Friday, July 11, 2008

Rape Inquiry Squads

The UK has a good idea, one that is long-overdue. According to a report in the BBC:

Every police force should set up a specialist squad to investigate rape allegations, a senior officer says.

John Yates, who speaks on the issue for the Association of Chief Police Officers, argues such teams would help raise standards of victim care.

They would also help improve conviction rates as rape inquiries are demanding and require specialist skills, he told a London conference on the issue.

Hopefully, this proposed specialist squad will become a universal reality soon. In addition to increasing the level of expertise of the officers who investigate rapes, I believe more survivors might report if they understand that their cases will be taken seriously, and that they will be provided the support of officers who specialize in rape and sexual assault. I have heard too many accounts from survivors that they've been asked victim-blaming questions by officers who come to investigate, and that the experience of reporting was more traumatic that it should be. Hopefully, the British are on the path to changing that.

UPDATE: Also, my third and fourth Feministe posts are up!

(image via)


Mächtige Maus said...

Not surprisingly, I find this idea intriguing.

Law enforcement officers, after enough years on the job, become jaded. It can diminish one's capacity to be compassionate. For a sexual assault investigation, certainly a group trained to proceed in a more sensitive fashion is an idea long past due.

However, I do pause for a moment at the overall interpretation of what such a specialized squad would mean. Without a doubt, such specialized training would provided victims with a more humanized treatment following a violently traumatic experience. The idea that the presence of a specialized sexual assault unit would enhance the conviction rate on these crimes seems a bit unrealistic. I'm not convinced that this is the case.

Roughly 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. This fact alone leads many a victim to not report the crime. Beyond that, convictions are often watered down plea bargains. A specialized investigation unit does not alter either of those realities.

While a sexual assault response squad would vastly improve a victim's treatment following the report of the crime, I am not convinced that the existence of such a unit alone would encourage a woman who is already blaming herself to report a crime where she feels she is at fault. Society, I feel, bears the brunt of that responsibility because it has helped created the blame the victim environment.

A woman never asks to be raped. It doesn't matter what she is wearing. It doesn't matter if she knows the guy. It doesn't matter if the guy is her husband or boyfriend. A "no" means "no". I think that is where the focus needs to start.

daedalus2u said...

I think this is an excellent idea, way past time for it.

I think it would help convictions by having people more experienced in dealing with victims handle them in ways so that the process they have to go through is not more traumatizing, so the victims don’t need to withdraw from the process.

Mächtige Maus said...

Does anyone have any statistics on this? Does more women going through the process automatically mean a higher conviction rate? I may be grappling with semantics here. An arrest and/or indictment does not a conviction make.

Again, specialized squads are an excellent idea. Would such a squad encourage more women to report an assault? Certainly. Of course the entire process should be compassionate. The sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), the responding officer, the victim witness coordinator all have a responsibility to provide compassionate care to the victim. However, I am still not convinced that such a squad will necessarily improve the conviction rate.

Certainly, it may increase the number of cases submitted. Keep in mind, not every woman is going to prosecute. If she does, not every case is going to have enough evidence to go forward.

Perhaps I am simply playing devil's advocate here. Agincourt must be rubbing off on me. I just don't want the assumption to be that the conviction rates will improve. An official report/complaint and a conviction in the legal system are not synonymous. I think it is misleading to victims to suggest that it is.

daedalus2u said...

I am no expert, but I think a major reason that many women don't pursue charges is that the "cost" to them in terms of personal emotional energy is too high.

In order to mitigate the injury done to them, victims need the space to heal and recover. A ham-handed approach by police with no sensitivity or understanding of what victims have gone through may be more than they can deal with.

The objective behind this shouldn't be "conviction rates", but rather mitigation of harm to the victim, prevention of future victimization of this particular victim (especially by the process), and prevention of future victims. Conviction of the perpetrator is a part of that. It is the only part that people who are "tough" on crime care about, but it is the least effective and the most expensive part, and something that does virtually nothing to help the victim. Even when convicted, people eventually get released from prison where they have probably been made more violent.

I think a serious and dedicated approach to rape via dedicated squads to investigate and deal with it will improve the quality of DNA and other evidence. With police specializing in this, they have the opportunity to get good at it. It has to be managed properly but there is at least the possibility of getting it right that isn't there without specialization.

Mächtige Maus said...

I absolutely agree, the point shouldn't be the conviction rate, but I think the cry for that tends to be louder than anything else.

Certainly, compassionate treatment is what the victim needs, regardless of what course the case may take after reporting the incident.

I hardly think the "tough on crime" people only care about the convictions. And to expect that law enforcement can both process the crime *and* take care of the victim is a far too grand of an expectation, not to mention it is a *massive* conflict of interest. Even with the creation an inquiry squad, the downstream care of the victim is not going to fall on the law enforcement personnel.

A point of clarification here. Currently, a sexual assualt victim will report initially to the hospital where there are already trained personnel to deal with her in the compassionate manner we are asking for here. In addition, they are already trained to collect all the DNA evidence necessary to process the case. So, while we may not have inquiry squads in the US on this task currently, most hospitals, at least in this area that I deal with on a daily basis, have highly trained individuals doing right by the victims and the evidence each and every day.

Ms.PhD said...

Don't they have this already? Doesn't anybody watch SVU?

Mächtige Maus said...

Ms.PHD, this time you forced me to look into this as far as the existence of SVU type squads here in the US...and not just on TV.

While an initial quick search for special victim unit does of course hit upon Law & Order-SVU, I can proudly report that there are also the following hits for actual law enforcement Special Victim Units:

New York, NY
Atlanta, GA
Portsmouth, VA
Oakland, CA
Brown University
Philadelphia, PA
Oroville, CA
San Diego, CA
Virginia Beach, VA
Jackson, MS
Boise, ID
Providence, RI
El Paso, TX

For instance...