Washington D.C. police mishandle sexual assault cases: HRW Report

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 25, 2013 06:10 hrs

Victims of sexual assault in Washington, DC are not getting the effective response they deserve and should expect from the district's Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Human Rights Watch has said in a report released yesterday.

The report further states that sexual assault cases are too often not properly documented or investigated and victims may face callous, traumatizing treatment, despite official departmental policy to the contrary.

The 196-page report titled "Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia," concludes that in many sexual assault cases, the police did not file incident reports, which are required to proceed with an investigation, or misclassified serious sexual assaults as lesser or other crimes.

Human Rights Watch also found that the police presented cases to prosecutors for warrants that were so inadequately investigated that prosecutors had little choice but to refuse them and that procedural formalities were used to close cases with only minimal investigation.

The mayor and City Council should create an independent mechanism to monitor police department response to sexual assault complaints, Human Rights Watch said.

"Sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in the US, largely because many victims fear that their cases will not be taken seriously and that police will not believe them," said Sara Darehshori, senior counsel in the US Program at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report.

Darehshori adds: "Unfortunately, for some victims in DC who bravely came forward and reported their assaults, those fears were realized."

Over the course of the 22-month investigation, Human Rights Watch conducted 150 interviews with sexual assault survivors, community groups, victims' advocates, hospital staff, and university counselors, among others.

In addition, Human Rights Watch collected documents from four government agencies and reviewed over 250 internal investigative files for sex abuse cases at the MPD headquarters.

Human Rights Watch also searched MPD's internal database, the Washington Area Criminal Intelligence Information System (WACIIS), for missing police reports.

The review of investigative files was part of a settlement agreement resulting from a lawsuit Human Rights Watch brought after the MPD failed to produce documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Human Rights Watch reviewed dates of all sexual assault reports made at Washington Hospital Center, where sexual assault victims are sent for forensic examinations, and compared them to sexual assault cases opened by the police department between October 2008 and September 2011.

More than 200 cases, or over 40 percent of cases reviewed, appear never to have been documented or properly investigated. (ANI)

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