January 24, 2013


Sexual assault is all too common across the United States. An estimated one in five women in the United States is a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. However, victims who report to law enforcement may have very different experiences depending on where they live. Studies indicate that nationwide less than 20 percent of rape or sexual assault victims reported incidents to the police in 2007.[4] Many sexual assault survivors choose not to seek help out of fear that authorities will mistreat or not believe them, or that nothing will happen to their case. Unfortunately, this concern can be well founded. This report focuses on police response to sexual assault in the District of Columbia. The story of Susan D. is not uncommon.

In the spring of 2011, Susan D., a fresh-faced US government employee in her thirties, was raped by a man she met on an internet dating site. Deeply shocked, she could not sleep for two days. On the third day, she finally summoned the courage to go to the hospital for a forensic exam—a four-hour procedure involving a pelvic exam and extensive collection of evidence from her body.

At Washington Hospital Center (WHC), where she went for the exam, Susan met a female detective from the Sexual Assault Unit (SAU) of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)—one of the 10 largest local police agencies in the United States and the primary law enforcement agency for the District of Columbia. The detective insisted that Susan talk to her before speaking to a rape crisis center advocate (as Susan had requested), and before having an exam. Shaking and shocked, Susan agreed.[5]

For the next three hours, the detective questioned Susan, interrupting her frequently in a manner—as Susan saw it—to discourage her from reporting the assault and belittle her experience. For example, the detective interrupted Susan to say that what she had described was “not a crime,” to assert that she was herself raped twice, and to imply that Susan should consider how she would ruin her assailant’s life if she filed a report. The detective later told a nurse she thought Susan did not need a forensic exam, although the nurse did in fact administer one.

Susan later waited in vain for police to process the crime scene and collect her clothes for evidence. After an investigator hired by her assailant made threatening calls, Susan tried three times to reach the detective assigned to her case but never heard back and was unable to transfer her case to another detective. After six weeks, the police closed Susan’s case without prosecution. In the following months, Susan was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which she believes was partly due to her contact with the MPD. “Reporting to the police was far more traumatizing than the rape itself,” she said.


This Report

This report focuses on the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), its recording and investigation of sexual abuse cases, and the experience of sexual abuse survivors who sought MPD assistance. Our investigation provides strong evidence that, between October 2008 and September 2011, the MPD failed to document or investigate many complaints of sexual assault in D.C. Furthermore, in some cases that Human Rights Watch documented, police re-victimized survivors by treating them callously and skeptically, discouraged sexual assault survivors from reporting their assault or getting a forensic exam, and in some instances threatened them with prosecution for false reporting.

Our findings are based on extensive data analysis, documents from four government agencies, and more than 150 interviews.

The data indicates that in several cases, survivors who reported sexual assaults to the police never had their case documented, and others saw their cases languish when officers apparently determined that their cases were not worth pursuing before conducting an effective investigation.

The problems we documented in the MPD’s response to sexual assault do not appear to result from official MPD policy. On the contrary, the MPD has long had policies that, if effectively implemented, should have led to better outcomes. Rather, the key problem appears to be practices within the MPD that, during the period we examined, have been inconsistent with departmental policy and resulted in misclassified or undocumented cases. Inadequate training on how to handle sexual assault cases would also appear to be a contributing factor.

The MPD was made aware of many of these problems in the course of a 2008 civil lawsuit brought by a victim whose case was not investigated. In depositions, several MPD members testified that a significant number of sexual assault cases were not documented at the instruction of SAU detectives, despite official policy requiring all sexual assault complaints to be documented in an incident report. According to MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, the MPD implemented reforms following the lawsuit. Yet the Human Rights Watch research in this report indicates that problematic practices continued through 2011.

The mere adoption of new policies or training alone is not likely to lead to meaningful change of what seem to be deeply rooted attitudes within the department that have long been inconsistent with official policy. To really address this problem, the first step MPD leadership should take is to acknowledge its existence and commit to changing the practice by: (1) holding officers who do not document or investigate cases to account; (2) creating a safe and responsive environment for victims or observers of improper treatment to make complaints; (3) responding seriously to complaints; and (4) doing so transparently, with external oversight.

The failure of the MPD to thoroughly investigate all sexual assault cases has potentially devastating consequences for sexual assault victims and for public confidence in law enforcement; and violates the US’s obligation under international human rights standards, as well as official MPD policies governing adult sexual assault investigations. It also means that assailants—who may commit multiple offenses before being caught and imprisoned—may be neither investigated nor prosecuted.

Not all detectives in the MPD’s Sexual Assault Unit (SAU) are insensitive to victims: several people interviewed for this report told Human Rights Watch about a number of good detectives in the SAU who demonstrate an appropriate attitude toward these crimes. Nor is evidence of police mishandling of sexual assault cases unique to D.C. Investigations in recent years have revealed misclassification or improper closing of sexual assault cases and forensic exam (or “rape kit”) backlogs in a number of police departments across the country. Human Rights Watch has previously documented rape kit backlogs in Illinois and the Los Angeles area.

However, the MPD practices documented in this report contrast sharply with effective police responses to sexual assault in other US cities cited here.

To its credit, the MPD has recently taken some important steps to address the problems we document here. In response to correspondence and discussions with Human Rights Watch in 2012, the MPD has adopted a number of our recommendations, though it will take time to see whether there is consistent enforcement of changes in practice. Nonetheless, as we describe below, there is more the MPD and other government agencies need to do to ensure that the MPD provides an effective and appropriate response to sexual assault in the District of Columbia.

Sexual assault remains the most underreported violent crime in the United States, partly because victims fear that authorities will not believe them and that they will be re-traumatized if they report their assault. Government officials need to ensure that these fears are not realized.


For this report, Human Rights Watch chose to focus on the District of Columbia because of the unusually low number of sexual assaults it reported to the FBI, as well as significantly higher than average MPD rates of “clearing” sexual assault cases than those for comparably sized cities. Low reporting rates or high clearance rates may indicate cases are being “disposed” of improperly.[6] In addition, a lawsuit about MPD’s inappropriate handling of a sexual assault case in December 2006 and evidence and experience of multiple observers since then suggested that MPD practices would be worth examining. 

As part of its investigation, Human Rights Watch conducted over 150 interviews and reviewed numerous documents produced by the MPD and other government agencies. These include the Office of Victim Services (OVS) in the Mayor’s Office, which oversees the program for sexual assault victims at Washington Hospital Center (WHC)—the designated hospital for care of adult sexual assault victims in the District.

After refusing to provide investigative files for 16 months, the MPD agreed to allow Human Rights Watch access to its internal database in settlement of a lawsuit Human Rights Watch brought in December 2011 to compel disclosure of documents under D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act. As a result, Human Rights Watch was able to review investigative files for over 250 cases at the MPD’s offices in August 2012.

To better understand what reforms might be possible in Washington, D.C., Human Rights Watch also reviewed a range of policies and interviewed dozens of stakeholders about reforms undertaken in cities that have improved their investigations of sexual assault crimes: Austin, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Grand Rapids. We also consulted 14 national experts on sex crime investigation and prosecution, reviewed International Association of Chiefs of Police model procedures, training material, and the Operations Manual for the San Diego Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit, which is well regarded.

