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Ore. Police Department Improves Sexual Assault Reporting

Only an estimated 35 percent of victims report sexual assault cases to police, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice. (Sasha Freemind/Unsplash)
Only an estimated 35 percent of victims report sexual assault cases to police, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice. (Sasha Freemind/Unsplash)
October 3, 2016

ASHLAND, Ore. – A police department in southern Oregon is handling sexual assault cases in a new way, focusing on giving options to victims.

Ashland Police Department Detective Carrie Hull created the You Have Options program three years ago to give victims of sexual assault more control over the reporting process.

Wendy Anderson, program manager for the sexual assault victim services program at Community Works in Medford, explains officers are geared toward interrogation style interviews.

So, one key element of You Have Options is trauma informed training for police who interact with victims.

"The training that they go through to do that kind of interview helps to give them some understanding of what trauma does in someone's brain, and why they may not remember some specific details at the moment, but may remember them later," Anderson explains.

The program includes 20 elements that address the reasons why victims struggle to report sexual assault cases.

Christia Currie of the You Have Options program says the Ashland Police Department saw a 106 percent increase in reporting during the first year of the program. Three other police departments across the country have adopted the program.

You Have Options gives victims three choices for reporting the incident – the report can be informational only, or victims can launch a partial or full investigation – and they can change their choice during the investigative process.

Anderson says options are important because sexual assault victims feel their choices were taken away in the crime.

She explains even small courtesies, such as giving survivors a choice of where to sit to conduct the interview, can be very important.

"Them being able to tell their story, and feel and believe that they are being heard – rather than questioned with some level of disbelief – makes a huge difference in their ability to begin the healing process and to move forward," Anderson points out.

She says other police departments in Oregon have also adopted elements of the You Have Options program.

In order to be certified, a department must adopt all 20 elements.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR