What is Sexual Assault?
Sexual assault occurs whenever a person is forced, coerced, and/or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity, including when she/he is unable to consent due to age, illness, disability, or the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Sexual abuse is when a person looks at, takes pictures, or touches you on your private body parts without your permission, or forces you to touch them on their private body parts without your permission. Private body parts are: breast, vagina, penis, anus, buttocks and mouth.
Sexual assault includes rape, incest, child sexual assault, ritual abuse, date and acquaintance rape, statutory rape, marital or partner rape, sexual exploitation, sexual contact, sexual harassment, exposure, and voyeurism.
What is Consent?
Consent is permission for sexual activity to occur. For sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact to be consensual, everyone involved has to agree to what they are doing. Without consent, the sexual activity is rape.
Asking for consent should continue throughout the activity and should be specific. Drugs and alcohol use prevents clear consent from being given. Don't assume a partner is ok with what you want to do. Always ask them. “Yes" means “yes". The absence of a “no" does not mean “yes". Consent brings both pleasure and safety to the interaction.
What Should I do if I am Sexually Assaulted?
Immediately call 911
Law enforcement will be dispatched, respond to your report, and conduct a thorough investigation utilizing a fair and trauma-informed approach.
If you do not feel comfortable calling law enforcement, you can call the RAINN – National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673 and speak with someone confidentially about your situation, the assault, and your options.
RAINN – National Sexual Assault Hotline – Available 24/7
You can also contact a local victim service provider and request a medical forensic exam. The Phoenix Family Advocacy Center is able to assist you, Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm. You can call 602-534-2120 and speak to a Victim Advocate.
Phoenix Family Advocacy Center – Available Monday-Friday: 8:00am to 5:00pm
What is a Medical Forensic Exam?
A medical forensic exam is a resource that is provided to all sexual assault victims including those that choose not report the assault to law enforcement. Under the provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005, all states must ensure that all victims of sexual assault have access to a medical forensic exam, free of charge, even if the victim chooses not to report the crime to law enforcement.
An informed consent, both verbally and in writing must be obtained by the victim prior to a medical forensic exam, and should be performed within 120 hours following the assault.
There is no cost for the medical forensic exam, and the victim's insurance cannot be billed. Medical providers are prohibited from billing victims for the cost of an exam following a sexual assault.
Arizona uses a standard Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) statewide for the collection of evidence in a medical forensic exam.
Forensic Nurse Examiners (FNE) are the preferred medical practitioners for adult and adolescent medical exams. The primary responsibility of the practitioner is to address the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of the victim resulting from an assault.
a. What are my rights with regard to the medical forensic exam?
Under Arizona law, the decision to report a sexual assault to law enforcement is the victim's decision. The victim has the right to speak to law enforcement except when a child may be the victim of physical or sexual abuse or neglect. If a victim has suffered a gunshot wound, knife wound or other material injury, the medical practitioner must provide a report to law enforcement.
Medical forensic exams are free of charge, even if the victim chooses not to report the crime to law enforcement. These non-reported kits afford victims access to medical care and allows important evidence to be collected, without the victim immediately deciding to report the assault to law enforcement.
It is the victim's choice on whether or not they want to participate in the criminal justice system.
b. What evidence is collected?
During the medical forensic exam, the medical practitioner will collect a reference sample from the victim, either cells from the mouth or blood in a blood tube. They will collect body surface, anal, genital, penile and vaginal swabs, and debris or foreign material that may be found on the victim's body. Additional samples may be collected based on the scenario of the assault. Urine samples are also collected if the use of alcohol or illegal substances are reported by the victim. The medical practitioner then places all swabs and clothing worn by the victim in individual bags, and documents and photographs all findings including any cuts, abrasions and lacerations.
Following the exam, medical treatment and medical referrals may be provided such as for emergency contraception, HIV, and vaccines for Hepatitis B and the Human Papilloma Virus. Information on whom to contact for victim advocacy may also be provided.
If the victim needs to be transported and admitted to a hospital, the medical practitioner will inform the hospital about the need to collect a Sexual Assault Kit (SAK).
What happens to the evidence?
The medical practitioner will notify law enforcement of the completed Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) and medical report within 48 hours. Law enforcement will collect and impound the kit within 5 business days of being notified. Law enforcement will then submit the kit to the Phoenix Crime Laboratory within 15 business days.
i. CODIS – Combined DNA Index System
Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs) are processed by a crime laboratory in order to generate a DNA profile from the crime scene evidence for the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
CODIS is the system of DNA databases at the national, state, and local level for storing and searching DNA records contributed by crime laboratories for criminal identification purposes. If a hit (DNA match) occurs, the name of the suspected perpetrator will be given to law enforcement.
In addition to identifying a suspected perpetrator, a CODIS hit is beneficial for excluding potential suspects, reducing wrongful arrests, assisting in the exoneration of wrongfully convicted people, and linking cases within a state and across the nation.
The Phoenix Police Department Crime Laboratory follows the Quality Assurance Standards (QAS) and accreditation standards for reporting and reviewing results. The laboratory provides copies of reports to only approved criminal justice agencies (not victims). The laboratory may also utilize the services of private DNA laboratories to complete DNA testing of SAKs. All analytical documentation and reports undergo a technical and administrative review process per the Quality Assurance Standards (QAS).
ii. Evidence Retention
Evidence may be used in future cases regardless of the outcome of the investigation. Therefore, all evidence in sexual assault cases are retained by law enforcement.
All victims of sexual assault will be treated with fairness, dignity and respect.
Law enforcement is often the first responder to cases of sexual assault. They are trained on the impact of trauma, dynamics of victimization, and how to ask questions based on the assault.
Upon first contact with law enforcement, efforts will be made to help the victim feel safe. Additional safety planning may be necessary and intervention may be in the form of an emergency referral and counseling or other services as needed. Law enforcement will also help guide the victim in helping her/him to understand the role of the victim advocate and assistance the victim will receive throughout the criminal justice process.
Investigations typically include both an initial victim interview in the response phase, and an in-depth interview in the investigative phase.
Law enforcement will conduct the initial interview with the victim. The interview will allow the victim to give information in an uninterrupted location. The purpose of the initial interview is to gather facts, obtain victim information, ask about what happened, and if immediate safety is of concern.
If the assault occurred within 120 hours, law enforcement will ask the victim if she/he is willing to receive a medical forensic exam.
If the victim is willing, she/he will be transported to a local advocacy center for the exam. If a medical practitioner is not available, the first responder will then transport the victim to a hospital.
If evidence needs to be collected from the perpetrator, a court order or search warrant will be acquired. DNA from the consensual sex partner must be obtained as well.
An on-call prosecutor will be contacted if an arrest is imminent, or if the case involves multiple victims or serious injury.
Law enforcement will collect and impound the completed Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) from the medical practitioner within 5 business days and thereafter, submit the Sexual Assault Kit to the Phoenix Crime Laboratory within 15 days.
All kits are assigned an identifying category to ensure proper tracking and reporting throughout the entire process from issuance, to the medical forensic examiner or hospital, to the responding law enforcement agency, through the crime laboratory, and final disposition and/or storage.
Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs) will not be destroyed regardless of lab results unless the allegation is “unfounded", meaning evidence proves the crime did not occur.
Evidence may be used in future cases, therefore all evidence in sexual assault cases must be retained by the investigating agency pursuant to A.R.S.13-4220.
Law enforcement works with victim advocates and prosecutors to ensure victims receive a victim-centered and trauma-informed notification if a CODIS hit occurs. They provide the victim with information about the status of their case and who they can contact with questions and concerns. They will protect the privacy and confidentiality of the victim, and provide support and resource information.
Victim Advocacy and Victim-Centered Care
The role of the victim advocate is to assist the victim with understanding their rights and options following an assault. Sometimes, a survivor might not feel comfortable speaking to family or friends about the assault. A victim advocate is there to believe, support, and refer the victim to helpful local resources and to help the victim navigate the criminal justice system. They can also connect the victim to organizations offering legal relief, support groups, emergency shelter or counseling. Advocates are also available to attend court hearings and can assist with asserting Victim's Rights throughout the process. Victims may be eligible for programs such as the Crime Victims Compensation and Address Confidentiality Programs.