Main Findings

Failure to Document and Investigate

From 2008 through September of 2011, MPD officers used a variety of mechanisms to effectively shut down investigations—often before they even got started—of cases they did not deem credible. Human Rights Watch’s review of data, agency documents, and police investigative files corroborates the impressions of many victims, community advocates, and witnesses who told us that the MPD often closed cases without meaningful investigation.

As described further below, we documented the following practices that undermined the successful investigation of sexual assault cases in the District of Columbia:

  • MPD officers did not document many cases, as is demonstrated by the fact that no incident report exists for a substantial number of cases recorded by Washington Hospital Center as having been reported to police, nor were these cases located in the police database.
  • MPD officers classified several cases that appear to present the elements of serious sexual assaults as for “office information only” or “miscellaneous” cases. In effect, according to SAU guidelines, this means that they do not pursue the investigation further.
  • In some cases, MPD officers classified what appeared to be serious sex abuse cases as a non-sex offense or as a misdemeanor, minimizing the victim’s experience and also potentially denying the victim access to support services from Victim Services within the MPD.
  • In several cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch that the MPD did document, the MPD presented arrest warrant requests to prosecutors based on incomplete investigations. As a result, prosecutors rejected a large number of these requests as “weak” cases. Detectives then closed the cases and recorded them as “exceptionally cleared” even though it appears they never fully investigated them.

Missing Cases

Two witnesses informed Human Rights Watch in early 2011 that when they attempted to follow up with the MPD about sexual assault reports, they found that many of the cases did not have a case number assigned to them and did not appear to be under active investigation. Based on this information, Human Rights Watch compared Washington Hospital Center records of victims who had a forensic exam and reported their assault to the MPD between October 2008 and September 2011 to MPD incident reports (known as PD-251s) relating to sexual assault complaints from the same period.[7] Our analysis excluded 311 victims who had a forensic exam but chose not to report to the police, or who reported to other police departments.[8] 

According to the MPD policy since 2000, all victims who report a sexual assault to the MPD should have an incident report, known as a PD-251, documenting the complaint and assigning it a case number. [9] If no PD-251 is prepared, the reported assault will not be investigated as the necessary step to open an investigation has not been initiated. The Washington Area Criminal Intelligence Information System (WACIIS) database maintained by the police department may contain information about calls received by the MPD on sexual assaults. But, an entry in WACIIS does not mean that an investigation has been opened. For practical, investigative purposes, if there is no PD-251, it means that no official record of the assault exists in the MPD. [10] As one police source put it, “No PD-251, no investigation.” [11] When asked if an investigation should be conducted even when no PD-251incident report has been prepared in response to a complaint, Assistant Chief Peter Newsham said that “the officer would be in trouble.” [12]

However, Human Rights Watch was unable to find incident reports for a significant number of cases in which a patient underwent a forensic exam and reported to police.

  • WHC records showed that 480 patients reported sexual assaults to the MPD at the hospital between October 2008 and September 2011.
  • Human Rights Watch was able to locate matching MPD incident reports for 310 victims over the same period (64.5 percent of the total of cases reported at WHC).
  • For the remaining 171 victims, Human Rights Watch was unable to find corresponding documentation at MPD of a reported assault. Nor could these cases be located in MPD’s database.
  • Of the 310 cases for which we located an incident report, 34 were classified as “miscellaneous” or “office information,” usually meaning that MPD conducted no further investigation.

Since all investigations require a PD-251, the lack of incident reports suggests that there was no police follow-up for 35.4 percent of victims who reported an assault at the hospital. If we assume detectives followed MPD’s own policy and that cases classified as “miscellaneous” or “office information” have not been subject to an investigation, the number of cases reported at WHC but not investigated increases to 42.5 percent.

The problem may be even broader than these numbers suggest. Studies of police reports in Illinois and Los Angeles as well as a national sampling of victims indicate that at least 41 percent of victims who report an assault to the police do not get forensic exams. [13] If this trend holds true for D.C. as well, then we would expect the total number of incident reports at MPD to be significantly higher than the number of reports coming through the hospital. However, assuming the Washington Hospital Center data is correct, 436 victims had exams and reported to MPD in the 3 year period analyzed by Human Rights Watch (excluding 44 cases in which the victim reported to MPD at the hospital but did not have an exam). Over the same time period, MPD has 571 incident reports. [14] Even if all the hospital reports were accounted for at the MPD (as previously noted, at least 35.4 percent are not), the total number of reports at the MPD would still be far lower than expected. If approximately 41 percent of people who report to police do not have forensic exams, the number of MPD reports for sexual assault for that period would be expected to be 739 cases, not 571. [15]

Stopping the Investigation Before it Begins

The numbers alone present a disturbing picture, though they do not on their own explain why the MPD appears not to have documented all of the cases that victims reported to them. Some clues may be found in depositions taken in 2008 as part of a civil lawsuit against the MPD by a student whose December 2006 sexual assault case was closed without investigation. In those depositions, SAU detectives revealed that, at the time, they regularly failed to even write reports for cases when SAU detectives did not believe victims.

In May 2012, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier told Human Rights Watch that following the lawsuit she had transferred four detectives out of the SAU and developed a new policy for handling sexual assault cases. The new policy, which went into effect in August 2011, is nearly identical in substance to the previous policy (apart from changing the location of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program). It, and the changes that occurred after 2008, are acknowledged in this report. However, unless otherwise noted, all data collected and examples of improper police behavior referenced in this report occurred after these changes were adopted, and after a new program for conducting forensic exams for sexual assault victims in the D.C. area was established at WHC in late 2008. [16]

Despite the MPD’s reforms, the mismatch we found between victim reports at WHC and incident reports collected by the police suggests that some of the practices mentioned in the 2008 depositions continued well into 2011.

“Office Information” or “Miscellaneous” Cases

Human Rights Watch reviewed internal police files for 125 cases that were classified as “office information” (a category sometimes also called “miscellaneous”). These included 82, between 2009 and 2011, for which no case number was assigned and no incident report prepared. According to MPD procedure, an incident report is supposed to be prepared for cases classified as “office information,” but these cases are, according to the MPD’s official policies, “closed by definition.” [17] If further investigation is needed, it “should be classified as an ‘allegation’ and handled accordingly.” [18]

Classifying a report of sexual assault as “office information” is problematic for at least two reasons: one, because it shuts down investigations; and two, because “office information” classifications do not hide the victim’s identity, address, or phone number on the publicly available report, as is usual when a sexual assault is reported. [19] As a result, victims are potentially exposed to public identification.

Based on interviews with witnesses and a review of police files, the MPD appears particularly likely to disregard cases involving alcohol or drugs, or to document them as for “office information only.” [20] This practice suggests a lack of understanding or sensitivity among some MPD detectives to the fact that sexual assaults frequently occur at times when the victim has consumed substances such as alcohol or drugs. The victim’s consumption of such substances—or the victim’s confusion or inability to recall some events surrounding the assault—should not be a reason to automatically dismiss a case.

