Molly didn’t feel comfortable reporting to the University of Maryland Police after she was sexually assaulted. Telling someone else the narrative of when she was assaulted seemed daunting, and even after reliving the details, she didn’t think the police would believe her.
“I didn’t think anything good would come from it,” the University of Maryland alumna said. “I didn’t think anything would happen to my perpetrator. I don’t have faith in the justice system when it comes to sexual assault, anyways.”
Sexual violence is rarely reported, and just one survivor interviewed for this series said she reported to University Police. Survivors interviewed cited concerns of reliving trauma, enduring victim-blaming and having their stories met with skepticism as reasons they didn’t report.
One in 5 women say they have been sexually assaulted in college, according to a 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, yet the number of rapes reported across Big Ten schools rarely reached one per 1,000 students, according to 2015 Clery Act reports collected by the U.S. Education Department.
Even fewer lead to criminal prosecutions. Out of every 1,000 instances of rape, 13 are referred to a prosecutor, and seven cases will lead to a felony conviction, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.
To ensure a fair and equitable process in rape investigations, officers must use trauma-informed investigation techniques, such as asking non-leading, open-ended questions or understanding trauma’s effects on the brain, said Jim Hopper, a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and trains police officers around the country.
Beyond training about sexual assault all officers must receive in the entry-level academy, detectives from the University Police Criminal Investigations Unit receive additional training on topics such as homicide, fraud and sexual assault investigations. In fall 2015, this university’s Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct provided officers with trauma-informed interview training, university spokeswoman Natifia Mullings wrote in an email.
The patrol officer who first responds to a sexual assault victim’s call and collects initial information doesn’t necessarily have access to the additional training detectives undergo, and staff turnover means they may not have received the Title IX office’s 2015 training, which was not mandated by the state, University Police spokeswoman Sgt. Rosanne Hoaas said.
University Police participate in annual in-service training, and the training portion about sexual assault occurs every three years, as required by state law. During this module, officers will go through procedures regarding the victims of crimes and criminal laws concerning sex offenses, Mullings wrote. Though the 2015 Title IX training was not state-mandated, it satisfied the in-service training required by Maryland law, Hoaas said, and served as an “added tool.”
“You’re putting people in the mindset that, ‘I can trust the person that I’m telling this secret, this incident about,’” University Police Chief of Staff David Lloyd said. “Whatever you want done, you’re in control. I’m not in control, I’m handling the investigation.”
The Title IX office also provided University Police with “roll call trainings” in the fall, which “touch on trauma-informed investigations,” Katie Lawson, this university’s chief communications officer, wrote in an email Tuesday night when contacted for fact-checking purposes. Hoaas did not comment on these trainings and directed questions to university communications.
When asked a follow-up question on how these trainings addressed trauma-informed investigations, Lawson declined to elaborate last night citing time constraints and The Diamondback’s previous interview opportunities with University Police.
The Diamondback sent a public records request on Feb. 28 to access training materials used to educate officers who investigate sexual assault and rape cases. This request is still pending.
‘Allowing a narrative to unfold’
Extreme stress and trauma can create fragmented memories and victims may not remember events chronologically, Hopper said. In addition, victims may be emotionally numb, or have unexpected responses to their trauma, such as nervous laughter, he said.
Fear of not being believed by law enforcement is one of the biggest barriers to reporting to police, said Christia Currie, a training specialist for the You Have Options reporting program, which focuses on increasing the number of survivors who report to law enforcement. The fear of losing control after an already-traumatic event also plays a significant role, she added.
“The criminal justice system will sweep it up, and they won’t have as much control over what happened to them,” Currie said.
About 42 percent of about 4,000 students at this university who responded to a spring 2016 climate survey said they believe University Police respond effectively to sexual assault, while about 47 percent were undecided.
Hoaas said police are determined to pay attention to the survivor’s needs.
“We are here for the survivor, and it’s totally up to the survivor whatever they choose to do,” Hoaas said. “They can choose to come to us and say, ‘Yes, I want to move forward criminally,’ and [if] at any point during that process, even before it gets to the state’s attorney’s office, they decide, ‘You know what, I don’t want to,’ that’s totally fine too. We’re going to support the survivor, no matter what.”
University Police Lt. Raphael Moss, a detective in the criminal investigations unit, said the additional training from the university’s Title IX office in fall 2015 helped the unit understand best interview techniques when speaking with a victim of a sex crime.
There are currently no specific plans to conduct further trauma-informed training, such as the 2015 training, though the Title IX office said there will be more in the future, Lawson wrote in an email.
The 2015 training focused on asking open-ended questions and understanding the best way to interview individuals who have experienced trauma, Moss said.
“It lets us know that we need to be a little bit more patient with these people,” Moss said, “and try and help them work their way through the whole process to get us the full story so we can get all the evidence and so we can help them.”
Title IX Officer Catherine Carroll said the office models training off a forensic experiential trauma interviewing technique that focuses on the brain’s reaction to trauma.
“It’s about allowing a narrative to unfold in an interview so you’re not really doing an interrogation and you’re not necessarily doing confrontational questioning,” Carroll said. “You’re allowing a narrative to unfold and you’re also prompting memory recall by focusing on sensory responses.”
Hopper said general trauma training can take days, and involves role-playing practice to ensure officers ask open-ended questions in ways that don’t make victims feel judged.
Lloyd said investigations, regardless of what police are investigating, remain largely the same, but with added nuance specific to certain crimes.
“Baseline police investigations, whether I’m investigating a theft or a break-in or sexual assault, there are many things that you approach in the same way,” he said. “With a sexual assault, the more intimate the crime, you know, you just go at a different pace. It’s not accusatory, it’s more conversation, building a rapport.”
‘He said, she said’
The Title IX office handles a significantly larger caseload of sexual assault cases than the University Police.
This university’s Title IX office had 41 total complaints of Sexual Assault I, or non-consensual penetration, reported from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016, while University Police’s uniform crime reports from 2014 through 2016 show nine total reports of rape.
Uniform crime reports are the monthly statistics University Police must report to the FBI, and consist of reports filed specifically to the police department. University Police are required to report sexual assaults to the Title IX office, but the reverse is not mandated. Certain basic information from complaints are forwarded to University Police when they pose an ongoing risk to the campus community, Hoaas said.
Lloyd said reported cases of sexual violence are often “he said, she said” situations that are difficult to prosecute because of insufficient evidence.
“[That] doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, but if the evidence isn’t there, the last thing that you want to do is put a charge on someone that you can’t make in court,” Lloyd said, “because realistically these things follow people forever.”
University Police partnered with CARE to Stop Violence, the Title IX office and the Office of Undergraduate Studies to present to students at summer orientation in 2016, according to the Joint Senate/President Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention’s recommendation report, which University President Wallace Loh approved in late April.
The presentation included a discussion with University Police Chief David Mitchell about sexual misconduct safety issues, a video from CARE and the Title IX office and a Q&A session. University Police also meets with groups upon request to discuss specific safety situations.
Alanna DeLeon, a senior community health major at this university and the president of campus advocacy group Preventing Sexual Assault, didn’t report to the police when she was sexually assaulted.
She thought the police wouldn’t take her seriously, and knew that even if she did go forward, the chances of prosecution were slim.
“I would not win. I would never win my case,” DeLeon said. “And I would be crushed.”