The Crime Victims Compensation Program provides financial assistance to victims who may have experienced a financial loss as a direct result of the sexual assault, such as expenses for physical harm, mental distress, and economic loss resulting from the assault. This Address Confidentiality Program helps victims from being located by the perpetrator through public records. It provides a substitute address and confidential mailing services to the victim and their families.
Victim advocates and law enforcement often work together to notify the victim of the status of their case. They use a trauma-sensitive, victim notification process to help foster trust and collaboration while the victim is participating in the criminal justice system.
A specialized victim advocate who is well-versed in trauma, grief, and traumatic stress will engage with the victim to build trust and rapport. Victims are more likely to participate in the prosecution process when a victim advocate is with them to provide support and explain the process.
Law enforcement and victim advocates will respond to victims disclosing sexual assault in a timely, appropriate, sensitive and respectful manner. Every action that is taken during the medical exam and investigative phase to facilitate the victim with immediate care and safety assistance.
While at the Phoenix Family Advocacy Center, they will:
- Give sexual assault patients priority as emergency cases and ensure patient privacy.
- Adapt the exam process as needed to address the unique needs of each patient.
- Are aware of issues faced by victims of specific populations, and provide culturally sensitive care.
- Prior to starting the exam, explain to the patient in a language the patient can understand and what is entailed during the exam.
- Address patient safety during the exam.
- Accommodate the patients' requests throughout the exam.
[KO2] Provide information that is easy for patients to understand and in the patient's language.
- Address physical discomfort needs of the patient prior to a medical discharge.
- Address the importance of victim services that are available.
To protect victim privacy, data entry and sensitive information will be limited to those who are directly involved in the case and working directly with the victim. Agency policy correlates with A.R.S. §§13-4430 and 8-409 (privileged info) and 13-4434 and 8-413 (victim privacy).
Neurobiology of Sexual Assault
Victims of sexual assault often experience a violation of safety and loss of control. This distress can be exhibited in what may seem like inter-counter-intuitive behaviors. Responses may include a flight, fight or freeze reaction resulting from a neurochemical release. Understanding these behaviors is integral to decreasing the risk of re-traumatization of sexual assault.
Sexual assault victims may react to a traumatic incident in many different ways. A victim may experience physical symptoms or stress reactions like exhaustion, inability to sleep, headaches, and muscle tension. Additionally, feelings of shame, embarrassment, fear, anger, and betrayal are common after sexual assault, and can exacerbate feelings of mistrust for the victim. A victim can experience trauma symptoms during and after the assault which may affect them during the forensic medical exam process. It is important to note that a victim may not want anyone to know about the assault, or may be afraid that family members or friends will reject them. It is also common for a victim to fear further harm or harassment from the assailant.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Sexual violence is also among the most common causes of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) disorder. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults such as sexual assault. People who suffer PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, suffer from intrusive thoughts, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged.
Specific to the Phoenix Police Department, a Cold Case is defined as any case that is not actively being investigated and has remained unsolved for one (1) or more years after it was reported to law enforcement.
About the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI)
The National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and provides funding through a competitive grant process to support multidisciplinary teams engaged in the reform of jurisdictional approaches to sexual assault cases resulting from evidence found in previously unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs). Unsubmitted kits that have not been submitted to a forensic laboratory for testing and analysis is the focus of this initiative.
The goal of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is the creation of a coordinated response to ensure resolution to sexual assault cases, whenever possible, through a victim-centered approach, and to build jurisdictions that will prevent the conditions that lead to high numbers of unsubmitted SAKs in the future.
This holistic approach provides jurisdictions with resources to address the issue of unsubmitted kits, including support to inventory, testing, and tracking of kits; creating and reporting performance metrics; accessing necessary training to increase effectiveness in addressing the complex issues associated with these cases and engaging in policy development and coordination; improving practices related to investigation, prosecution, victim engagement and support; and in creating a victim and community outreach program to educate victims and the community at large about sexual assault.