A few examples of “office information” cases found in police files include the following:

  • In late 2011, after consuming a “double shot” of alcohol, a victim reported waking up to find an unknown male engaging in vaginal intercourse with her. She did not know where she was but took a taxi to the hospital for a forensic exam. According to police notes, the victim had bruises on her face, a laceration on her upper lip, and pain in her vaginal area. The victim could not recall the evening’s events after leaving a nightclub or indicate where the assault took place. The detective wrote, “At this time this is an allegation solely due to the fact there is DNA that will be transported to the forensic lab where a case number is needed for processing.” The detective suggested follow-up at the nightclub and hospital, but nine months later, there was no indication of any investigation in the file after the initial statement. [21]
  • In early 2010, a student reported that she was forced to orally copulate a stranger in an alley after a night of drinking. Although the complainant had a forensic exam, the detective did not prepare an incident report or assign the report a case number, and there is no indication that the detective followed up on evidence obtained from the forensic exam. The document trail indicates nothing to suggest that the detective did any investigation or made any effort to find additional evidence or witnesses, yet the detective’s internal report concludes, “There is nothing to corroborate the complainant’s alleged allegations.” [22]
  • A young woman was at a bar in February 2011 when an acquaintance brought her a drink. She remembers nothing after that, but the next morning friends found her with no underwear between two parked cars. According to people with knowledge of the case, the police told her that because she did not remember anything there was nothing to report. [23] Internal police investigation files confirm that police recorded the incident as “office information” because “no crime was reported.” The police advised the nurse they would not be taking any items collected from the victim because it was a “no report.” The detective notes say the detective “provided [the victim] with [my] business card and said to call if she needed police services.” Though the victim told the detective the next day that she would like to know what the police could do about her case, the case remained classified as “office information” and no indication of investigation was in the file. [24]

Downgrading or Omitting Sex Offenses

Another way in which a sexual assault report may fall through the cracks is by being classified as a non-sex offense or as a less serious crime.

MPD Chief Cathy Lanier correctly noted in her December 20, 2012, letter to Human Rights Watch that criminal charges are ultimately decided by the prosecutor’s office (in this case, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia), which can upgrade or downgrade charges as appropriate.

However, police misclassification minimizes what happened to the victim and may have other consequences. For example, until June 2012, allegations and other miscellaneous types of cases were not referred to the MPD’s Victims Services. Misclassification also has implications for the public, which is entitled to know accurate information about local crime.

Because detectives put the offense with the most severe penalty first on the incident report, sexual assault cases may sometimes be listed as a second offense after burglary or another crime. However, in some cases, victims reported sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults, but their crimes were categorized as some other type of crime and either not referred to the SAU at all or not investigated by the SAU as a sexual assault. 

For example, a nurse’s report notes a case of a woman who in September 2010 was pushed into her apartment by a stranger when she tried to open the door. Her assailant threw her onto the bed, ripped her dress off, and lowered her leggings. The woman urinated on herself in fear and the suspect threw her against a wall, but did not continue with the sexual assault. According to a hospital report, MPD investigated the case as a simple assault and burglary rather than an attempted rape.[25] An October 2009 case in which the victim was handcuffed, driven to an undisclosed location, and sexually assaulted was categorized only as “kidnapping” with no reference to a sexual assault. [26]

MPD detectives also categorized several cases as “misdemeanors,” although they appear to be more serious sex abuse cases.[27] For example, one 2008 incident report classified as a “misdemeanor” indicates:

  • The complainant reported that while walking on the street the suspect threw her to the ground, ripped off her underwear, pulled down his pants, made contact with her vagina (without penetration) and attempted to hold his hand over her mouth before fleeing. [28]

Another 2009 “misdemeanor” incident report reads:

  • The complainant states that the suspect penetrated her vagina several times with his penis without her consent. The suspect then left the room. When the suspect returned, he slapped the complainant in the face and pushed her down on a mattress. The suspect then penetrated the complainant’s vagina with his penis again without her consent. The assault ended when the suspect masturbated on the complainant’s face and in her mouth. [29]

Administrative Closures or Exceptional Clearances

Even in cases that are documented and investigated, interviews with witnesses and a review of investigative files raise concerns about the thoroughness of the investigations. In over two-thirds of the 66 arrest warrant affidavit requests in files reviewed by Human Rights Watch the US Attorney’s Office rejected the requests, primarily on grounds that the case presented was “weak.” As a result, all these cases were counted as “administrative closures.” Of the 27 percent of cases (17 cases) that were approved, more than half were charged with misdemeanors or non-sex offenses. In other cities, studies indicate prosecutors press charges in more than half of cases (54.5 percent) presented for warrants, twice the rate seen in D.C.[30]

Human Rights Watch only reviewed 66 warrant requests, as this was not the focus of the research, so we cannot draw definitive conclusions from the data on warrant refusals. However, the high rate of refusal in the limited sample does raise concerns about possible overuse of exceptional or administrative clearances to close cases.[31] Under FBI crime reporting guidelines, “exceptional clearance” is supposed to occur in cases in which the suspect is known to police and enough information exists to support criminal charges (probable cause), but circumstances beyond law enforcement control prevent arrest (e.g., the suspect is deceased or already incarcerated). However, when a case has been presented to a prosecutor and rejected without an arrest, the MPD also considers the case cleared by exceptional means. 

Because the FBI does not distinguish between cases cleared by arrest and cases cleared exceptionally when it publishes crime data from cities, a case closed without an arrest still appears as a case “cleared by arrest.”[32] This practice may explain the MPD’s unusually high clearance rate for rape. For example, in 2010, the MPD reported clearing 59.8 percent of its rape cases (110 of184 cases), well above the 40 percent average clearance rate for similarly sized cities. Yet in data it provided to Human Rights Watch, the MPD showed only 22 arrests for all sexual assaults in 2010, including 6 child abuse cases (which may be included in FBI data) and possibly other sex crimes which may not be included in FBI data (such as some misdemeanors and sex crimes with male victims).[33] In its response to Human Rights Watch about data concerns, the MPD indicated that its clearance rate was high because it included cases against female victims under 18. Yet this would not explain why MPD’s rates are so much higher than other cities, all of which also include juvenile cases. And in any case, an analysis exclusively of 2010 adult cases based on data provided by MPD to Human Rights Watch shows a clearance by arrest rate of 5 percent for all adult sex abuse cases, including misdemeanors, for 2010.

