A searing report by the New York City Department of Investigation documents what victim advocates already know: the New York Police Department is selling sexual-assault victims short.
NYPD too understaffed to properly investigate sex crimes, report finds
The NYPD’s Special Victims Division is woefully understaffed and under-trained…
The Special Victims Division is understaffed, with many of its detectives unprepared for the challenges of sex-crime cases.
As a victim advocate, I witness the devastating consequences for real victims. In one of my cases, an SVD detective opened an interview by asking a rape victim, “How often do you cheat on your husband?”
In another case, the victim was asked, “How could he [the rapist] penetrate you if you weren’t aroused?”
These questions could only be asked by an officer who was utterly unschooled in sexual-assault investigations. When the very authorities we depend on blame the victim or express disbelief before hearing her story, many victims describe the experience as “worse than the rape itself.”
There are reasons for hope.
SVD is headed by a deeply dedicated commanding officer, Deputy Chief Michael Osgood, who has earned the trust of victim advocates by improving oversight, bringing forensic interview training to his unit, and eliciting top-notch work from the few experienced investigators he has.
But there is only so much he can do with inadequate staff, inadequately trained.
This is a matter of priorities. NYPD has no shortage of resources and can excel at anything its leadership deems important.
Failing rape victims is a choice. According to the DOI, officers assigned to motorcycle patrol get six to eight weeks of training; those assigned to investigate rape get five days.
This doesn’t reflect the values of New Yorkers.
A crime that threatens the safety and well-being of more than half the population should be a top priority for our police department. But Assigning 67 investigators to all adult sex-crime cases in a city of 8.5 million, doesn’t say “high priority.”
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NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill has a choice, and so does Mayor Bill de Blasio. They can dig in their heels, cover their eyes, and insist that there’s “nothing to see here.” Or they can fix the problem.
They can triple the personnel for Special Victims, assign experienced and highly motivated detectives, revamp training, and create a department-wide culture that treats sexual assault as a top priority.
Creating the world’s best police unit for the investigation of sexual assault would be a proud legacy for Commissioner O’Neill.
But he won’t achieve it unless he recognizes the need for it. Thanks to outstanding work by the DOI, that need just got a lot harder to ignore.
Jane Manning is a former sex-crimes prosecutor in the city and director of advocacy for the National Organization for Women’s local chapter.