What is the issue?

Law enforcement officers play a critical role in responding to cases of sexual violence.  They may be among the first people that a victim talks to after the assault, and the victim’s experience in that interaction may determine her or his decision to move forward on reporting the crime and cooperating with prosecution.  In addition, law enforcement officers are responsible for the collection of evidence, the victim interview, the follow-up investigation and the interrogation of the alleged offender.  Unless this duty is handled comprehensively, thoroughly and consistently, there is the risk that key evidence will be missed, tainted or lost, hampering prosecution of sexual offenses.

Due to the complexity, trauma, and potential physical injury involved in a sexual assault, a consistent and comprehensive law enforcement response is critical to a victim’s safety, health and well-being.  Clear knowledge and understanding of sexual assault will also assist in thorough and accurate evidence collection, assisting prosecution of alleged offenders.  However, Virginia does not require law enforcement agencies to have a written policy on responding to situations in which sexual violence has occurred.  As a result, law enforcement response to sexual violence is often inconsistent in different parts of the state and even, at times, within jurisdictions.

A recent survey by the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) showed that 49% of responding agencies did not have a written policy on responding to sexual violence situations.  This survey also demonstrated numerous inconsistencies across jurisdictions regarding such issues as use of polygraphs on victims and offenders, when and how Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERKs) are authorized, how often officers are trained on sexual violence issues, and collaboration with other agencies in responding to sexual offenses.

Legislation is already in place requiring written policies for responding to situations of domestic violence (§ 19.2-81.4).  The response to sexual violence should be held to the same standard.

What does VSDVAA want to do?

VSDVAA wants to work with the General Assembly and DCJS to enact legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to establish and implement written policies on responding to situations in which sexual violence has occurred.  This legislation would not require each law enforcement agency to establish the same policies and procedures, but it would require specific factors that each agency’s procedures must include.

What is our goal?

Sexual assault continues to be one of the most underreported crimes in Virginia and in the nation.  Enhancing law enforcement response and ensuring consistent and appropriate response within and across jurisdictions may increase a victim’s willingness to come forward and make a report.  Consistent and thorough evidence collection will also lead to increased prosecutions and convictions, and will ultimately lead to safer communities.

For more information, contact Jennifer Woolley at VSDVAA

434-979-9002      866-3-VSDVAA    jwoolley@vsdvalliance.org

reposted from the Action Alliance website:  http://www.vsdvalliance.org 

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