Police Mistreatment of Victims

Many victims, hospital staff, and others who work with victims said that they experienced or witnessed insensitive treatment by some MPD detectives when victims tried to report sexual assault. A number of victims said they felt that their experience reporting to the police was as bad, if not worse, than the assault itself.[34] Human Rights Watch documented the following re-victimizing or counter-productive behaviors among some MPD personnel:

  • Questioning survivors’ credibility, including threatening victims with prosecution if they are found to be lying;
  • Actively discouraging victims from reporting or undergoing a forensic exam;
  • Asking victim-blaming or inappropriate questions;
  • Requiring detailed interviews while the victim is traumatized;
  • Failing to respond to victims seeking information about their cases or calling because their assailant is threatening them;
  • A range of other insensitive treatment

Questioning Survivors’ Credibility

Victims and witnesses reported that some detectives made it clear they did not believe victims in a number of ways. In some instances they threatened victims with prosecution for false reporting. One detective, according to medical staff, told a victim, “If I find out you are lying, I will look you up and arrest you.”[35] A victim who reported an assault in April 2011 said she was told “no one would believe her” and that she was “lying” and “wasting their time.”[36] Others are more subtle. One victim, for example, reported that a detective rolled her eyes repeatedly while the victim told her what had happened to her in May 2011. A victim said of her experience with the MPD in the fall of 2009,

I’ll never be able to stop shaking my head at the fact that not only was he not supportive, he made me feel awful about myself by telling me it was nothing more than an issue that I got too drunk and was regretting a decision I made. 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.[37]

Memory lapses are commonly associated with trauma,[38] but some detectives appeared to disbelieve victims if they were not able to remember elements of the assault.[39] For example, Julie M., a student at a local university, was assaulted on campus by a stranger after she had been drinking. She said that when police asked her to describe the assailant, she was unable to describe him in detail: “It was hard for me to remember it because I was trying to block out what he looked like.” She felt police did not believe her in part because she could not provide a specific description, and she said that police closed her case at the time she reported.[40]

Discouraging Forensic Exams and Reports

Hospital staff, advocates, and victims indicate that detectives have at times tried to convince victims not to report the assault or have a forensic exam. One observer estimated that in her experience, nine times out of ten a survivor’s decision not to report may be because of something police told the victim.[41]

Some detectives discourage reporting by indicating that they will have to inform loved ones about their behavior, stressing the serious consequences to the perpetrator of pursuing a case, or indicating it will take “years” to get forensic tests back.[42] Since 2008, police no longer have authority to decide whether or not a victim will receive a forensic exam. But detective files indicate that in 2010 and 2011 detectives still sometimes notified nurses in cases in which the victim was intoxicated that they would not “authorize an exam” or that “the [complainant] was not a victim of a crime.”[43]

Examples of police comments that have the effect of discouraging reporting and forensic testing include:

  • When Dolores R. was assaulted as a student at a university in D.C. in 2009, she tried to get a sexual assault exam at her university hospital. Campus police called the MPD. She says that the SAU detective who came to the hospital told her she would have to transfer to another hospital to get an exam, that it was a long process, and perhaps she “didn’t want to go through all that.” Dolores recalls the detective implied she had to speak to the police to get a forensic exam, though Dolores wasn’t sure she wanted to report the sexual assault. Dolores later discovered that WHC was only down the street from where she was. Dolores said the detective also made it clear she had her doubts about Dolores’ story, and that it was not a strong enough case to hold up in court. Dolores did not report her assault or get an exam.[44]
  • When one married victim, Laura T., attempted to report her assault in late 2011, she indicated the detective told her he would have to inform her husband in order to proceed with his investigation. “I then asked him please don’t and he said ok – and then he handed me a form to deny ongoing investigation [decline an investigation] so therefore I signed it.”[45]

The attitude toward victim reporting is apparent in a June 2009 email from one detective to another about a victim he met at the hospital while there for another case. The victim had initially not wanted to report, but had changed her mind and went to Washington Hospital Center for a forensic exam the next day. The detective at the hospital wrote,

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!!!!!!![46]


Several survivors and people who work closely with survivors said that police often question victims or make comments in a manner suggesting the victim is at fault.[47] One medical professional said she heard police appearing to blame the victim with questions and comments that included, “You shouldn’t have been out so late,” “For God’s sake, why did you do that?” or “Why did you walk home by yourself after a few drinks?”[48] Survivors and witnesses reported the following other examples of victim-blaming remarks:

  • Medical staff overheard a detective tell an 18-year-old runaway who was assaulted in the middle of the night, “You shouldn’t have been outside. This is what happens at two in the morning. What do you expect?”[49]
  • Dolores R., a university student who police talked out of reporting her assault in 2009, said the detective asked her, “Why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you call a friend? Why didn’t you call a cab?” Dolores said, “I did what I did and I can’t change that.”[50]

Another victim wrote in a 2009 complaint that a female SAU detective to whom she tried to report an assault told her that if someone did something to her that she did not like she “would say no or tell them to stop.” She said the detective also asked “if [she] didn’t want them to do it, why [she] didn’t stop them.” [51]

One victim filed a complaint that referred to “the confrontational, insensitive manner in which they questioned me,” which she said was “very degrading and humiliating.” She added:

They seemed to be questioning my integrity…. How could it be that detectives who are assigned to a sexual assault and violent crime unit [are] allowed to behave in this manner?… I felt as if I was assaulted on April 16, 2007, by police officers who swore an oath to serve and protect.[52]

Requiring Detailed Interviews While the Victim is Traumatized

A lengthy interview immediately after an assault may not be appropriate because of the possible effects of trauma on the victim.[53] Victims are frequently traumatized during the initial interview (particularly if it immediately follows the assault) and therefore may not be able to concentrate or act rationally. It may have been hours since the victims last slept and they may still be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. That is why best practices recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police suggest delaying a full interview except in exigent circumstances requiring an arrest or identification.[54]

Although MPD policy allows detectives to schedule a follow up interview with a victim after a forensic exam, in practice, detectives often take a detailed statement from the victim before allowing him or her to have a forensic exam. A follow-up interview is generally only scheduled later if the victim is physically incapable of talking at the hospital.[55]

One officer explained that detectives “really go into detail and sometimes they ask questions over and over again.” [56] Even if the victim is too incapacitated to communicate, the detectives do not always schedule an interview later. The result is that some victims choose not to report or undergo an exam and others fall through the cracks. For example:

  • An April 2009 case in which the complainant reported that the subject tried to rape her but did not say how. The complainant was under the influence and had to be woken with an ammonia capsule to be interviewed at the hospital. The case was filed as “office information” because “The complainant did not report a sexual assault.” The police file contained no indication of follow-up with the complainant. [57]
  • A victim who reported being assaulted by three men in Chinatown in 2010. According to an advocate, police spoke with her for hours at the hospital before her exam, asking her to repeat the story to different detectives. During that time she was not able to eat or drink. She finally decided not to have the exam as she did not want her family, who came to support her, to have to wait for her any longer.[58]

After receiving Human Rights Watch’s recommendation to allow victims at least one full sleep cycle prior to conducting a full interview, the MPD issued a memorandum in June 2012 affording victims 24 hours after a preliminary interview before being re-interviewed, except in urgent cases or when a delay would jeopardize the victim or other members of the public.[59] However, as of October 2012, a source at WHC told Human Rights Watch that they had not yet observed any change in the MPD’s interviewing practices.[60]


Numerous people who have worked closely with victims for years said victims regularly complain that they do not hear back from MPD, despite calling the department or individual officers repeatedly.[61] This is true even when the victim has concerns for his or her safety. Shelly D., who reported an assault in October 2009, said getting the police to respond was “like pulling teeth” even after her assailant sent her several threatening messages. Her detective “did not even bat an eye.”[62] She ended up moving in order to avoid her assailant.

