Appendix B. Core Competencies for Prosecuting Sexual Violence1

The essential qualities of a specialized unit or prosecutor are built on a foundation of training, experience, and mentorship, as discussed in the Model Response to Sexual Violence for Prosecutors (RSVP Model). These are core and complementary facets of the skill set that enables prosecutors to make informed decisions at every stage of sexual assault prosecution.

Experience, knowledge, and analytical skills are critical to being able to identify and apply the criminal laws, evidentiary and procedural rules, and case law relevant to sex crime prosecution.

Prosecutors must also be familiar with the most recent research related to sexual violence perpetration, victim behavior, medical and psychological health, forensics, and other relevant scientific developments. This will inform the evaluation, preparation, and litigation of current cases and better prepare prosecutors to incorporate new knowledge into their future work. Prosecutors must understand not only the applicable law, but also the common challenges that arise when investigating and prosecuting these crimes.

The following training topics have been identified as foundational requirements for handling sexual violence cases. Before a prosecutor is assigned a sexual violence case, they should receive training on these topics and review the accompanying research, as well as any new or evolving research.


Training Topics

What is Sexual Violence?

This training will discuss the prevalence and incidence of sexual violence; the goals of prosecution; the general elements of sexual assault statutes; how to implement a victim-centered, offender-focused, trauma-informed approach; offender-victim dynamics; the portrayal and minimization/mischaracterization of sexual violence in popular media as it impacts case prosecutions; and how sexual violence impacts one’s lifespan, i.e., childhood through later life.

As a result of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize the prevalence and incidence of sexual assault across the United States;
  • Articulate the goals of rape and sexual assault case prosecution;
  • Identify the range of conduct covered by — and typical elements contained in — rape and sexual assault statutes;
  • Define victim-centered, trauma-informed, and offender-focused prosecution approaches.


Offender Behaviors: Various Methods of Control

This presentation will provide a comprehensive overview of sex offenders with an emphasis on nonstranger rapists (e.g., motivations and characteristics, myths and misconceptions, serial and crossover offending). It will focus on common misconceptions and false expectations of offender characteristics (e.g., appearance, behavior, use of weapons) and why nonstranger rapists, who do not meet these expectations, are those who frequently elude reporting and prosecution. The presenters will also discuss underserved populations and cultural considerations. The presentation will include video clips of offender interviews to facilitate discussions about issues raised by the videos, including the language used by perpetrators in describing their acts, and how those issues have manifested in the participants’ own cases.

As a result of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Identify evidence of offenders’ predatory behavior (g., force/threat of force, coercion, and exploitation of victim vulnerabilities) to perpetrate their crimes.
  • Focus, from investigation through sentencing, on the offender’s predatory behavior.
  • Develop strategies to educate judges, juries, and their communities about offender charactericstics, thereby overcoming societal myths and misconceptions.


  • David Lisak, Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence, 14 Sexual Assault Rep. (Mar./Apr. 2011), available at
  • Dominique Simons, Chapter 3: Sex Offender Typologies, Sex Offender Mgmt. Assessment and Planning Initiative, (last visited June 9, 2017).
  • Jim Hopper, David Lisak, & Allison Tracy, An Initial Critical Response to Swartout et al.’s (2015) paper in JAMA Pediatrics, “A Trajectory Analysis of the Campus Serial Rapist Assumption” (Jan. 28, 2016),
  • Kevin M. Swartout et al., Trajectories of Male Sexual Aggression from Adolescence Through College: A Latent Class Growth Analysis, 41 Aggressive Behav. 467 (2015).
  • Claire Harwell & David Lisak, Why Rapists Run Free, 5 Fam. & Intimate Partner Violence Q. 175 (2012).
  • Power and Control Wheel, Duluth Abuse Intervention Project, available at (last visited Dec. 10, 2013).

