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Neurobiology of Sexual Assault: Implications for First Responders in Law Enforcement, Prosecution, and Victim Advocacy

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2012
11 pages
This video and transcript of a presentation at the National Institute of Justice's (NIJ's) 2012 Research for the Real World seminar addresses research on the neurobiology of trauma in victims of sexual assault and its implications for the investigation, prosecution, medical examination, and victim advocacy in sexual assault cases.
The presenter - Rebecca Campbell, Professor of Psychology and Program Evaluation at Michigan State University - first reviews the criminal justice research on the problem of sexual-assault case attrition. The research in which she has been involved, along with other research, indicates that as a result of their contact with the legal system, most sexual-assault victims report they come away from these interactions feeling blamed, depressed, anxious, and reluctant to pursue further action by the justice system. Following this overview of research on the causes of high attrition rates for sexual-assault cases, detailed research findings are presented on the biological processes that occur when the brain perceives and experiences an attack on the body. The focus is on the debilitating features of the trauma that occurs. The presentation concludes that the adverse cognitive and emotional effects of sexual assault are not understood by criminal justice and medical personnel who interact with the victim while she is experiencing these trauma effects. The victim is often confused and irrational, causing criminal justice and medical personnel to question whether an attack actually occurred. First responders to sexual assault victims must be trained with scientific information on the features of victimization trauma. This would enable them to better interpret the victim's behavior and emotional states, so as to avoid pre-judging the truthfulness of what the victim says occurred.

Date Published: December 1, 2012