This lack of responsiveness reinforces victims’ perception that their cases are not taken seriously and is often upsetting to them.[63] This sentiment is reflected in one victim’s experience, which she described in a written complaint in November 2009, filed with the Office of Police Complaints:

Shortly after making the report I received threatening emails from one of the parties involved. I phoned the detective and left multiple messages regarding the emails. She never returned my phone call … In the past week I have left multiple messages for both Detective [] and her supervisor Detective Sgt. ---. I have heard nothing from the Metropolitan Police Department since filing the report, 3 months ago, despite countless phone calls.... If I did not know better I would think that they were persuaded not to pursue the case that I definitely want to pursue.[64]

Other Insensitive Behavior

Human Rights Watch obtained information indicating other types of insensitive behavior, apart from that discussed above, including:

  • The response of the detective who interviewed Estella C., a 24-year-old student, who reported being assaulted orally and vaginally by an acquaintance in his truck in the spring of 2010. Estella drove herself to the police department to report the crime after the assault. According to Estella, the detective who interviewed her repeatedly asked whether the assailant was good at oral sex. Estella said the detective rolled her eyes while she explained what happened, made comments like “So you were into it,” and repeatedly said the incident did not sound like rape to her. [65] The detective also said that even though it “didn’t sound like a good case,” she was “still going to have to type it up.” [66] Estella said she eventually drove herself to the hospital for a forensic exam because she did not want to spend more time with the detective, who acted like taking her case would be inconvenient. [67]
  • Rosa S. reported being abducted by two men wearing masks and raped repeatedly overnight before being released the next morning. According to her lawyer and a staff member of an organization who worked with her, the detective who interviewed her was very aggressive and asked, “You are only doing this to get immigration status, aren’t you?” [68]

MPD Response

Since receiving a summary of this report’s findings on May 30, 2012, the MPD has acted on several of the recommendations Human Rights Watch made at the time, and has taken steps to improve how it handles sexual assault cases. For example, the MPD has agreed to add treatment of victims as a factor in evaluating SAU detectives, to create a victim satisfaction survey, to increase supervision over sexual assault cases, to allow victims a sleep cycle before conducting a detailed interview with them (except in emergency situations), and to establish a multidisciplinary review of closed cases. The commander of the Criminal Investigations Division of the MPD included many of these recommendations in a June 12 memo to the SAU. On June 8, 2012, the MPD issued a reminder to all police that they are required to document every complaint of sexual assault.

The MPD’s introduction of the reforms noted above is a positive and welcome step. However, we remain concerned about other aspects of the MPD’s response to our findings, which has been extremely hostile and defensive in tone. In its initial response to a summary of the findings in June 2012, the MPD insisted that the issues raised in this report have “long since been addressed” and claimed that the Human Rights Watch investigation was “flawed” and “unsubstantiated.” In its December 20, 2012, response to a summary of our revised findings (which took into account additional information the MPD provided after our June 2012 exchange), Chief Cathy Lanier dismissed the findings as “nonsensical.” Her response stated that our finding about closure rates “exhibits misunderstanding, ignorance or purposeful misreporting” and insists that “HRW in its desire to draw public attention to themselves has used unsupported and erroneous information to attack MPD’s handling of sex-abuse cases” as part of an effort to “make a public spectacle” for “self-serving” ends.

In short, the MPD strenuously denies there is any problem with the handling of sexual assault cases, but is nonetheless willing to make some improvements to its policy. The MPD also objects to not being given a full copy of the report well in advance of its release.

The MPD’s hostile response is particularly troubling precisely because it runs counter to the very steps that it needs to take to address the problem. As previously noted, to meaningfully reform what appear to be persistent practices within the MPD requires that its leadership begin by acknowledging the existence of a problem and commit to addressing it in an accountable and transparent manner. A detailed response to various claims made by Chief Lanier about the report is available at http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/FactSheet_0.pdf.

Also of concern is the fact that, in meetings to discuss our findings, some amongst the MPD leadership have expressed repeated hostility toward not only Human Rights Watch, but also those who are perceived as cooperating with the report.

In the weeks after Human Rights Watch shared its findings with the MPD on May 30, we were troubled to learn of a few situations in which people or agencies that the MPD believes shared information with us or cooperated with our investigation experienced unexpected adverse actions from the Office of Victim Services (OVS) in the Mayor’s Office. (The deputy mayor for Public Safety and Justice in the Mayor’s Office oversees both the OVS and the MPD).

The director of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program at Washington Hospital Center had notified the OVS of her intent to leave the program shortly before the MPD was informed of the contents of this report. At the time, the OVS had asked her to train a replacement and stay until October 2012. But after the report’s findings became known, the OVS instructed security to lock her out of her office at the Lighthouse (the building where the SANE program is based). The OVS rescinded the offer for her to facilitate a transition, searched her emails, and questioned her and others in the forensic nursing program about their cooperation with this investigation. [69] In addition, the OVS instructed nurses not to speak with Human Rights Watch. [70] The OVS also asked nurses to sign non-disclosure agreements. [71] The OVS has also substantially cut funding for the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, which some in the MPD have associated with this report, in a number of areas since June.

Inaction and Its Impact

Insensitive police behavior can have devastating consequences.  

Sexual assault victims whom police treat poorly when they report are more likely to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[72] Victims are also less likely to cooperate with the police investigation, significantly decreasing chances that the perpetrator will face justice.[73]

Poor treatment of victims also undermines public confidence in law enforcement and means other victims are less likely to come forward. As Susan said, “if this happened to a friend of mine, I’d tell her to think twice before talking to police.” Since sexual assault is already the most underreported violent crime (with less than 20 percent of victims nationally reporting incidents to the police), behavior that discourages reporting is a public safety concern.[74] Furthermore, failing to accurately report sexual assault misleads the public about crime rates in their communities and distorts public policy debates over allocating resources for law enforcement and victim services. 

In addition, the decision not to investigate means that evidence may be lost or remain uncollected by police. [75] It can be demoralizing for nurses, and frustrating for advocates who fear that subjecting victims to a four-hour invasive exam to collect forensic evidence may do more harm than good. As one former advocate asked, “Would I really encourage my girlfriend to go through a kit and be re-traumatized if nothing is happening with the kit?” [76]

Failing to investigate sexual assault violates the United States’ obligations under international human rights standards, which recognize rape as a human rights abuse and require the US to protect women and men from sexual assault and rape, while respecting the dignity of victims.

The treatment of victims and handling of sexual assault cases described in this report also violate official MPD policies governing adult sexual assault investigations. These call for “unbiased investigation into all reports of sexual assaults” and require that those who investigate sexual assault complaints be “sensitive” to victims’ needs.[77] They also contravene Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the SAU, which state that law enforcement has a “legal and moral obligation to thoroughly investigate reports of suspected sexual abuse and determine whether a crime has been committed,” and to conduct investigations in “a professional and sensitive manner.” The SOPs also state that detectives should realize that an investigation may have “a tremendous impact on the welfare of the victim” and on the successful prosecution of offenders.[78] However, it appears that the MPD is not vigorously enforcing these policies.[79]

Effective Approaches and Next Steps

Materials and information that Human Rights Watch gathered indicate that MPD uniformed officers do not receive training in the legal definition of sexual abuse in the District of Columbia, or in how to respond to complaints of sexual assault.

Moreover, SAU detectives do not receive specialized training in trauma or sexual assault investigations before joining the unit, which has no information in its Standard Operating Procedures on drug or alcohol facilitated sexual assaults, non-stranger cases, or the impact of trauma on sexual assault survivors. Detectives are not selected for the unit based on their suitability for handling these kinds of sensitive cases, although as of this writing, the chief of police advised Human Rights Watch that plans may be in place to address this problem. The MPD has conducted some training for detectives in the second half of 2012 and has applied for funds for additional training in 2013.

