Glossary / Examples of Statements
Allegation: An allegation under Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) guidelines is “a complaint of sexual abuse, that after preliminary investigation by a member of the Sexual Assault Unit (SAU),” the SAU determines “lacks the criteria of a sexual abuse offense.” Examples of cases that the MPD’s Standard Operation Procedures might consider allegations include cases in which there are inconsistencies that require follow up, or cases in which the complainant: provides contradictory statements, had sex but is unsure if a crime occurred, is unresponsive, is too intoxicated to talk, or is referred from another jurisdiction.
Clearance By Arrest: A law enforcement agency reports that an offense is cleared by arrest, or solved for crime reporting purposes, when any of three specific conditions have been met: that at least one person has been arrested; charged with the commission of the offense; or turned over to the court for prosecution (whether following arrest, court summons, or police notice).
Exceptional Clearance: Under FBI guidelines, an offense may be cleared by exceptional means when elements beyond the control of law enforcement prevent an offender from being arrested. To exceptionally clear an offense, the law enforcement agency must have met the following four conditions: identified the offender; gathered enough evidence to support an arrest, make a charge, and turn over the offender to the court for prosecution; identified the offender’s exact location so that the suspect could be taken into custody immediately; and encountered a circumstance outside the control of law enforcement that prohibits the agency from arresting, charging, and prosecuting the offender. Examples of circumstances that lead to exceptional clearances include: the death of the offender; the victim’s refusal to cooperate with the prosecution after the offender has been identified; or the denial of extradition because the offender committed a crime in another jurisdiction and is being prosecuted for that offense. At the MPD, cases may also be considered closed exceptionally if a prosecutor has declined a request for an arrest warrant for lack of prosecutorial merit. This is also known as an administrative closure.
Forensic Evidence Kit: Following a forensic exam, the various swabs and samples collected are placed in separate envelopes (or tubes) and are labeled, sealed, and put in one large envelope—the forensic evidence kit (sometimes referred to as a “rape kit” or Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit).
Forensic Exam: A procedure conducted by a health professional that usually takes four hours, involving a head-to-toe examination of the victim’s body, a pelvic exam, and a collection of biological samples from the victim’s body. Forensic exams are typically offered to victims who report within up to 96-120 hours of their assault, though in some circumstances it may be possible to collect evidence beyond that period.
Miscellaneous Cases: See Office Information.
MPD: Metropolitan Police Department. The primary law enforcement agency for the District of Columbia.
Office Information: Under MPD guidelines, a complaint of sexual abuse can be deemed an office information after preliminary investigation by a member of the Sexual Assault Unit, when it involves any of the following: “an arrest of a sex offender in another jurisdiction; a report of an offense that occurred in another jurisdiction (information that can possibly be used in the future); sexual activity that is not a crime; and no crime was deemed to have occurred.” Once a complaint is classified as “office information,” no further investigation is conducted or required. Police sometimes further classify these cases as “miscellaneous” or “sick [or injured] person to hospital,” but they still fall under the general broad category of cases that are not investigated but documented only for “office information” purposes.
OVS: Office of Victim Services, in the Executive Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. The OVS oversees the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program at Washington Hospital Center—the designated hospital for care of adult sexual assault victims in the District.
PD-251s: The MPD’s incident/offense reports, which the responding officer or detective is supposed to take any time a crime complaint is made.
Rape Kit: See Forensic Evidence Kit.
SANE: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. According to the MPD, the SANE program in D.C. “provides compassionate and timely medical care available twenty-four (24) hours a day to adult sexual assault victims (eighteen (18) years of age or older) during forensic examinations while ensuring that the evidence is properly collected and preserved. Nurses who conduct the examinations under the program have received specialized training to prepare them to perform forensic examinations in sexual assault cases, to serve as expert witnesses in court cases, and to understand the emotional and psychological impact of sexual assault on victims.”
SART (or SARRT): Sexual Assault Response Team (or Sexual Assault Response and Resource Team). A community based approach in which public and private agencies work together to respond to cases of sexual assault. In Washington D.C., the SART team includes representatives from Washington Hospital Center, the US Attorney’s Office, the MPD’s Sexual Assault Unit, the Office of Victim Services, the US Park Police, and the D.C. Rape Crisis Center.
SAU: Sexual (or Sex) Assault Unit. This is the unit within the MPD that is charged with investigating all sexual offenses within the District of Columbia involving adult victims (age 18 and over). It includes “cold case” sexual assault unit detectives. The Sex Offender Registry Unit also falls under the Sexual Assault Unit.
Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit: According to the MPD, “an evidence collection kit used to obtain evidence from a sexual assault victim.” See Forensic Evidence Kit
SOP: Standard Operating Procedures for the Sexual Assault Unit. These are the MPD’s guidelines for the investigation of sexual assaults.
UCR: Uniform Crime Report. A program within the FBI that collects, publishes, and archives national crime statistics.