The Link Between Victim Behavior and Neurobiology of Trauma in Sexual Assault

Popular notions of how victims should respond to physical and emotional trauma often conflict with the way victims actually behave. These misconceptions can significantly impact a factfinder’s assessment of victim credibility and, ultimately, the outcome of the case. Victims have individual responses to trauma that are often counterintuitive to public expectations; prosecutors may be unable or unsure of how to explain this to the jury. This presentation will provide an overview of victim dynamics in sexual assault and other gender-based violence crimes, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. See training topics below on Working with Experts to Counter Myths, Explain Victim Behavior.

As a result of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize and understand signs and symptoms of trauma.
  • Recognize the conflict between popular notions of how victims should respond to physical and emotional trauma, and the way victims actually behave.
  • Collaborate with allied professionals to fully integrate a trauma-informed approach.
  • Convey the victim’s experience during jury selection.
  • Counter defense strategies that challenge victim credibility by exploiting popular misconceptions.
  • Apply information about the neurobiology of trauma to the analysis of facts and evidence in their cases.
  • Conduct direct examination that recreates the reality of the crime at trial.


Understanding DNA and its Impact on Sexual Violence Investigations and Prosecutions

Rape cases are admittedly some of the most difficult to prosecute; cold cases present great challenges due to the passage of time. Technological and strategic innovations, along with well-established investigative and prosecutorial best practices, allow prosecutors to breathe warmth and vitality into even the coldest of cases. To hold offenders accountable for crimes committed years ago, prosecutors must work collaboratively with allied professionals to overcome the underlying factors that contributed to the delays in the first place. Effective trial strategies can bring a sense of immediacy to the courtroom as the facts unfold at trial.

This training will focus on the unique challenges to investigating and trying cold case rapes involving offenders known and unknown to the victim, providing strategies to overcome those challenges. The presenter will discuss best practices in sexual assault prosecutions as well as promising practices in response to the time-intensified issues in older cases, such as renewed investigations of dormant cases, victim notification, identification of evidence, pretrial proceedings, and trial strategy.

As a result of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize that DNA is an ever-developing field of study with specific nuances and application to sexual violence prosecution.
  • Use forensic evidence to identify defendants, link them to other crimes, and introduce other-acts evidence.
  • Develop and implement practices that reduce or eliminate untested kits.
  • Anticipate and overcome legal challenges relevant to cold case prosecution.


Working with Experts to Counter Myths, Explain Victim Behavior

The public has deeply-rooted beliefs about sexual violence and about how victims of sexual assault should behave. The realities of sexual violence are quite different. Experienced professionals familiar with dynamics of sexual violence understand victims have individual responses to trauma that are often counterintuitive to public expectations. Without the benefit of a proper explanation, however, jurors may wrongly interpret a victim’s actions during and after an assault as reasons to doubt the victim’s testimony. Expert testimony to explain victim behavior is often the best way to dispel myths and assist the jury to make an informed decision based on the evidence, viewed in its proper context.

This training will describe the impact of trauma on victims, including cognitive and behavioral reactions, and will discuss the effect of common victim behaviors and responses on factfinders’ assessments of victim credibility. It will discuss the law related to the prosecution’s introduction of expert testimony on victim behavior and responses to trauma, how to identify experts qualified to testify on this subject, and what the parameters of such testimony should be. See the training topic above on the Link Between Understanding Victim Behavior and the Neurobiology of Trauma and Understanding Sexual Assault.

As a result of this training, the participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize victim behaviors that may require explanation at trial.
  • Identify and work with experts to prepare a case for trial.
  • Educate judges and juries about victim behaviors and dispel myths.
  • Apply necessary law in order to introduce expert testimony at trial.
  • Use experts to explain victim behavior and counter defense attempts to use a victim’s behavior and responses to trauma to undermine their credibility.


Evaluating Sexual Assault Reports

When first made aware of a sexual assault report, prosecutors should review all police reports to determine what charges may apply and what, if any, further investigation should be conducted. To be effective, prosecutorial decisions must be driven by the most current and accurate scientific, social science, and legal research. Informed prosecutorial discretion and decision-making allows prosecutors to consider all admissible evidence, including specialized knowledge that can be provided by experts, and assume juries will not be irredeemably tainted by bias and myth. The duty of prosecutors is not only to implement the “law on the books” but to recognize the devastating harm resulting from assaults historically considered less than “real rape.” Prosecutors should talk with law enforcement about the reasons behind decisions and accentuate the value of thorough investigation and research-informed decision-making. Ultimately, it is the prosecutor’s ethical duty to exercise appropriate charging discretion that translates the law on the books into action.

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to: 

  • Evaluate sexual assault reports through a research-informed lens.
  • Identify corroborative evidence to strengthen a case.
  • Promote more thorough investigations.


Understanding and Analyzing Relevant Rules of Evidence

The rules of evidence provide the basic guidelines for determining both the relevance and the admissibility of evidence at trial. Sexual assault cases provide unique opportunities to re-examine the accepted analysis of many of the rules and to rethink their underlying purpose. For example, Federal Rule of Evidence 412, commonly referred to as rape shield, excludes evidence related to a victim’s sexual history unless it fits within defined exceptions.

The analysis of this rule in the caselaw is rarely informed by the research revealing the irrelevance of such evidence to consent and credibility. Other examples include Federal Rules of Evidence 404, 413, and 414, which govern the admissibility of a defendant’s prior “bad acts” and/or propensity to commit sexual assault. Proper admission of such evidence requires careful identification and articulation of the proper purpose for which it is offered.

Finally, in many cases. fear, shame, a relationship with the perpetrator, the actual or perceived stigma of victimization, or other factors can interfere with the ability or willingness of victims to participate in the prosecution. In such cases, prosecutors must determine whether the case can proceed without the victim. A solid understanding of the rules of evidence, particularly the rules concerning hearsay, is crucial to success in proving a case without the victim’s testimony.  Also critical is a thorough understanding of Crawford v. Washington and its progeny, the dynamics of and legal remedies for witness intimidation, and the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing.

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to:

  • Evaluate the admissibility of evidence, including rape shield evidence, character evidence, other-acts evidence, and out-of-court statements.
  • Argue for the admissibility or exclusion of such evidence.
  • Build a case that does not depend on the victim’s testimony


Integrating a Trauma-Informed Response & Interviewing Victims

Trauma is an individual response to a physically or emotionally harmful event or events. Short- and long-term reactions to trauma manifest in a variety of behaviors that may impact a victim’s willingness to participate in the criminal justice process. In order to keep victims safe and engaged throughout the process, allied professionals must ensure their decision-making and interactions with victims take into account the wide-ranging effects of trauma.

This training will identify barriers to successful interviews in sexual violence and intimate partner violence cases, and explore techniques to overcome them. The presenter will focus on how effective interviewing skills and goals encompass more than a traditional fact-finding focus of prosecution, and emphasize integrating a trauma-informed response. The presenter will also identify various forms of questions that may be employed in the “funnel approach,” which involves a questioning structure that moves from general information to more incident-specific questions, and the “timeline approach,” which involves a more chronological, story-telling approach.

At the conclusion of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma.
  • Conduct thoughtful and effective victim interviews.
    Build rapport with victims and encourage them to cooperate in the offender’s prosecution.
    Collaborate with allied professionals to fully integrate a trauma-informed response.
    Explain victim behavior at trial.


