Systemic Reforms Needed in NYPD’s Sexual Assault Response
New York, NY – In a city of 8.6 million residents and 60 million tourists a year, Mayor De Blasio must take responsibility for police response to sex crimes – from the treatment of victims to thoroughly investigating reports of sexual assault and rape.
A story published in the New York Times on February 17, 2020, highlights that neither of these police responsibilities were handled properly, leading to a rape suspect being released and attacking three additional women.
“Mayor De Blasio is not a lame duck. He can ensure the NYPD takes immediate action to provide public safety and restore the public’s trust.” said Sonia Ossorio, President of the National Organization for Women – New York. “Either he cares about delivering the best service to rape victims or he’s fine with the status quo.”
In January 2019, a class-action lawsuit brought by rape victims cited failure to properly investigate cases and return phone calls and an environment waiting for victims of “disdain, disbelief and disrespect.”
In 2018, the NYC Department of Investigation released a 165-page report into how the NYPD’s Special Victims Division (SVD) was failing to adequately address sex crimes, citing a severely understaffed division; too few officer’s with high-level investigative experience; insufficient training; and a failure to take acquaintance rape as seriously as stranger rape.
Ossorio asked, “Does Mayor De Blasio really want his legacy in the Me Too era to be a substandard police response to sex crimes in our city? The world is watching, and we have an opportunity to make significant reforms to address rape and sexual assault, but our leaders need to be bold and take action with the urgency this issue demands.”
Victims and advocates continue to report interactions with police that vary widely from case to case. An October 2019 survey conducted by Women’s Justice NOW of service providers that collectively serve more than 5,500 survivors annually found that only 19% of organizations reported that “most reports were treated seriously and investigated vigorously” and 71% agreed “survivors felt disrespected, ignored, or not taken seriously by the police.”
Survivors and anti-violence advocates are calling for a plan of action that includes:
– Building a culture at SVD that demands meeting all survivors with compassion and professionalism. Research demonstrates that meeting survivors with belief and support not only impacts the trajectory of their healing but helps investigators obtain better information and results. In fact, a strong victim-centered approach was recommended in the U.S. Department of Justice report on preventing gender bias in law enforcement.
– Increasing the number of detectives across SVD adult and child abuse units to lower caseloads. DOI calculated that at least 140 investigators dedicated specifically to the adult squad were needed to do an adequate job, and this was before accounting for the rising reports of sexual assault. Although the NYPD has increased the number of SVD investigators, this recommended number has not yet been met.
– Significantly increasing the investigative skill level of those assigned to the division. Only 3% of SVD investigators are First-Grade Detectives, those detectives recognized with the highest level of investigative experience. Increasing opportunities for promotion within the division and engaging more experienced investigators from the outset lays the groundwork for a stronger and more effective unit.
– Providing more and better quality training to SVD and all police officers. The move to ensure that every SVD investigator is trained in trauma-informed interviewing techniques is a significant investment and critical step in the right direction. We’ll continue to push for expanded training until it’s clear that all sex crime investigations are timely, competent, and robust. The NYPD should institute additional department-wide training in best practices for handling sexual assault reports, reducing implicit biases, and conducting trauma-informed interviews and investigations.
– Increasing performance evaluation measures and undertaking additional steps to institute systemic reforms. This must include moving forward with an independent evaluation of SVD to implement best practices; increasing transparency with survivors, advocates and the public; and conducting meaningful survivor exit surveys to inform practices.
– Implementing a city wide, evidence-based plan to reduce gender-based violence. Me Too has done a great deal to break down taboos and to raise awareness of how ingrained and routine sexual assault is in our culture. However, more needs to be done to change policies and practices to truly stop abuse. This includes improving consent and healthy relationship education from pre-K to 12th grade; launching evidence-based public-service campaigns that aim to shift cultural attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate abuse; and invest in survivor-led and community-based outreach to prevent and address violence.
“It’s past due time for Mayor De Blasio to publicly address the problems within the NYPD and commit to taking immediate action to improve the division and restore the public’s trust,” Ossorio said. “His legacy rests on this issue.”
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