Unfounding: This occurs when an investigation reveals that no offense occurred, nor was attempted. Under the FBI guidelines, a case can only be “unfounded” if it is “determined through investigation to be false or baseless. In other words, no crime occurred.” For a case to be considered officially “unfounded” at the MPD, a detective is supposed to prepare a written report, which must be approved by a supervisor.
VAWA: Violence Against Women Act, originally passed by Congress in 1994 to enhance the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. Under VAWA, victims of sexual assault treated at the SANE center are not required to speak with law enforcement.
WACIIS: Washington Area Criminal Intelligence Information System. An internal database of the MPD containing crime investigation records.
WHC: Washington Hospital Center. The designated hospital for forensic exams for adult sexual assault victims in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
Examples of Statements that Human Rights Watch Heard or Reviewed about the Metropolitan Police Department’s Handling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia
By failing to classify the crime committed against me as an attempted rape or sexual assault, by ignoring my account of the story, you condemn me to a life where I mistrust the police, abandon any faith I possessed in the criminal justice system, and you have caused me more victimization than the actual perpetrator of the crime committed against me. Moreover, you fail the community you have sworn to protect… —Letter from Eleanor G., survivor of a 2011 attempted sexual assault, to MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, October 4, 2011
Reporting to the police was far more traumatizing than the rape itself. —Susan D. (pseudonym), describing interaction with the MPD in March 2011
[The detectives] told me that they did not want to waste their time with me … that no one was going to believe my report and that he didn’t even want to file it…. When I called to get the police report number [the detective] told me it was a ‘miscellaneous’ report…. This is not ‘miscellaneous’ THIS IS RAPE! —Maya T. (pseudonym), complaint form, MPD Office of Police Complaints, May 9, 2011
They just didn’t listen to me, they made me feel completely ashamed of myself, they made me feel like I was lying or like I was too stupid to understand what happened to me, that I was trying to make something a big deal that wasn’t that big of a deal. —Eleanor G., describing her interaction with the MPD in 2011
It tore me up that he did not believe me and he made it clear to me that he didn't believe me. Traumatized is the word that I felt from the investigator, in some ways, it was worse than the event itself. —Shelly G. (pseudonym), describing her experience with an MPD detective in October 2009
To hear him tell me he didn’t believe me was a slap in my face. It just knocked me down, it was a punch in my stomach. It just took the air right out of me. And where do you go from there when the policeman tells you he doesn’t believe you? —Shelly G. (pseudonym), describing her interaction with an MPD detective in October 2009
The detective was in the room with the interpreter, and two other female officers and after 40 min, the survivor was literally hysterical … the nurses and I could hear it from outside the room … she was sobbing and yelling…. We interrupted and the detective told us ‘we’ll be done when I say we’re done.’ Two min later, they walked out of the room … the detective told me there would be no case and told me to go see her. —Email from a Rape Crisis Center advocate, forwarded to the D.C. Office of Victim Services at the Mayor’s Office, April 2009
I think that filing the report was just as traumatic as the crime, if not more…. Is it common place for the police to put blame on the sexual assault victims and then completely ignore them? —Complaint form, MPD Office of Police Complaints, November 12, 2009
Investigators serve as prosecutor, judge, and jury and stop the process before it begins. —Experienced community service provider to sexual assault victims, Washington, D.C., February 16, 2011
For a sexual assault survivor who has already experienced an intense violation, to have your governmental system essentially say to you, “This didn’t happen, or if it did happen it doesn’t really count,” is devastating. —Denise Snyder, D.C. Rape Crisis Center, quoted in “Washington City Paper,” April 9, 2010
I found out you dealt with her about 4 am Friday or Saturday morning … and she chose not to make a report. Something about a gang bang and being intoxicated…. Anyway, I think it was just an OI [Office Information]. However, she now feels differently and wishes to make a report…. She says her phone isn’t working but she can be reached ... Sorry, BUT IT IS WHAT IT IS!!!!!!! —Note from one MPD detective to another, contained in an investigative file from 2009 reviewed by Human Rights Watch
How can you not remember? How can we believe you? —Witness, reporting a statement made by an MPD detective to a victim, who reported being assaulted by a stranger after going to a bar but could not remember the bar’s name
You shouldn’t have been outside. This is what happens at two in the morning. What do you expect? —A member of the medical staff, reporting a statement made by an MPD detective to an 18-year-old runaway who was assaulted at night
Well, she could have fallen on rocks and may not have had panties on. Also what kind of girl is in a room with five guys? —Nurse, describing the response of a detective to a patient who was found unconscious in a hotel room with five men in 2010 with severe tears to her vagina and rectum that required emergency surgery
You are only doing this to get immigration status, aren’t you? —Lawyers’ account of what an MPD detective told his client when she reported being kidnapped and sexually assaulted repeatedly overnight in early 2011