Policy Positions of SlutWalk Seattle
At SlutWalk Seattle, we have compiled a list of political and legal recommendations to guide voters and their elected officials in fighting rape culture.
A. Ensure every victim receives a high-quality, compassionate response from law enforcement
Sadly, many law enforcement officers and detectives who work crimes of sexual assault aren’t adequately trained to handle such crimes. This reality was clearly demonstrated by the results from a recent study funded by the Department of Justice on the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments’ response to crimes of sexual assault. The study provided an in-depth look at the scope of these problems in law enforcement and why they occur. While many officers were passionate about helping victims, many other officers working sexual assault crimes had a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude toward rape victims. According to the study, this approach was characterized by:
(1) an emphasis that stranger rape is the only “real” rape; (2) a belief that nonstranger sexual assault is not as serious as stranger rape and is often the victim‘s fault; (3) statements that any victim inconsistency ruins her credibility; (4) an emphasis on the ubiquity of false reporting and victims’ lack of cooperation; (5) responses to interview questions based on the “righteousness” of the victim; (6) reluctance to unwillingness to arrest in “he said/she said” cases.
In addition, factors such as the victim‘s relationship with the suspect, the victim’s character/reputation, and whether the victim had some type of mental health issue contributed to whether or not a case was considered false or baseless. District attorneys, for their part, were sometimes inadequately trained to interview traumatized rape victims. (Note: these were not the only problematic law enforcement practices discovered by the study.)
Furthermore, lack of cultural sensitivity to minority communities can also adversely impact law enforcement’s ability to serve victims of sexual violence. As just one example, a recent report funded by the Williams Institute demonstrated an incredibly negative history of interactions between law enforcement and Latina transgender women. Twenty-four percent of the women surveyed reported experiencing sexual assault by law enforcement, and the vast majority (71%) described the police’s interactions with the transgender community in negative terms (such as aggressive, disrespectful behavior and use of male pronouns or “it” when referring to transgender women).
The Washington State Legislature can take the following steps to prevent such occurrences among law enforcement in our state:
- Commission the WSIPP to research the extent of such problems in state and local law enforcement and recommend areas for improvement.
- Mandate that all law enforcement officers, detectives, and district attorneys who work crimes of sexual violence undergo the sexual assault investigation and prosecution training outlined in RCW 43.101.270.
- Direct the appropriate state agency to periodically issue a list of “best practices” recommendations to local law enforcement units regarding sexual assault, incorporating the latest research on effective criminal justice system response.
- Direct the appropriate state agency to issue binding guidelines to law enforcement detailing how to fairly treat members of minority and other disenfranchised communities, and require all law enforcement officers, regardless of their unit, to undergo cultural sensitivity training to prevent unfair treatment.
- Mandate that all law enforcement departments in the state develop a manual specific to investigating sex crimes that codifies the policies and expectations of detectives working such crimes.
- Pass a law that requires the district attorney handling a sexual assault case to provide detailed reasons to the victim when a charge is rejected.
B. Empower all victims to seek the help they need
Victims of sexual and domestic violence are a diverse group, and the barriers that can prevent them from seeking help are numerous. The Washington State Legislature should take the following steps to remove some of these barriers:
- Create the Crime Victim Services Account that would have been created by SB 6389 had it passed during the 2012 Legislative session. Victims need access to services that help them navigate the criminal justice system, and this fund would provide critical dollars that have been lost due to recent budget cuts.
- Enable victims of stalking to petition for a stalking protection order by passing HB 1383/SB 5452 in the 2013 Legislative session.
- Require all public K-12 schools to inform students of age-appropriate resources they can turn to if they experience sexual or domestic violence. For young children, this might include classroom exercises where students develop a list of trusted adults they can tell if someone touches them in a way they don’t like. For teenagers, this might include references to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network hotline, local domestic violence shelters, and rape crisis centers. Students need to be informed of the legal definition of “consent,” what can be considered abuse, and the rights of sexual and domestic violence victims in Washington State.
- Legalize the sale of sexual services. Sex workers make for perfect victims of sexual violence because they often can’t go to the police to report their assault without incriminating themselves. While prostitution is a controversial subject within the feminist movement, SlutWalk Seattle firmly believes that the sale of sex should be fully legalized. This is because the experiences of sex workers are diverse, ranging from a best-case-scenario where the sex worker is a fully consenting adult, to a worst-case-scenario where the sex worker is the victim of an abusive situation. We think it’s absurd to criminalize being a consenting adult, and repulsive to criminalize being a victim of abuse.
- Ensure that teenage victims have a right to confidentiality in the criminal justice system. Currently, minors have a difficult time keeping an assault from their parents once they’ve reported it to the police, and this can dissuade young victims from stepping forward and reporting their abuse.
