Join me and Fred Day — the Chief of the Sex Crimes Division of the Lake County States Attorneys Office — as we discuss sex crimes: what makes these cases special, why a separate division was created for them, evidence issues, and common scenarios.
Meet Attorney Fred Day: Once a Secret Service Agent; and Now, the Chief of the Sex Crimes Division of the Lake County State’s Attorneys Office
Fred Day, has long had an interest in being a prosecutor — especially as the son of a police officer. Mr. Day interned at the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office while in law school, and continued working there as a prosecutor upon graduation. He started in the Traffic and Misdemeanor Divisions as a law student, practicing under his 711 license. As an attorney, he later worked in a variety of areas of the office, including domestic violence, juvenile, drug and felonies. Mr. Day took a break from prosecuting in Lake County and worked as a federal agent for the Secret Service. He enjoyed working the investigative side of prosecuting and assisted in the collection of evidence for attorneys prosecuting in different state and federal criminal justice departments.
How the Sex Crimes Division Was Formed
Mr. Day returned to The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office and worked in the Felony Division. Gradually, Mr. Day worked more and more cases involving child abuse, as well as sexual abuse. When a large state grant allowed for the permanent assignment of a prosecutor at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Gurnee, Mr. Day oversaw better and more effective investigation and prosecution of cases involving the abuse of children, because he was involved from the earliest stages of the case. After Mike Nerheim was elected Lake County State’s Attorney, Nerheim formed the Sex Crimes Division, naming Mr. Day as the Chief of that division.
Why Do Sex Crimes Require Unique Handling?
The basis for the formation of the Sex Crimes Division was the idea that cases involving sex crime required unique consideration. It is important to the victims and families — as well as the community and the accused — that such cases be handled in a manner called “vertical prosecution.” This is where the same prosecutor will handle the case from the very beginning when the crime is reported, and the police are involved, all the way to the final disposition. That way, the prosecutor knows all of the facts of the case and is in the best position to know what the best outcome of the case should be.
Also, the prosecutors need to be cognizant of how they to talk to child victims; they must evaluate the child’s developmental needs and abilities as well as the best way to obtain a statement that is not contaminated by violating evidentiary standards. Moreover, it is very difficult for any person, especially a child, to come forward to report such abuse. According to Mr. Day, statistics report that 98% of sexual assault cases are never reported. In the case of a child, it is even more difficult to disclose any kind of abuse as in most cases, the offender is someone known to the child.
Blaming the Victim/Survivor
According to Attorney Day, society — especially the jury pool — tends to try and place blame on the victim, or as Mr. Day puts it, the “survivor” of a sexual assault. The reason for this may be that we, as a society, want to think that we would never be assaulted. We would rather believe that the victim/survivor did something to invite such an assault; action that we would never undertake — such as dress in a provocative way or walk alone at night in a certain place. However, according to Attorney Day the only person responsible for the assault is the perpetrator who committed the act; not the victim/survivor. Day stated that victim/survivors need to be empowered to come forward with their reports. Juries and the public also need to put the responsibility on the perpetrator, not the victim.
Meeting the Challenges of Sex Crime Cases with Evidence
According to Mr. Day, the most important safeguard and protection for anyone is the presumption of innocence; that is the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, there is a statute in Illinois that allows certain evidence to be considered that might otherwise be considered prejudicial and not be allowed.
For example, one such statute is called “Evidence in Certain Cases” and may allow a mere allegation — not a conviction — to come in to evidence in order to show someone had a propensity to commit a certain crime (even if there were no charge). This can be particularly important in sexual assault cases, particularly of children as child victims may have little support and it can be the child’s word against the word of the perpetrator.
Additionally, an exception to the hearsay rule is recognized in sex abuse cases, especially with children under 13. The hearsay rule generally states that a person cannot testify about what another person told them or out of court statements. The Court may allow an exception to the hearsay rule and allow another person to testify about what the child victim/survivor told them about the abuse, as it can be extremely difficult for a child to testify about such abuse in court in the presence of the accused.
There are many situations that can put our children at risk; whether it is from an online predator who is targeting a child for eventual abuse or a teenager going to party without supervision. Attorney Day stated that the best way to prevent such scenarios is to lay the groundwork when your children are young. Mr. Day stated that there is a maxim of human trafficking: “If you’re not going to be a parent to your kid, someone else will be”. Be involved with your children’s lives at a young age and continue that involvement throughout their childhood.
What Can You Do About Sexual Assault/Violence?
Day encourages citizens to get involved with the issues of sexual violence/assault by educating themselves about this topic; particularly with regard to children. Realize how difficult it is to disclose such information, and if someone should tell you they are such a victim, listen to their story and support them. Being willing to listen to a victim/survivor and offering them support is a step toward combating sexual violence.