News North America

Published on January 25th, 2013 | by Mark O'Brien

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Human Rights Report Criticizes DC Police on Rape Cases

By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, United States — A report out Thursday from the Human Rights Watch accused the Washington, D.C. police department of failing to investigate roughly a third of reported sexual assaults during a three-year period.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier decried a recent Human Rights Report attacking the department’s handling of rape cases, calling the findings “sweeping allegations” that lack factual support. (Photo Courtesy of the Washington Times)

Now, the head of the city’s public safety committee hopes to hold a hearing on the report’s findings.

“This deserves a very cautious and thoughtful review to be sure we don’t respond with window dressing,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells.  “We want to find a way to reassure people that have been victimized through sexual abuse that they have a government that will effectively respond to what they need.”

The New York based human rights group released the 197-page report, called “Capitol Offense,” on Thursday.  It said that Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department failed to take women’s rape claims seriously or to investigate their allegations properly.

The report found that out of 480 sexual assaults reported between October 2008 and September 2011, at least 171 did not have initial police reports filed or file numbers issued for tracking.

“It was really disappointing that in one of our largest cities that police still seem to have the same attitudes toward sexual assault and [do] not actively pursue these cases more aggressively,” said Sara Darehshori, Human Rights Watch’s senior counsel, in an interview with Reuters.

The police department disputed the findings.  D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier released a statement after the report’s release, saying “sweeping allegations that are not backed by facts undermine the credibility of HRW.”

Both sides have requested that federal investigators from the U.S. Justice Department review the report’s findings.  A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed the requests to the Washington Post but said no decision has been made.

The Human Rights Watch report contained summary from more than a dozen women.  Police said that is a fraction of the 1,500 rapes investigated in the three-year period contained in the report.

Still, the department also said it had acted to remedy some reported shortcomings.  Chief Lanier said she wanted police interviews with victims to be recorded to document the detective work.  Prosecutors, however, are not so eager.

“While videotaping victims’ statements can be beneficial in some kinds of cases, we believe that the practice carries a risk of adding to the trauma and discomfort already felt by victims of sexual assaults,” Kelly Higashi told the Washington Post.  Higashi is chief of the sex offense and domestic violence section of the U.S. attorney’s office.

For further information, please see:

Chicago Tribune — Washington, DC, Police Ignored Some Sex Assaults–Rights Group — 24 January 2013

Salon — Report: DC Police Treatment of Sexual Assault Victims “Traumatizing” — 24 January 2013

Washington Times — Rights Group Faults D.C. Police on Rape Cases — 24 January 2013

Washington Post — Public Safety Chair Wants Hearing on Report that D.C. Police Didn’t Investigate Rape Cases — 24 January 2013


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