Jane Doe reporting is an alternative for rape victims

At least 60 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported in the United States, according to the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. And that, they say, is a conservative estimate.

There are many reasons victims of sexual assault choose not to report. But one can be a reluctance to speak with law enforcement.


Jane Doe reporting is a form of reporting that allows a victim to receive medical care and forensic evidence testing — valuable in court, but nearly impossible to collect after 120 hours following a rape — for free and without reporting to law enforcement right away.

Recent changes to the Maryland code set a standard that the evidence collected from the forensic testing, known commonly as a rape kit, must be preserved for 20 years. Previously, some institutions in the state were destroying this evidence in as little as three months, according to MCASA. Many victims do not come forward to law enforcement until months or even years after a sexual assault, according to the MCASA.

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, Rape Crisis Intervention Services of Carroll County held a free training session on Jane Doe reporting, presented by MCASA and held at Carroll Hospital.

Elizabeth Wynkoop, a program coordinator at MCASA, led the free presentation, which was attended by law enforcement, social services, sexual assault advocates and medical professionals.

The deadline to register for a free training session on optional delayed reporting of sexual assault is Monday, Aug. 21.

Janice Kispert, CEO of RCIS, said the training brought together the various agencies that handle sexual assault in the county and made sure everyone was receiving the same information.

Wynkoop said spreading information about Jane Doe reporting, also known as forensic compliance and anonymous reporting, has benefits for both victims of sexual assault and law enforcement.

She said Jane Doe reporting is not usually an option chosen by victims who would have reported to law enforcement. It's more commonly a way to reach people who would never have reported at all.

Giving victims the option of Jane Doe reporting can also prevent them from dropping out of the justice system completely, which Wynkoop said can happen when victims report to law enforcement before they're ready.


"The justice system is not made to be healing," she explained. The demands of pursuing criminal action against a rapist can retraumatize a victim, she said. This can be dangerous for the victim's mental health and cause them to stop working with law enforcement.

Victims who initially choose Jane Doe reporting may choose to pursue full reporting to law enforcement later, for various reasons, Wynkoop said. The forensic evidence included in the rape kit often makes the prosecution more convincing to a jury.

In the presentation, Wynkoop focused on the neurological effects of trauma to the brain. Under threat, the brain switches control from its rational processing center to the amygdala, the area that controls emergency response. When a person is being assaulted, they may act in ways that don't make rational sense, including freezing up completely.

The two sexual assaults in Westminster are still under investigation.

If a victim feels they will be judged for their actions during a sexual assault, they may choose not to report. Another factor is the cocktail of hormones that are released during a traumatic event, which can affect decision-making for days afterward, Wynkoop said.

Many other factors can lead to a victim choosing not to report or choosing to report later. These include an assault that involved drugs or alcohol, a victim's relationship to the perpetrator, fear of retaliation from the perpetrator, fear of police bias, pressure from family or the community, and frustration due to the low rates of conviction in rape cases.

In the latter part of the presentation, Wynkoop focused on best practices for handling Jane Doe reporting and the steps that should be taken by various agencies. Some of the biggest challenges in Maryland right now, she said, are coordinating between hospitals and clinics and law enforcement agencies to determine who will store rape kits, and who will notify victims if a kit has surpassed 20 years.


Collaboration between different agencies is the best way to improve how responders deal with sexual assault reporting, she said.

"Having this coordinated community response, to talk through some of those issues, work out who's doing what … is a really powerful and effective way of dealing with some of these questions," she said.

Services for victims of sexual assault are available 24 hours a day through the RCIS hotline at 410-857-7322.