Inventory of Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs)
In 2016, the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) awarded the Phoenix Police Department a grant in the amount of $1.5 million to inventory, submit, and test backlogged Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs); as well as to implement initiatives involving training, investigations, evidence processing, and public outreach.
Prior to Year 2000, data was only available through hardcopy and required a physical inventory to capture the untested SAKs in the Phoenix Police Department's possession that were impounded prior to 2000.
A team of staff was established to identify and conduct that exact physical inventory of all untested SAKs in the Phoenix Police Department's evidence warehouse.
This team was tasked with hand counting each untested kit to obtain a precise number from 2000-2015. Followed by developing and implementing a new records management system (RMS) to track each new sexual assault kit impounded by law enforcement. Their efforts commenced prior to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant that was awarded in 2016.
Following the award, a Phoenix Police Department sexual assault multidisciplinary working group was established consisting of forensic scientists, sex crimes investigators, forensic nurse examiners, attorneys, and victim advocates. They addressed the untested SAKs in possession and developed a victim-centered approach to investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults. They also revised policies and procedures to address the implementation of a “test all" requirement to ensure that all kits are submitted for DNA testing.
Through added routine monthly meetings, the responsibilities of this working group have enacted systemic change with added programmatic activities to meet the criteria of the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
This multidisciplinary working group continues its efforts in:
- Eliminating the existing number of untested SAKs and preventing this issue from reoccurring through necessary changes in practice, protocol and organizational culture.
- Improving training amongst group members, so all disciplines are prepared to respond to the evidence in a victim-centered manner with improved quality of response.
- Establishing and implementing an evidence based approach, victim-centered protocols and policies that address SAK evidence collection, testing, and tracking as well as victim notification and support services.
- Identifying and allocating the resources that are required to produce and follow up on all of the usable evidence results.
- Establishing and implementing processes that prioritize the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault cases.
- Enhancing the evidence tracking, case management and victim notification mechanisms to ensure accountability, transparency and information sharing among all partners.
- Leveraging the data gathered from testing to improve the understanding of the sexual assault problem in the community in order to create needed policy and programmatic interventions.
- Strengthening advocacy resources within the Phoenix Police Department with respect to sexual assault cases.
- Developing a victim/community outreach program to educate the community at large about sexual assault, the medical forensic exam process, participation with law enforcement, DNA testing, and availability of victim-centered services and support programs.
Governor Ducey Signs Bill to Achieve Justice for Sexual Assault Victims
Arizona's Sexual Assault Laws
Does it matter how old the victim was the time of the incident?
Yes, if the “victim" was under age 15, there are tougher penalties and sanctions in place including longer prison sentences including life in prison without possibility of parole or probation until after serving 35 years.
Sexual assault will land the offender in prison and likely on the Arizona Sex Offender Registry.
The following table highlights the main provisions of Arizona's sexual assault laws.
ARS 13-1406 et seq.
Elements Sexual Assault
||Having sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact with another person without their consent.
Date rape drug used: additional three (3) years added to sentence.
If defendant caused an intentional infliction of "serious physical injury" to the victim during the crime, sentence can become 25 years to life in prison.
Mandatory Sex Registration?
||Yes, defendant will have to register for life as a
||Class two (2) felony, up to 14 years in prison. If the defendant has a prior felony sexual assault conviction up to 21 years in prison. If two (2) or more prior convictions, up to 28 years in prison.
When does a person "lack consent?"
- The victim is coerced by reason of a mental disorder, defect, drugs, alcohol or any type of impairment; AND that impairment/condition is known or should have reasonably been known to the person accused of the crime;
- The victim is intentionally deceived as to the nature of the act;
- The victim is intentionally deceived to erroneously believe that the person is the victim's spouse.
SAKI Grant No. 2016-AK-BX-K001. This Website is funded in whole or in part through a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Website (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructures, and policies, and any services or tools provided).