Monday, June 07, 2010


Training for police officers

In a very welcome move, a New York City police department task force recommends giving their officers more training in how to handle reports of sex crimes.

There’s a part of me that wonders why this is necessary: it should be obvious that victims reporting crimes of any sort should be taken seriously, should not be subject to belittlement or counter-accusations from the police officers, should have their allegations fairly, competently, and thoroughly investigated, and should be comforted as victims of violations. But it’s also clear that crimes of violence require more sensitivity, and that rape and other sex crimes are especially touchy.

But going beyond normal sensitivity to victims, the handling sex crimes by police officers — especially, though not exclusively, male police officers — is subject to another sort of problem: denial. There’s an appallingly strong tendency to blame the victim (for her manner of dress, for going out alone, for being drunk, for not resisting enough, for otherwise asking for it), to disbelieve the victim (she’s lying, she consented and then changed her mind, it wasn’t really rape, and so on), to refuse to investigate the report aggressively, and, in general, to discourage the victim from proceeding.

As anyone who follows the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit television series knows, the New York City police department has specially trained detectives assigned to investigate these crimes. The trouble is that cases often don’t get to them. There aren’t enough SVU detectives, for one thing. And then, often, reports are not taken or are not followed through; the victims give up out of embarrassment, fear, or frustration; the cases are not properly classified as sex crimes; or, out of negligence or apathy, paperwork doesn’t make it to the SVU.

The good news is that the police department does seem to care about fixing the problems, and appears to be taking steps in that direction. I’m skeptical, but we need to assume, for the moment, that they will take action. If they do, it will be a good thing.

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