National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is April 18–24, 2021, and the entire month is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The theme for this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is “Support Victims. Build Trust. Engage Communities.”

Each year, the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office takes this opportunity to reflect on and fortify its commitment to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The DA’s office prioritizes victim engagement in a number of ways: maintaining a Special Victims Unit; employing a team of Victim Assistant Coordinators and finally, forming alliances with community partners who serve and advocate for victims throughout the community.

These community partners include the Gingerbread House, the Cara Center, the Family Justice Center, and Project Celebration.

Community alliances are especially important to the effort to recognize and combat sex crimes, as the prosecution relies heavily on evidence gathered at the Gingerbread House and the CARA Center. The staff of the Gingerbread House conduct forensic interviews of children and mentally incapacitated adults, who are either the victims of sexual assault or witnesses to violent crimes. The forensic interviewer records the session with the child and provides the recording to the prosecution. Often, in those recorded sessions, victims will disclose the sexual crimes committed against them. The Cara Center medical staff conducts physical evaluations of abuse victims to determine injuries and treatment.  The facility is then able to provide reports and other evidence to the DA’s office to aid in the prosecution of those who abuse children.

In league with national observations, the Caddo DA’s office is turning special attention to the victims of sexual assault.

This year, in recognition of National Crime Victims’ Week and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Caddo DA’s office will participate in a fundraiser for Project Celebration’s sexual assault victims and take part in a ribbon campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault.

In 1998, the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because it held that the victim’s jeans were so tight that in order to be raped, the victim must have helped the attacker remove her jeans, thereby making the act “consensual.” Of course that was ludicrous, and in fact a decade later the same court reversed its ruling, eliminating the “denim defense.” But since 1998, April 29 has been observed as Denim Day, with participants wearing jeans to raise awareness about victims of sexual assault. The DA’s staff will pay money for the privilege of wearing jeans on that day. All money raised will go to Project Celebration’s advocacy program to assist sexual assault victims.

The Special Victims Unit DA Stewart launched handles the most serious sexual violence crimes. Last year, the DA’s office worked more than 100 felony sexual assault cases. Felony sex crimes include rape, molestation of juveniles, indecent behavior with juveniles and carnal knowledge cases where the offender is four years older than the victim.

Title 46 of the criminal code provides a list of rights that the law affords to crime victims. Such rights include notification of judicial proceedings, emergency medical and social services, the right to be heard during the process and the right to come before the court to weigh in on the defendant’s sentence.

“Victims are the centerpiece of what we do,” says Caddo parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. “Our goal is to make sure that victims are protected and informed. Sometimes there is a long road to justice and that can be frustrating and stressful for our victims. But we do everything that we can to address their needs and be their voices throughout the process.”