January 24, 2013

Recommendations

To the United States Congress

  • Pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA). While the bill never reached the President last year, separate versions of VAWA before both the Senate and House in 2012 funded training for law enforcement agencies on how to improve investigation of sexual assault cases and on how to appropriately treat victims. The bills also provided grants to help appoint victim counselors for the prosecution of sexual assault cases.

To the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division Advisory Policy Board

  • For the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), recommend collecting and publishing data separately for crimes law enforcement has “cleared by arrest” and cleared “by exceptional means.”
  • Clarify in the UCR Handbook that “clearing by exceptional means” does not include cases in which a prosecutor has rejected a warrant request for insufficient evidence.
  • Consider revising UCR data collection to include collecting data that would reflect prosecutorial outcomes in order to provide the public with more meaningful information on what ultimately happens to sexual assault cases reported in communities.

To the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division

  • Conduct an investigation into the MPD’s handling of sexual assault cases to determine whether it has engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives individuals of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or US laws.

To the Council of the District of Columbia and the D.C. Mayor’s Office

  • Establish a task force (including a nationally recognized expert on sexual assault investigations) to examine the MPD’s policies and practices for handling sex crimes cases and recommend changes to ensure all complaints of sexual assaults are documented and investigated and victims of sexual assault are treated appropriately. The task force should also examine the definition of sex abuse in D.C. to ensure it is in line with current standards.
  • Pass legislation giving victims the right to have an advocate, victim specialist, or support person of their choosing present during law enforcement interviews and proceedings.
  • Create a permanent independent oversight body tasked to conduct regular reviews of police sexual assault investigation files. The body should report publicly to the city council. It should include members representing civil society, such as groups that provide support services to victims.
  • Ensure Victim Services within the MPD (which provides support, information, and referrals to sexual assault and domestic violence survivors) has adequate resources to expand support to the Sexual Assault Unit (SAU). Request regular reports on implementing recommended changes to handle sexual assault cases from the MPD as part of the council’s regular performance oversight hearings.

To the Metropolitan Police Department

To Improve Accountability for the Follow-Up on Sexual Assault Cases

  • Include treatment of victims as a factor in evaluation of SAU detectives and follow-through on any complaint regarding how a case was handled by MPD. Victims, support persons, witnesses, or third parties should be able to lodge complaints. A supervisor should investigate complaints, with second-level review. Transfer out of the unit and, as appropriate, discipline detectives who are regularly the subject of complaints.
  • Require responding officers to document all reports of sexual assault and require SAU supervisors (a sergeant or lieutenant) to compare call log sheets for sexual assault cases to PD-251s to ensure each report is documented.
  • Require that supervisors ensure that forensic evidence kits and other relevant evidence are collected regularly.
  • Assign all allegations to detectives for follow-up investigation, and require supervisors to review sexual assault allegations to determine whether they are being properly converted to sexual assault cases.
  • Establish a tracking system allowing supervisors to monitor the reporting, clearing, and closing of all cases by each detective to identify potential problems.
  • Establish regular multidisciplinary review of closed cases to discuss ways to improve the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases, as well as treatment of victims.
  • Develop a system allowing victims to complete and submit victim satisfaction surveys for the MPD to review and respond to, in order to change responses to sexual assault based on input by survivors.
  • Require a prosecutor to review all cases in which the perpetrator has been identified before it is closed.

To Treat Sexual Assault Survivors Fairly

  • Protect the confidentiality of all victims reporting a sexual assault, regardless of the classification of the offense as a sex abuse offense, an allegation, or an “office information” (or “miscellaneous”) case, including cases in which sexual assault is not the “primary” charge.
  • Give victims the option of having an advocate, victim specialist, or support person of their choosing present during law enforcement interviews or proceedings.
  • Provide referral information for counseling for all victims who report sexual assault.
  • Require detectives to provide victims with transportation from the hospital after a forensic exam unless he or she has made other arrangements.
  • Provide all victims with a case number and the detective’s contact information and work hours. Tell victims to call 911 in an emergency.
  • Require a detective or victim specialist to return calls from victims within one business day; work with victim advocates or Victim Services to keep victims regularly informed of the status of the investigation.
  • If a decision is made not to prosecute, inform the victim in a timely and sensitive manner and, if appropriate, offer referrals to community resources for counseling.
  • Develop an anonymous reporting system.
  • Provide a comfortable and private place to interview victims at the SAU.
  • Increase the role of victim specialists within the SAU to provide support and referrals to all sexual assault victims and help with practical arrangements.
  • Except in urgent circumstances, allow victims at least one full sleep cycle before scheduling a follow-up interview by a detective.
  • Include a former SAU member in upper echelons of MPD management or establish an advisor on sexual assault investigations for the chief of police.
  • After implementing reforms, conduct public outreach to encourage members of the community to report sexual assaults and strengthen trust in the police.
  • Regularly train all police officers and recruits to understand the realistic dynamics of sexual assault (including non-stranger cases and drug or alcohol-facilitated assaults), the effects of trauma, and proper treatment of victims.
  • Train detectives to interview sexual assault victims appropriately using trauma-informed techniques and to understand the impact of trauma on victims of sexual assault; to investigate non-stranger and drug-facilitated sexual assaults; and how to document sexual assault using the language of non-consensual sex.
  • In the selection of detectives for the SAU, take into account the detectives’ suitability for handling sensitive victim interviews and their ability to be open to understanding the realistic and evolving dynamics of sexual assault.