Survey Finds Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault Victims Face Police Discrimination

The survey was conducted by ACLU, CUNY School of Law, and the University of Miami School of Law.

A new report issued today reveals that survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault face widespread and serious police discrimination when they seek protection from the criminal justice system.

Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Policing is based on a nationwide survey of 900 advocates, attorneys, service providers, and non-profit workers who support or represent domestic violence and sexual assault victims. As a topline finding, 88 percent of respondents reported that police sometimes or often do not believe victims or blame victims for the violence. Advocates identified police inaction, hostility, and bias against survivors as key barriers to seeking intervention from the criminal justice system.

Over 80 percent of respondents believed that police relations with marginalized communities influenced survivors’ willingness to call the police.

Concerns within marginalized groups include fear of the collateral consequences that police involvement can trigger. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said that contact with the police sometimes or often resulted in involvement of child protective services, threatening survivors with loss of custody of their children. Other negative consequences named by respondents include initiation of immigration proceedings and loss of housing, employment or welfare benefits.  Advocates noted that resources outside of the criminal justice system must be available to survivors looking for options other than punishment for the abuser.

“The report demonstrates that if the government wants to assist victims, there must be changes in policies that impact immigration, child welfare, economic security, and criminal justice more broadly,” said Donna Coker, Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law and report co-author.  “The police are not a viable resource for victims because involving the police often results in deportation, the loss of children, arrest of the victim, and devastating economic consequences.”

In addition to naming problematic policing practices, advocates identified police collaborations that are working in their communities and recommended improvements in police training, supervision, and hiring of more women and people of color, changes in police culture that include prioritizing domestic violence and sexual assault cases, and greater partnerships between police and community resources.

The report authors call for the following next steps:

  • Strengthening police accountability using federal, state, and local mechanisms
  • Addressing multi-faceted police biases through trainings and oversight
  • Addressing collateral consequences of seeking police involvement, particularly immigration, child welfare, and economic consequences
  • Engaging in additional research on the intersectional biases that survivors experience, the impact that criminal justice strategies have on the prevalence of violence, acts of sexual and domestic violence committed by police, and alternatives to criminal justice responses to sexual and domestic violence.

The full report is available here.

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