Criminal Justice Advocacy

Please note: The legal options and laws outlined below provide general information only. VRLC attorneys provide legal assistance to individual sexual assault survivors with housing legal needs related to the assault in Massachusetts and Oregon.

For individual legal advice in Massachusetts, please call us at (617) 399-6720 x19.
For individual legal advice in Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties, Oregon please call us at (503) 274-5477 x6.

If you are interested in pursuing a criminal case against your perpetrator, the first step is typically to report to the police. Below, you will find a brief overview of the criminal justice process. VRLC attorneys are available to speak with you in more detail and discuss the specifics of your case.

In Massachusetts, a criminal case is a case brought by the Commonwealth against the perpetrator. As a sexual assault survivor, you are considered a witness in the case. You are not a party to the case. This means that you have limited ability to influence the criminal case. Only the Commonwealth can ultimately decide whether to pursue charges against the perpetrator, but you should be asked how you would like the case to proceed.

The players in the criminal justice process:

The Victim or Victim-Witness is what the criminal justice process calls the person who was sexually assaulted. As the name suggests, the Victim is a witness in the case. They are not a party to the case and they are not entitled to have a lawyer assigned to them by the court in the way that the perpetrator is. The Victim cannot, as a private citizen, bring criminal charges against the perpetrator. Only the District Attorney may pursue charges against a perpetrator.

The District Attorney represents the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The District Attorney decides which charges to file, whether to proceed to trial, or whether to offer a plea agreement. The District Attorney does not represent the survivor. As a survivor, any conversations you have with the District Attorney are not privileged or confidential. Everything you discuss with the District Attorney may, and in some cases must, be shared with the perpetrator/defendant.

The Victim-Witness Advocate works for the District Attorney’s office. They are supposed to update you about the status of the case and tell you about any scheduled hearings. As a survivor, the Victim-Witness Advocate is not your advocate. Their job is to facilitate communication between victim-witnesses and the District Attorney and help you understand the process; however, they are not there to represent or advocate for your wishes. Just like the with the District Attorney, any conversations you have with the Victim-Witness Advocate are not privileged or confidential. Everything you discuss with the Victim-Witness Advocate may, and in some cases must, be shared with the perpetrator/defendant.

The Police/Detectives investigate crimes. They do not represent individuals. As a survivor, any conversations you have with a police officer are not privileged or confidential. Anything you say to the police may be included in the police report, shared with the perpetrator, or both. The police work closely with the District Attorney to investigate and prosecute crimes. Anything you share with the police may be shared with the District Attorney as well.

The Defendant is what the perpetrator is called by the criminal justice system after they have been charged with a crime.

The Defense Attorney represents the defendant in a criminal case. The Defense Attorney’s job is to advocate for the defendant. The Defense Attorney may hire their own investigator or contact witnesses directly, including the victim. No one is obligated to speak with the Defense Attorney or their investigator.

VRLC Attorneys represent victims of sexual assault. In a criminal case, we can provide support to survivors by making sure they understand the criminal justice process and facilitating communication with the District Attorney’s office. The VRLC cannot make the District Attorney file charges against your perpetrator or push the criminal case forward on your behalf. In very limited circumstances, a VRLC attorney may be able to represent a survivor in the criminal process:

  • If the Defendant asks the court for permission to access your private medical, mental health, school, employment, immigration, or other private records, a VRLC attorney may be able to represent you in court to object to the release of those records.
  • A VRLC attorney may be able to represent you as the victim-witness in a clerk magistrate probable cause hearing. VRLC attorneys cannot represent you if you are a defendant in a probable cause hearing.

Generally, the first step in pursuing a criminal case is to report the sexual assault to the police in the place where you were assaulted. If you are not sure if you want to report, a VRLC attorney can speak with you about your options. If you have already reported, a VRLC attorney can advise you on the criminal justice process and your rights as a victim-witness in the criminal case against the perpetrator.