  • Amy Cohn et al., Correlates of Reasons for Not Reporting Rape to Police: Results from a National Telephone Household Probability Sample of Women with Forcible or Drug-or-Alcohol Facilitated/Incapacitated Rape, 28(3) Interpersonal Violence (455-73 (2013).
  • Arnold S. Kahn, Calling it Rape: Differences in Experiences of Women Who Do or Do Not Label Their Sexual Assault as Rape, 27 Women Q. 233 (2003).
  • Rebecca Campbell et al., Understanding Rape Survivors’ Decisions Not to Seek Help From Formal Social Systems, 34(2) Health Soc. Work 127 (May 2009).
  • Recording by Viktoria Kristiansson & Olga Trujillo, Integrating a Trauma-Informed Response, (recorded on Sept. 16, 2014).
  • Saba Masho & Anika Alvanzo, Help-Seeking Behaviors of Men Sexual Assault Survivors, 4(3) J. Mens Health 237-42 (Sept. 2010).
  • Sandra L. Bloom, Understanding the Impact of Sexual Assault: The Nature of Traumatic Experience, Sexual Assault: Victimization Across The Lifespan 405-32 (A. Giardino, E. Datner & J. Asher, Eds., GW Medical Publishing 2003).
  • K. Logan, Lucy Evans, Erin Stevenson & Carol E. Jordan, Barriers to Services for Rural and Urban Survivors of Rape, 20(5) J. Interpersonal Violence 591-616 (May 2005).
  • Theodore Cross et al., Child Forensic Interviewing In Children’s Advocacy Centers: Empirical Data On A Practice Model, 31 Child Abuse & Neglect 1031-52 (2007),
  • Viktoria Kristiansson & Charlene Whitman-Barr, Integrating a Trauma-Informed Response in Violence Against Women and Human Trafficking Prosecutions, AEquitas, 13 Strategies (Feb. 2015), available at

Effectively Using Medical Evidence and Experts

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) provide extensive medical, psychological, and forensic services for patients who present following sexual assault. Although SANEs strive to effectively coordinate with law enforcement, prosecution, and advocacy partners, the role of the SANE is by definition an independent and objective one, with priorities defined by the needs of the individual patient, rather than the investigation of the reported sexual assault. This concept of the SANE as a healthcare provider is a critical one.

In order to effectively work with SANEs as experts in sexual assault prosecutions, it is important to understand the role of the SANE in providing care, documenting findings, and collecting evidence during the administration of a forensic exam. This training will focus on the content of a medical forensic examination, strengths and limitations of medical evidence, and use of SANEs as fact and/or expert witnesses.

At the conclusion of this training participants will be better able to:

  • Identify and discuss the role of SANEs as independent and objective health care providers.
  • Utilize appropriate medical-forensic language and anatomical terms.
  • Provide or elicit effective direct examination testimony related to medical evidence.
  • Educate judges and juries about medical evidence and the process of medical examinations.
  • Qualify the SANE to provide expert testimony.


  • Forensic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, Int’l Ass’n. Forensic Nurses (2009).
  • A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations: Adults/Adolescents 2d ed., Office on Violence Against Women (2013),
  • Jenifer Markowitz, A Prosecutor’s Reference: Medical Evidence and the Role of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in Cases Involving Adult Victims, AEquitas (Dec. 2010), available at
  • Jenifer Markowitz, Absence of Anogenital Injury, 13 Strategies in Brief (Oct. 2012), available at
  • Rossman et al., Genital Trauma Associated with Forced Digital Penetration, 22 Am. J. Emerg. Med. 101-04 (2004).
  • Slaughter & C.R. Brown, Cervical Findings in Rape Victims, 164 Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 528-29 (1991).
  • Marilyn Sawyer Sommers et al., Injury Patterns in Women Resulting From Sexual Assault, 2 Trauma, Violence, Abuse 240-58 (2001).
  • Rebecca Campbell et al., Predicting Sexual Assault Prosecution Outcomes: The Role of Medical Forensic Evidence collected by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, 36 Just. & Behav. 712-27 (2009).
  • Rebecca Campbell et al., Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners’ Experiences Providing Expert Witness Court Testimony, 3 J Forensic Nursing 7-14 (Spring 2007).

Alcohol-Facilitated Sexual Assault (AFSA)

Alcohol is the most common weapon used to facilitate sexual assault. Offenders use alcohol because it renders victims vulnerable, affects memory, and impairs judgment and physical ability. Its unique toxicological effects, widespread use, and ease of consumption make it ideal for offenders who commit sexual assaults. Of course, some of the same factors that make alcohol such a perfect weapon also present unique challenges for investigators, prosecutors, and other allied professionals in alcohol-facilitated sexual assault (AFSA) cases.