Human Rights Watch did not have data available to determine whether race or other factors impacted police handling of sexual assault cases.

Although no single police department handles cases perfectly, Human Rights Watch found that other US cities have a number of effective approaches to investigating sexual assault cases. These include a victim-centered approach to investigation that includes: requiring sensitivity to trauma issues during the interview, allowing victims one or two sleep cycles before an interview except in urgent circumstances, follow-up, referrals to victim services, creating a non-judgmental environment, and allowing victims to be accompanied by an advocate during police interviews. They also include proper training, and respectful collaboration with victim services providers in the community, such as nurses and rape crisis counselors.  

Treatment of victims also should be a factor when evaluating SAU detectives. Most importantly, supervisors should ensure all calls for sexual assault cases are documented and all detectives are held accountable for failing to adhere to department policy. The key to any successful implementation of reform is commitment from leadership to thoroughly investigating these cases and treating victims properly. As one expert advised, “Don’t let training be a scapegoat for bad supervision.”[80]

Any attempt to remedy these serious problems should start with the District of Columbia and its MPD ensuring that every reported sexual assault case has a written record and is thoroughly investigated so that culprits can be identified and arrested. Although measures have been put in place for closer supervision of SAU detectives and the MPD states that “because of suggestions from HRW, MPD changed the reporting procedure and that public reports are taken on all cases,” stringent scrutiny by the Washington D.C. City Council and Mayor’s Office will be necessary to ensure that changes are implemented in a meaningful manner and sexual assault victims are taken seriously, unlike last time this problem was revealed in 2008. This should be done by an independent oversight body, which conducts regular external reviews of sexual assault investigation files and department records to ensure cases are not falling through the cracks.

A model for such a review system can be found in Philadelphia. In response to a series of Philadelphia Inquirer articles in 1999 revealing that the Philadelphia Police Department was misclassifying and failing to investigate sexual assault cases, the police commissioner invited advocacy groups to review its sexual assault cases. This review has occurred on an annual basis for over a decade and is regarded as successful by both police and advocacy groups. All stakeholders report that the practice has resulted in improved police investigations of sexual assault cases.


Human Rights Watch welcomes the MPD’s willingness to consider a number of its recommendations and the changes in its policies that have already occurred. Effective, durable, and systemic reforms are needed to supplement the improvements that have already taken place and support proper investigation of sexual assaults. Police and government officials need to demonstrate clearly to victims of sexual assault that their cases matter and will be taken seriously.

[4] See, for example, Dean G. Kilpatrick, et al, National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina, “Drug-Facilitated, Incapacitated, and Forcible Rape: A National Study,” Document No. 219181, US Department of Justice Award No. 2005-WG-BX-0006, February 1, 2007, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/219181.pdf (accessed November 19, 2012) (finding 16 percent of all rapes are reported to law enforcement).

[5] Susan D.’s (pseudonym) account of her experience is drawn from multiple interviews with Susan in 2011 and 2012, contemporaneous emails to the police department, and a letter from Susan to Chief Cathy Lanier, May 3, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch. While protecting confidential information, medical staff provided a corroborating, consistent account during a telephone interview on March 29, 2011.

[6] Martin D. Schwartz, “National Institute of Justice Visiting Fellowship: Police Investigation of Rape – Roadblocks and Solutions,” Doc. No. 232667, US Department of Justice Award No. 2003-IJ-CX-1027, December 2010, p.15. In other cities with unusually low reported numbers of sexual assaults, such as Baltimore and New Orleans, investigators found that large numbers of cases were classified as non-criminal offenses or not documented at all.

[7] The data from the WHC was provided to Human Rights Watch by the Office of Victims Services in the mayor’s office, in response to a records request from Human Rights Watch. The MPD provided the incident reports.

[8] September 2011 is the last date for which Human Rights Watch has information available from the hospital. Victims may undergo a forensic exam and decide not to report to the police or be uncertain as to whether they would like police involvement. Of 791 patients seen at Washington Hospital Center between October 2008 and September 2011, 260 cases were excluded because a victim decided against, or was unsure about, pursuing the matter with police or because records were unclear; 51 (39 known, 12 estimated) additional cases were excluded because they involved police departments other than the MPD. The remaining 480 patients who went to the hospital and reported a sexual assault to the MPD at that time were used for this analysis.

[9] Special Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Handling of Sexual Abuse Cases,” Series SO-07, effective date April 11, 2000, p.3 (“In all cases, whenever a member responds to a call for service or is notified regarding an allegation of sexual abuse, a PD Form 251 and PD Form 252 will be completed.”).

[10] Deposition testimony of Officer Michael Minor, _____ v. Washington D.C., et al., May 14, 2008, pp. 98-100; Deposition testimony of Officer Ginette Leveque, --- v. The District of Columbia et al., April 14, 2008, pp. 73-74; Deposition testimony of Officer Tandreia Green, --- v. The District of Columbia et al., May 8, 2008, p. 69.

[11] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with R.A., June 15, 2012.

[12] Human Rights Watch interview with Chief Cathy Lanier, Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, and Sergeant Ronald K, Reid, Washington D.C., June 14, 2012.

[13] Office on Violence Against Women, US Department of Justice, “Ensuring Forensic Medical Exams for All Sexual Assault Victims: A Toolkit for States and Territories,” December 2008, p. 15, http://www.vaw.umn.edu/documents/mcasatoolkit/mcasatoolkit.docbook.orig-ndvh.html#ftn.id595022 (accessed December 19, 2012), p. 15. The study in Los Angeles found that victims underwent a forensic exam in 50 percent of reported sexual assaults. See Cassia Spohn and Katharine Tellis, “Policing and Prosecuting Sexual Assault in Los Angeles City and County: A Collaborative Study in Partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office,” Document No. 237582, US Department of Justice Number 2009-WG-BX-0009, February 2012, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/237582.pdf; and Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Cassia Spohn, October 25, 2012. Human Rights Watch’s review of cases in Illinois over a 10-year period found that only 31 percent of reported rapes resulted in the administration of a forensic exam. See Human Rights Watch, United States – “I Used to Think the Law Would Protect Me”: Illinois’s Failure to Test Rape Kits, July 7, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2010/07/07/i-used-think-law-would-protect-me-0, p. 9.

[14] These include 173 police reports showing that the victim did not go to a hospital or went to a hospital other than Washington Hospital Center—and which we excluded from the date comparison analysis—but they exclude cases in which the victim reported bodily contact that would not lead to a forensic exam, such as a slap on the bottom. The MPD stated in one of its letters to Human Rights Watch that it has 1,500 WACIIS entries for the time period analyzed by Human Rights Watch. However, as noted above, for determining whether an investigation was opened into an assault, it is the existence of an incident report that is relevant, as without one there is no investigation. The subject of this report is whether there is appropriate investigation of sexual assault cases. MPD also states that it provided 1,080 incident reports to Human Rights Watch. Over the course of multiple productions, MPD actually provided 1,358 incident reports. However, 787 were not relevant for comparison to the number of reports made by sexual assault victims who had sought a forensic exam at Washington Hospital Center: 317 were outside of the time frame of this analysis, 353 were for cases characterized by minimal contact that would not lead to a forensic exam or were non-sex offenses, and 117 were juvenile offenses. Our analysis did include misdemeanors and other cases in which significant contact was indicated.

