Dispatch / 911
Communications personnel play a very important role in sexual assault investigations as they are often the victim’s first contact with the criminal justice system. 911 operators should first determine if the victim is in danger. Once the victim’s safety has been established, 911 operators should determine if an emergency medical response is required. If the assault just occurred, 911 Operators should obtain information from the victim to assist in suspect apprehension. They should inquire as to whether the suspect is a known to the victim or if they are a stranger. They should also gather information about the suspect’s history of violence and use, or possession of, a weapon.
The responding officer in a sexual assault plays a vital role in the outcome of the investigation. The responding officer has the ability to encourage the victim’s participation in the criminal justice process by reassuring the victim that she/he is not being judged and that the case is taken seriously. Remembering the principles of the victim-centered approach, responding officers can investigate in a manner that helps restore a victim’s sense of control. This approach builds trust and the victim’s confidence in cooperating with the investigation through prosecution.
It is important that law enforcement understand the concept of a victim-centered, trauma-informed, and offender-focused approach to the investigation of a sexual assault. A victim-centered approach maintains that an investigator treats victims compassionately and is conscious of his or her personal bias. Research suggests that offenders often choose their victims based on access, vulnerability, and/or perceived lack of credibility. In a victim-centered investigation, law enforcement is knowledgeable about offender dynamics and common misconceptions that may diminish victim credibility. Additionally, secondary victimization affects sexual assault case attrition. Secondary victimization is defined as behaviors and attitudes that are "victim-blaming,” insensitive, and traumatize victims of violence. In victim-centered investigations, law enforcement is conscious of the negative effects that secondary victimization will have on the ultimate outcome of their investigation and their ability to hold offenders accountable.