This training will explore common issues and challenges related to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases where alcohol is present. More specifically, it will focus on identifying corroborating evidence, interviewing victims, basic toxicology, effects of societal attitudes about alcohol on determinations of victim credibility, and trial strategies. In addition, this presentation will promote a victim-centered response that incorporates offender-focused strategies for an effective trauma-informed investigation and prosecution.

At the conclusion of this training, participants will be better able to: 

  • Develop strategies to investigate sexual assault cases where alcohol is present.
  • Overcome challenges related to sexual assault prosecution where alcohol is present.
  • Collaborate with allied professionals to promote a victim-centered response that incorporates offender-focused strategies.
  • Identify cases appropriate for expert testimony to explain effects of alcohol.


Technology-Facilitated Sexual Assault

The ways we interact with technology continue to increase and evolve as we rely on computers, smart phones, and other digital devices to complete many of our daily activities. As technology becomes more integral to modern life, offenders increasingly misuse it to facilitate crimes against women and assert power and control in intimate-partner relationships. When technology is used to perpetrate crimes, investigators and prosecutors can identify, preserve, and present digital evidence to strengthen cases, support victims, and hold offenders accountable for the full range of their criminal abuse.

This training will demonstrate how cyber investigations can reveal evidence of criminal activity, as well as evidence of the power and control dynamics in an abusive intimate partner relationship. It will address theories of admission, rules of evidence, and case law – using “real life” examples to demonstrate how to properly authenticate and introduce digital evidence in civil and criminal proceedings.

At the conclusion of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Identify ways offenders misuse technology to perpetrate crimes and assert power and control against intimate partners.
  • Coordinate with allied professionals to better identify sources of digital evidence that can be used to strengthen prosecutions.
  • Effectively litigate the admission of digital evidence by analyzing applicable evidence rules, current case law, and underlying theories of admission.


Prosecuting Cases Involving Victims with Developmental Disabilities: A Focus on Sexual Assault

People with developmental disabilities face myriad issues and unique challenges when encountering the justice system. The traumatic impact of sexual assault may further exacerbate already-existing issues; developmental disabilities may impact a victim’s participation in a criminal investigation and testimony at trial. Prosecutors must be prepared to address the impact of the developmental disability on the victim and dynamics of the crime – particularly when assessing offender behaviors, victim selection, and steps taken to perpetrate the crime.

This presentation prepares prosecutors to anticipate issues and evidence prior to trial; file and argue pretrial motions; develop trial strategies that take into account the victim’s intellectual or developmental disabilities, as well as any mental health issues; introduce relevant evidence at trial while excluding the irrelevant; and consider appropriate sentencing options.

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to:

  • Identify pretrial motions prosecutors can file to support victims with developmental disabilities during trial.
  • Utilize experts during preparation, trial, and sentencing.
  • Assess admissibility of corroborative evidence.
  • Evaluate sentencing options and post-conviction considerations. 


Safeguarding Victim Privacy: A Plan of Action For Prosecutors

Victims of gender-based violence often disclose intimate details of their private lives and victimization to multiple professionals over the course of their case. As prosecutors, we have an obligation to provide to the defense all evidence in the government’s possession or control that is material to a defendant’s guilt or punishment. How can we fulfill that obligation, while at the same time safeguarding victim privacy against unnecessary disclosure? Filing motions for protective orders and vigorously opposing defense demands for irrelevant private information is an important part of trial practice for any prosecutor responsible for these sensitive cases.

This training will identify categories of confidential and/or privileged victim information and records; discuss threshold requirements for defense attempts to obtain such information or for in camera review of records; and suggest pretrial and trial strategies that protect victim privacy, including collaboration with allied professionals to safeguard private information.