[15] In fact, in some months, the hospital records more cases reported to the MPD than the total number of sexual assault reports or “allegations” MPD has on file for the same month.

[16] Understaffing does not appear to be a factor in deciding to close cases. According to a February 2012 letter from the MPD to a City Council member, SAU/Sex Squad detectives had 23 cases each in 2010; the “ideal [annual] case load” per detective is 36. Letter from Metropolitan Police Department to Phil Mendelson, council member, in response to February 14, 2012 correspondence in advance of performance oversight hearing, February 24, 2012, http://dcclims1.dccouncil.us/mendelson/archive_pr/COJ%20Performance%20and%20Budget%202012/Later%20Rounds/MPD%20FY12%20Performance%20Responses,%202nd%20Round,%202.24.12.pdf (accessed November 21, 2012), p. 12 (for calendar year 2011, the number increased to 40 cases per detective). In Florida and Oregon, sexual assault unit detectives handle average caseloads of 54-110 cases per year.

[17] Metropolitan Police Department, Sexual Assault Unit SOP, January 14, 2003, pp. 32-33.

[18] Ibid. An allegation is supposed to be investigated until it is upgraded to a case, closed as “unfounded,” or until investigative leads have been exhausted.

[19]  In addition, dozens of incident reports Human Rights Watch received from the MPD for sexual assault cases not classified as “miscellaneous” included identifying information about victims (including names, addresses, and telephone numbers), raising questions about whether the MPD is strictly adhering to rules against including that information on incident reports and whether it is taking appropriate care in its responses to public records requests.

[20] Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report,” November 2011, www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf (accessed November 19, 2012), p. 22; Dean G. Kilpatrick et al., National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina, “Drug-Facilitated, Incapacitated, and Forcible Rape: A National Study,” Document No. 219181, US Department of Justice Award No. 2005-WG-BX-0006, February 1, 2007, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/219181.pdf (accessed November 19, 2012). 

[21] Human Rights Watch notes from review of MPD investigative files, SA11-XXX, August 21, 2012; all notes from review of MPD investigative files are on file at Human Rights Watch.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with former advocate R.L., Washington, D.C., March 9, 2011; Human Rights Watch group interview with advocates, Washington D.C., March 28, 2011.

[24] Human Rights Watch notes from review of MPD investigative files, SA11-XXX, August 23, 2012.

[25] District of Columbia Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Exam Exemption Report, September 25, 2010, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[26] Incident-Based Event Report, Complaint No. 145XXX, October 10, 2009.

[27] In the District of Columbia, “misdemeanor sex abuse” (punishable by not more than 180 days imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $1,000) is defined as “whoever engages in a sexual act or sexual contact with another person and who should have knowledge or reason to know that the act was committed without that other person’s permission.” Misdemeanor sexual abuse, D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3006. A sexual act is defined as “The penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva of another by a penis; contact between the mouth and the penis, the mouth and the vulva, or the mouth and the anus.” Sexual acts also include ”the penetration, however slight, of the anus or vulva by a hand or finger or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.” D.C. Code Section 22-3001 (8). Therefore sexual acts, including oral, vaginal, and anal penetration, which are not committed on an incapacitated victim or forcibly, may technically be misdemeanors (along with groping cases) under D.C. law. 

[28] Incident-Based Event Report, Complaint No. 113XXX, August 11, 2008, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[29] Incident-Based Event Report, Complaint No. 132XXX, September 15, 2009, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[30] Cassia C. Spohn, et al., “Prosecutors’ Charging Decisions in Sexual Assault Cases: A Multi-Site Study, Final Report,”  Document No. 197048, US Department of Justice Award Number 98-WT-VX-0003, October 28, 2002, pp. 23-24.

[31] Elsewhere, a high rate of rejection of warrants has been linked to such overuse of exceptional clearances. See Cassia Spohn and Katharine Tellis, US Department of Justice, “Policing and Prosecuting Sexual Assault in Los Angeles City and County: A Collaborative Study in Partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office,” Document No. 237582, US Department of Justice Award Number 2009-WG-BX-0009, February 2012, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/237582.pdf (accessed October 24, 2012).

[32]TheWashington Post found that 15 percent of homicides in the District between 2000 and 2011 were closed as “administrative closures” without an arrest and counted the same as “arrests” in closure statistics. Cheryl Thompson, “D.C. homicides: In 15 percent of closed cases, no charges and no arrests,” Washington Post, October 14, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/dc-homicides-in-15-percent-of-closed-cases-no-arrests-and-no-trial/2012/10/13/2fb8e5d6-fb8b-11e1-b2af-1f7d12fe907a_story.html (accessed November 21, 2012).

[33] For 2008 and 2009, the MPD reported 15 and 18 arrests respectively to Human Rights Watch, and “clearance” rates at the FBI of 65.1 percent and 76.7 percent. Spreadsheets on file at Human Rights Watch; letter from Metropolitan Police Department to Phil Mendelson, council member, February 24, 2012, p.12. FBI data include cases against females under the age of 18, but for 2008 and 2009 the arrest data provided to Human Rights Watch do not show any arrests for child sexual abuse. Arrests are also not indicative of whether or not a case was ultimately prosecuted.

[34] While these statements may seem surprising to some, they are not an uncommon response to poor treatment by law enforcement. Insensitive treatment by those in positions of authority to whom victims turned for help can intensify victims’ feelings of shame, guilt, and powerlessness and can cause additional emotional distress. The likelihood of such revictimization is higher in cases of non-stranger assault. See Rebecca Campbell, “The Psychological Impact of Rape Victims’ Experiences with the Legal, Medical, and Mental Health Systems,” American Psychologist, November 2008.

[35] Human Rights Watch interview with medical staff P.R., Washington, D.C., February 18, 2011.

[36] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Maya T. (pseudonym), May 10, 2011; Complaint Form, Office of Police Complaints, May 9, 2011 (provided by Maya T.), on file at Human Rights Watch.

[37] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Shelly G. (pseudonym), June 20, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[38] Louise Ellison, “Closing the Credibility Gap: The Prosecutorial Use of Expert Witness Testimony in Sexual Assault Cases,” International Journal of Evidence and Proof, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 243; J. Michael Rivard, M.D. et al, “Acute Dissociative Responses in Law Enforcement Officers Involved in Critical Shooting Incidents: The Clinical and Forensic Implications,” Journal of Forensic Science, vol. 47, no. 5, July 2002; David Lisak, “The Neurobiology of Trauma,” 2002 (unpublished article, on file at Human Rights Watch); Sgt. Joanne Archambault, Dr. Kimberly Lonsway, Ending Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), “Interviewing the Victim,” May 2007, p. 21; PPCT Management Systems, Inc. (1989), Use of Force Human Factors  (Chapter One); Mary P. Koss, Shannon Tramp, and Melinda Tharan, “Traumatic memories: Empirical foundations, forensic and clinical implications,” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1995, pp. 111-132.

