If a woman says she has been raped, don't tell her she needs corroborative evidence or that she needs to decide immediately whether she wants to press charges.
That was the advice offered to MIT deans, ombudspersons, resident advisors and other members of the community by the Middlesex County District Attorney's office during a two-day workshop about rape and domestic violence.
"One fallacy is that a rape kit is required for prosecution. Actually it's rare to have one. In almost all sexual assault cases, it's one person's word against another," said Sara Concannon of the District Attorney's Adult Sexual Assault Division. "We would prefer some sort of corroborative evidence and will go back and look for that, but a person's word is evidence."
Reporting, medical attention and investigation should begin immediately, but the victim has 15 years to make the decision to prosecute in Massachusetts. Another fallacy is that being forced into oral sex isn't rape, because oral sex isn't sex. "You and I know that oral sex is sex, but an 18-year-old doesn't," said Assistant District Attorney Nora Mann.
A final observation from Mann:
"We tell kids, 'Don't have sex with somebody you don't know and don't have sex with somebody who's drunk.' And they look at us like we're crazy and say, 'There goes my social life.'"
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 5, 2003.