C. Promote a culture intolerant of sexual and domestic violence through our public schools
Bystander education programs are an effective way of combating rape culture, and thus isolating the sexual predators that benefit from it. The Washington State Legislature should require all public schools to provide such training to students beginning in adolescence. Sex education programs in Washington State should also include curricula designed to debunk common myths about rape and encourage empathy for sexual violence survivors. More information on the nature of sexual predators, and how a combination of rape culture and inadequate law enforcement response shields them from responsibility for their actions can be found here and here.
D. Reduce DNA evidence backlogs
An evidence backlog exists at a crime lab when the lab receives more requests to analyze evidence than it can process. Even though crime lab capacity has increased dramatically over the past few years, backlogs continue to exist because the growth in the number of requests to analyze evidence exceeds crime lab capacity. When DNA evidence exists in a sexual assault case, processing that evidence in a timely manner is critical so that the victim may receive justice. The Washington State Legislature should commission a report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) that compares the current capacity of crime labs in our state to demand for testing from law enforcement. Using the results of this report, the Legislature should allocate the resources necessary to expand crime lab capacity to ensure that DNA evidence takes no longer than 30 days to process for any given law enforcement jurisdiction. More information on DNA backlogs can be found here. Information on the importance of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases can be found here.
E. Eliminate untested sexual assault kits
Sexual assault kits (SAKs), often colloquially referred to as “rape kits,” sit untested in hospitals, clinics, rape crisis centers and police evidence storage all across the country. The reasons for this include lack of funding, inadequate evidence-tracking systems used by law enforcement, and a failure to prioritize funding for cases of sexual assault.
The Washington State Legislature should require all hospitals, clinics, rape crisis centers and police stations to audit the extent of their untested SAKs, and make the results of such audits public. Those organizations should then be required to develop plans, made available to the public, to judiciously eliminate the untested evidence. The Legislature should also require that such organizations implement modern, computerized evidence-tracking systems in order to prevent the phenomena of untested SAKs existing en mass from ever occurring in the future. Finally, the Legislature should provide funding where appropriate to enable these organizations to perform these tasks. More information on untested SAKs here can be found here.
F. Ensure every victim receives treatment from a certified medical forensic examiner
Sexual assault is unique as a crime because evidence often isn’t collected by a law enforcement officer. Instead, evidence is generally collected by the nurse or other health care professional who initially treats the victim after the assault. It is critical that such individuals are adequately trained to collect forensic evidence; without such training, the evidence collected is of a lower quality and more rapists walk free. Because of this reality, the Department of Justice has funded the development of programs to train healthcare professionals to collect forensic evidence. These individuals are referred to as sexual assault nurse examiners, or SANEs. Studies of selected SANE programs have shown that they contribute to higher prosecution and conviction rates in sexual assault cases. However, not all hospitals and clinics have qualified SANEs on staff, let alone ensure that every victim is treated by a competent SANE. The Washington State Legislature should pass a law ensuring that every victim of sexual or domestic violence who seeks help at a hospital, clinic, rape crisis center or police station has a right to be treated by a trained and certified SANE. Furthermore, victims should be able to choose the gender of the health care professional who performs the examination. More information on SANEs here and here. General information on medical exams after an assault can be found here. General information on collecting and preserving forensic evidence after an assault can be found here.
G. Pass the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act
Sexual assault in the military is an epidemic. For decades, rape scandals have periodically erupted throughout the military, but the Department of Defense has so far failed to take adequate action to prevent future occurrences. Nineteen-thousand servicemen and women continue to be sexually assaulted every year. Victims’ advocates and sex crime experts point to the structure of the military justice system itself, combined with a hyper-masculine culture, as the root of the problem. The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act, H.R. 3435, would address this problem by reforming how the military deals with allegations of sexual assault, taking the investigation process out of the chain of command, and instead entrusting it to an independent body within the Department of Defense. This bill has been endorsed by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), the Military Rape Crisis Center, and Protect Our Defenders, among other groups. Visit SWAN’s legislation page for more military justice system reforms.
H. Pass the Ruth Moore Act
Sexual violence survivors who contract post-traumatic stress disorder after their attack need access to quality mental health care services. Unfortunately, survivors of sexual violence in the military currently have a difficult time navigating the Veterans Administration’s claims process for securing the health care coverage they’ve earned. The Ruth Moore Act would improve the VA claims process for survivors by putting PTSD claims related to sexual assault experienced during military service on an equal footing with claims for combat-related PTSD. The bill would also relax standards of evidence for linking a case of PTSD to a military sexual assault, in order to ensure the VA claims process doesn’t force survivors to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops. More information on the bill can be found here.
Last updated 3.4.13. Have an idea for a policy for SlutWalk Seattle to endorse? Email us at email@example.com.