At the conclusion of this webinar, participants will be better able to:

  • Identify information and records that may be confidential and/or privileged.
  • Prepare motions to protect victim privacy.
  • Successfully respond to defense attempts to obtain confidential records.


Violence Against Sexually Exploited Persons

Almost all sexually exploited women, whether involved trafficking victims or commercial sexual exploitation, experience some degree of violence – regardless of the venue or type of activity in which they find themselves. Incidents of physical assault, rape, incest, sexual assault, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, stalking, torture, degradation, and humiliation perpetrated by traffickers, pimps, johns, and others are common.

Significantly, violence against sexually exploited women, whether trafficked or not, often ends in death. Even in jurisdictions where the link between violence against women and sexual exploitation is recognized, criminal justice professionals often adopt a siloed approach to such crimes – treating them as distinct crimes, rather than ones which overlap and co-occur. Gaps in the system’s response too often result in failures to identify and protect sexually exploited women who are or may become violent crime victims.

This training will focus on the importance of collaboration among prosecutors and allied professionals with expertise working in violent crimes against women; organized crime, narcotics, and gangs; and to address the legal and advocacy needs of victims. In addition, the presentation will discuss pathways to, and public health effects of, sexual exploitation; the identification of victims and perpetrators; resources available to them through existing programs; and ways to more effectively respond to sexual exploitation.

At the conclusion of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Recognize indicators and victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
  • Identify health risks and consequences of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
  • Establish partnerships with governmental and non-governmental agencies to create a victim support network.
  • Collaborate with allied professionals to more effectively investigate and prosecute cases of sexual exploitation and trafficking.


Prosecuting Sexual Assault Cases

This presentation will address how a sexual assault case is prosecuted. Participants will present and argue previously assigned pretrial motions, openings, closings, direct/cross examinations, and other trial scenarios.


  • Christopher Mallios & Toolsi Meisner, Educating Juries in Sexual Assault Cases Part I: Using Voir Dire to Eliminate Jury Bias, 2 Strategies (July 2010),
  • Lisa Frohmann, Discrediting Victims’ Allegations of Sexual Assault: Prosecutorial Accounts of Case Rejections, 38 Soc. Problems 213-26 (1991),
  • Michelle Anderson, From Chastity Requirement to Sexuality License: Sexual Consent and New Rape Shield Law, 70 Wash. L. Rev. 51 (2002).
  • Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking, Off. Just. Programs, Sex Offender Mgmt. Res. Literature Rev.
  • Louis Ellison & Vannessa Munro, Complainant Credibility & General Expert Witness Testimony in Rape Trials: Exploring and Influencing Mock Juror Perceptions, Nottingham, U. Leeds (2009).

Ethical Issues in Sexual Assault Prosecutions

A prosecutor is “the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer… It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.”2 Justice in sexual violence cases requires prosecutors to have a firm grasp of their legal obligations as well as their ethical responsibilities throughout each stage of the criminal justice process. Sexual violence cases present unique ethical challenges related to victim privacy and confidentiality, prosecutorial discretion, recantation, and disclosure of evidence.

This training addresses the ethical considerations outlined above in the context of trial publicity, charging decisions, immunity, and prosecutor’s investigative function. Hypothetical case scenarios will challenge prosecutors to evaluate their decision-making with regards to ethical principles.

At the conclusion of this training, participants will be better able to:

  • Identify legal obligations in the prosecution of sexual violence.
  • Articulate ethical responsibilities at each stage of the criminal justice process.
  • Navigate challenges related to prosecutorial discretion, recantation, and evidence disclosure.
  • Approach charging decisions, immunity, trial publicity, and compulsion of victim testimony within an ethical framework.


Recording by Christopher Mallios & John Wilkinson, Ethical Considerations for Prosecutors in Sexual Violence Cases, (recorded on Aug. 2, 2013).


1 These core competencies were adapted from the curriculum from the law school field practicum course, Prosecuting Sexual Violence: Applying Research to Practice, taught annually by AEquitas CEO Jennifer Long at Georgetown University Law Center.

2 Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).