Roll Up Your Sleeves, CASS Community: We’ve Got Work to Do!

HRW's 196-page report concludes that in many sexual assault cases, DC police did not file incident reports, which are required to proceed with an investigation, or misclassified serious sexual assaults as lesser or other crimes.
HRW’s 196-page report concludes that in many sexual assault cases, DC police did not file incident reports, which are required to proceed with an investigation, or misclassified serious sexual assaults as lesser or other crimes.

Last week, we told you about the DC Council’s June 27th hearing to present an independent review of the January 2013 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia.” The report alleges that DC police disregarded rape victims in an effort to play down the crimes, resulting in 170 reports that were missing or filed in a way that ensured they would not be properly investigated. CASS attended the June 27th hearing, held by the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, along with community advocates and Sara Dareshori, author of the HRW report and expert on police handling of sexual assault cases.

From our initial analysis, we found the independent review report, which was conducted by law firm Crowell & Moring, to be vague. We believe that the review understates the problems highlighted by the HRW report. But there’s a silver lining. Despite focusing on what they perceived to be methodological flaws in the HRW report, Crowell & Moring made recommendations that closely mirror HRW’s original recommendations. So DC Council has heard from both HRW and from Crowell and Moring that there are reforms that will be integral to ensuring that MPD is affording sexual assault survivors the respect and treatment they deserve, and are doing everything in their power to bring perpetrators to justice.

Those recommendations include:

    • Ensure survivor confidentiality;
    • Give sexual assault survivors the right to have an advocate present in interviews with the police, and during a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exam;
    • Retain an independent expert consultant/advisor to ensure that MPD’s handling of sexual assault investigations meets the highest national standards;
    • Ensure oversight mechanisms are in place, and have regular reports on implementing recommended changes be part of the Council’s regular performance oversight hearings;
    • Provide expanded and ongoing training to MPD on trauma-informed interview techniques, survivor-centered approaches to investigation, and other best practices.

As DC Council begins their work on a bill to be introduced prior to summer recess on July 15th, CASS will continue to advocate for the inclusion of these important recommendations. If all goes well, we’ve got from now until mid-September, when DC Council is back in session, to pull together a broad coalition of community advocacy groups, survivors, direct service providers and other key stakeholders to amplify the community’s call for responsive and trauma-informed police investigations of sexual assault.

If you are interested in getting involved in these efforts, please email Julia Strange at julia@collectiveactiondc.org.

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