help her with anything I could, so I would like to be able to give her an idea of what to expect, what she can do, what I can do, etc, to prepare for Friday.

What do we need to know?
(And is there anything we can do about the cops being so shitty about this?)

Thanks. By some miraculous occurrence given the odds, this is the first time I've been aware of sexual violence against any women I've known, so I'm really in the dark here as far as what we can do.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The deposition is a question and answer session with the state's attorney. The cops may have been jack-asses, but the attorneys won't be.

You should both show up dressed professionally (no jeans, shorts, etc.) You may not be allowed in with the attorneys or the stenographer. You may be waiting, so bring a book.

The lawyers will ask questions. Your friend should tell the absolute truth, answer questions to the best of her ability. If she doesn't know something, she should say, "I don't know." If she doesn't remember, just say, "I don't remember."

You may find the attorneys more compassionate and helpful than the police.

Now, to file a complaint about the police, here's the process.

Your friend may want to discuss this with a rape crisis counselor, those folks will have some insight that others may not.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:06 AM on July 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

Yeah, you may not be allowed in to the actual deposition session, so do take a book.

Otherwise, just be supportive and encouraging to her for being brave. Be ready to get a cup of coffee or tea afterwards if she wants to re-hash the deposition session.

The attorneys are going to be on her side.
posted by mibo at 8:23 AM on July 2, 2013

Bring a pad and pen - for any part of the process in which you're allowed to accompany her, take notes. She'll likely be pretty stressed out and it can be very hard to remember the details of things.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:45 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your community will have a yellow pages listing for a rape crisis center. They will have lots of helpful information.
posted by theora55 at 10:31 AM on July 2, 2013

Leave as much metal behind or in your purse, otherwise you get a longer wait at the metal detector/security checkpoint. It likely varies per jurisdiction, but my local court doesn't complain if you bring a pocket knife (or other such item), they confiscate it and (unlike TSA) give you a claim clip.

I asked the security officer what's the oddest thing they've ever found on a person going through the checkpoint. His answer, "drugs".

So obviously don't bring drugs into a place where you will be searched and there are police officers.

Nth bringing a book. Most of my experience in court has been uniformly "hurry up and wait."

Also consider bringing a snack. My local courthouse allowed in plastic bottles but not glass.
posted by plinth at 1:01 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am so glad you are doing this for her. Good for you. Just being willing to go and be there with her is awesome. Stay in the background and don't speak for her. All the other advice here is excellent too.

I strongly second also encouraging her to talk to the rape relief advocates. (They don't give a rip if there was penetration or not.) I admit I used to do this so I'm biased, but the organizations are great, they know the system, and they can provide support and advocacy throughout the process.

Also, I hope you consider helping her file a complaint about Officer Jerk.
posted by bearwife at 1:23 PM on July 2, 2013

I would recommend calling your local violence against women centre or rape crisis centre. They will not care one bit about whether there was penetration. They can possibly go with you to provide support and guidance, too, and they may be able to provide other support.

As for the counsellor, does she like the counsellor? If she doesn't think there's a good fit, it's okay to shop around. Some counsellors work better for some people than others.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:35 PM on July 2, 2013

Where are you going? If you are going to 26th and California and have to enter through the public entrance, you will not be permitted to bring a cell phone, laptop, iPad or other tablet in with you as they are no longer allowed in the criminal courthouses. There are very small lockers (which look like sandwich vending machines) available on a limited basis.

There are exceptions to the rule (judges, attorneys, jurors & some others), but it does not appear that complaining witnesses or persons attending depositions at the State's Attorney's office (unless they are there to obtain an order of protection) are among the exceptions. It's a new (and very unpopular) policy, so you, or your friend, should confirm with SA whether or not you can bring your phones with you.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:06 PM on July 2, 2013

As for what you can do about the cops being shitty, write Tom Dart's office about it. If you can name the officers, do so, but be certain to note which Area they are in, what time they were on duty, and what the officers did to make your friend feel both that she her complaint was not taken seriously and that she was treated disrespectfully. Keep the complaint neutral in tone, but very specific in what happened and how it contributed to your friend's distress when she had just been victimized. She can also complain to the Independent Police Review Authority. Unfortunately, complaints of this nature are not taken anonymously.

If your friend is comfortable sharing the story, she should copy the complaint to the Alderman in the Ward where the police station is located. Won't hurt to copy the Mayor's Office. Of course, that will require her to accept that details of her assault and the way the police treated her will be seen by a number of people with minimal confidentiality requirements. If she isn't comfortable with that, she should just make her complaint to the Sheriff's Office and the IPRA.

She can mention it to the State's Attorney, but I would not expect them to be sympathetic to the complaint nor interested in it.
posted by crush-onastick at 5:51 PM on July 2, 2013

It's really decent of you to do this. It sounds like a lot of your question has been covered by others, but I have a couple bits of advice:

Bring something to read for both of you. Courthouses are boring and you might have to wait a while. She might appreciate something light, like a fashion magazine (or whatever her interests are), which is easier to read when you're nervous.

Bring food if you can, again, for both of you. Even a granola bar can be a godsend when you're stressed and hungry, but consider taking her to lunch afterwards if she's up for it. Food helps so much, and it's easy to forget self-care in a crisis.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:24 PM on July 2, 2013

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