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Evaluating the use and usefulness of Victim Impact Statements in sexual assault cases

Janice A. Du Mont, EdD, Tonia Forte, MSc, and Karen-Lee Miller, MA, MSW. Centre for Research in Women's Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, 790 Bay Street, 7th Floor, Toronto, ON M5G 1N8, Canada, 416.351.3800 ext. 2752, tonia.forte@sw.ca

The Victim Impact Statement (VIS) details victim impressions of physical, emotional, psychological and financial impacts of a crime, and is introduced at the time of sentencing. First used in Canada and the United States in the 1980’s, the VIS is presumed to fulfill ‘communicative’ and ‘instrumental’ goals. The first goal involves directly communicating the extent of harm experienced; the second assists in determining an appropriate sentence. Victims often participate in the VIS due to beliefs that it will impact sentence severity. To date, there have been no investigations of the VIS specific to sexual assault. We examined adult female sexual assault cases heard in Ontario, Canada during 1993 to 2001. Cases (n =221) were selected from Canada’s most comprehensive on-line legal information system, Quicklaw, with information extracted onto a data-coding instrument. Over three fifths (67.9%) of victims were found to have been vaginally and/or anally penetrated, and almost one third (31.7%) sustained physical injuries. Only half (51.2%) completed a VIS. The most common type of harms cited included emotional/psychological (74.7%); concerns for safety/security (32.2%); disturbance in family/social relationships (28.7%); pain/modifications to lifestyle (19.5%); and physical injury (17.2%). Multivariate analysis determined VIS completion was not related to increased sentence length. This finding may provide evidence-based guidance for victim services that are increasingly directing resources towards helping victims complete the VIS. These services should direct sexually assaulted women’s focus away from any possible instrumental impact to avoid distress when their personal accounts of harm appear not to be reflected in sentence lengths.

Learning Objectives:

  • At the conclusion of the session, participants will be able to

    Keywords: Sexual Assault, Women's Health

    Presenting author's disclosure statement:
    I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

    Intimate Partner Violence: Effective Interventions

    The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA