A low number of recorded sexual assaults may seem like a positive indicator. But when Human Rights Watch researcher Sara Darehshori realized just how low the numbers were in Washington, DC, she saw a red flag and went to work.
Sara suspected that to keep the number of unsolved cases low, police were not reporting assaults. When she looked closer she discovered a systematic mishandling of sexual assault cases, and a police culture of appalling negligence. Her tireless efforts uncovered shocking information.
- Women were being interviewed immediately after their assault – sometimes while still traumatized – and had their cases thrown out as unreliable or inconsistent.
- Against police protocol, officers made on-the-fly decisions not to investigate cases or even report them if they deemed it a tough case to prosecute.
- Incredibly, many sexual assault cases were misclassified as non-criminal offenses or non-sex offenses, leaving perpetrators free to roam the streets without being arrested.
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Thanks to Sara’s report, the DC Police were forced to confront this problem and begin changing the way they operated:
- Victims are now allowed a full sleep cycle before questioning.
- Sexual assault detectives are required to undergo specific training.
- The police department has changed the way it documents sexual assault.
But for Sara, there has been an even more important outcome. “Since we did the report,” she explained, “others have come forward with similar, sometimes frighteningly similar, cases. It’s good for them to know that they’re not alone – that someone is taking these problems seriously.”
No one would have known without supporters like you whose donations gave Sara the time she needed.
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