[39]  Human Rights Watch telephone interview with R.L., March 9, 2011.

[40] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Julie M. (pseudonym), April 3, 2011.

[41] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical staff C.J., May 10, 2011.

[42]  Human Rights Watch interview with university staff L.O., Washington, D.C., March 28, 2011; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Shelly G. (pseudonym), October 12, 2012; case information cover sheet from Shelly G.’s case (provided by MPD), on file at Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Maya T., May 10, 2011; complaint form, Office of Police Complaints, May 9, 2011 (provided by Maya T.); narrative of events provided by Maya T., on file at Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch group interview with sexual assault survivors (including with Susan D.), Washington D.C., September 30, 2011.

[43] Human Rights Watch notes from review of MPD investigative files, SA11-XXX, SA09-XXX, SA11-XXX, August 21-23, 2012. 

[44] Human Rights Watch group interview with sexual assault survivors (including with Dolores R.), Washington D.C., September 30, 2011.

[45] District of Columbia Sexual Assault Information Form, dated November 24, 2011, on file at Human Rights Watch; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical staff I.L., December 7, 2011.

[46] Human Rights Watch notes from review of MPD investigative files, SA09-XXX, August 23, 2012.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with K.V., Washington, D.C., March 28, 2011; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical staff C.J., May 10, 2011; Human Rights Watch group interview with advocates, Washington, D.C., March 28, 2011.

[48] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical staff M.W., March 24, 2011.

[49] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical staff C.J., May 10, 2011.

[50] Human Rights Watch group interview with sexual assault survivors (including with Dolores R.), Washington D.C., September 30, 2011.

[51] Office of Police Complaints, Complaint Form, November 12, 2009, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[52] Office of Police Complaints, Complaint Form, May 4, 2007, on file at Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch is not privy to information about investigations performed by the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) into complaints, though in some instances we received conclusions by the OPC either forwarding the information to the MPD because a complaint was outside its jurisdiction or, in two instances, a letter finding no misconduct had occurred. Whether or not “misconduct” was officially found to have occurred, the attitude described in the complaint letters is contrary to the sensitive and victim-centered approach undertaken by police departments with effective responses to crimes of sexual assault.

[53] Louise Ellison, “Closing the Credibility Gap: The Prosecutorial Use of Expert Witness Testimony in Sexual Assault Cases,” International Journal of Evidence and Proof, vol. 9, no. 4, p. 243.

[54] International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Investigating Sexual Assaults,” http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=z5xGuy0ksGo%3d&tabid=87, p. 8 (accessed January 3, 2012).

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Commander George Kucik, Lieutenant Pamela Burkett-Jones, Sergeant Keith Ronald Reed, and Tyria Fields, program manager for Victim Services, Washington, D.C., May 30, 2012. The letter from the Chief of Police to Human Rights Watch dated June 8, 2012 also references the quiet room as established to ensure victims are interviewed in a quiet, private location.

[56] Deposition testimony of Officer Michael Minor, May 14, 2008, pp. 88-89.

[57] Human Rights Watch notes from review of MPD investigative files, SA09-XXX, August 21, 2012.

[58] Human Rights Watch group interview with advocates, Washington D.C., March 28, 2011.

[59] Criminal Investigations Division, Metropolitan Police Department, Division Memorandum, “Sexual Assault Investigations,” June 12, 2012, p.1.

[60] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Heather Devore, SANE medical director, Washington, D.C., October 10, 2012.

[61] Human Rights Watch group interview with advocates, Washington D.C., March 28, 2011; Human Rights Watch interview with university staff L.O., March 28, 2011 and by telephone on June 13, 2011.

[62] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Shelly G. (pseudonym), June 18, 2012.

[63] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with R.L., May 31, 2012; Human Rights Watch interview with P.S., Washington, D.C., March 15, 2011.

[64] Office of Police Complaints, Complaint Form, November 12, 2009, on file with Human Rights Watch.

[65] Human Rights Watch group interview with sexual assault survivors (including Estella C.), Washington D.C., September 30, 2011.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with attorney A.J., March 22, 2011; and with J.Z., staff member of community organization where Rosa sought help, June 6, 2012.

[69] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Devin Trinkley, July 19, 2012.

[70] Human Rights Watch email correspondence with R.A., June 22, 2012; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with R.T., September 24, 2012.

[71] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dr. Heather Devore, SANE medical director, Washington Hospital Center, Washington, D.C., October 11, 2012.

[72] Rebecca Campbell et al., “Community Services for Rape Survivors: Enhancing Psychological Well-Being or Increasing Trauma?” Journal of  Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 67, no. 6, 1999, pp. 847-858; Rebecca Campbell, “What Really Happened? A validation study of rape survivors’ help-seeking experiences with the legal and medical systems,” Violence & Victims, vol.20, February 2005, pp. 55-68.

[73] See Debra Patterson, “The Impact of Detectives’ Manner of Questioning on Rape Victims’ Disclosure,” Violence Against Women, January 11, 2012.

[74] See Dr. Kimberly Lonsway and Sgt. Joanne Archambault, “The ‘Justice Gap’ for Sexual Assault Cases: Future Directions for Research and Reform,” Violence Against Women, 18(2), pp. 145-168 (discussing various studies on rape reporting); Dean G. Kilpatrick, et al., National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina, “Drug-Facilitated, Incapacitated, and Forcible Rape: A National Study,” Document No. 219181, US Department of Justice Award No. 2005-WG-BX-0006, February 1, 2007, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/219181.pdf (accessed November 19, 2012) (finding 16 percent of rapes are reported to law enforcement).

[75] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with medical staff B.C., March 8, 2011; D.C. SART Meeting Minutes, April 30, 2009, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[76] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with R.L., March 9, 2011.

[77] General Order, Metropolitan Police Department, “Adult Sexual Assault Investigations,” Series 304, Number 06, effective date August 25, 2011, https://go.mpdconline.com/GO/GO_304_06.pdf (accessed May 23, 2012), p. 2.

[78] Metropolitan Police Department, Sexual Assault Unit SOP, January 14, 2003, p. 19.

[79] In addition to seven complaints from sexual assault victims to the Office of Police Complaints, Human Rights Watch is aware of at least four written complaints by sexual assault survivors made directly to MPD, as well as frequent informal complaints about SAU detectives’ treatment of victims raised by medical staff and advocates with sergeants in the SAU over the past three years. A letter that the MPD sent to the D.C. City Council in February 2012 stated that only one officer has been disciplined for inappropriate treatment of a sexual assault victim since June 2006. In the instance cited, a detective was suspended in November 2009 for 15 days after inappropriately contacting a sexual assault victim on Facebook. Letter from Metropolitan Police Department to Phil Mendelson, council member, February 24, 2012, p. 15. The chief of police told Human Rights Watch that four detectives were transferred from the unit in 2009 in response to concerns raised by the student’s lawsuit and that she was unaware of any complaints about misconduct from SAU members, apart from one, that had been sustained. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Cathy Lanier, chief of police, Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C., June 1, 2012; letter from Chief Lanier to Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2012, on file at Human Rights Watch.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Carol Tracy, executive director, Women’ Law Project, Philadelphia, November 1, 2011 (recounting advice she received from a criminologist who consulted with police departments).