DOJ Awards $9.4 Million to Prevent Gender Bias in Policing Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence

Melanie Arter | October 6, 2016 | 3:48pm EDT
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An evidence bag from a sexual assault case is pictured in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. (AP Photo)

( – U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday that the Justice Department has awarded a total of nine grants worth $9.4 million to national and local groups to implement “the department’s Guidance on Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.”

“Earlier today, as part of these efforts, I was proud to announce more than $3 million in grants to prevent gender bias in law enforcement’s response to sexual assault and domestic violence.  These awards will help officers serve the survivors of these awful crimes with sensitivity and respect, leading to deeper trust and to more effective investigations,” Lynch told students at Howard University Wednesday at an event on diversity in law enforcement.

According to the DOJ’s guidance, “Gender bias, whether explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious, may include police officers misclassifying or underreporting sexual assault or domestic violence cases, or inappropriately concluding that sexual assault cases are unfounded; failing to test sexual assault kits; interrogating rather than interviewing victims and witnesses; treating domestic violence as a family matter rather than a crime; failing to enforce protection orders; or failing to treat same-sex domestic violence as a crime. In the sexual assault and domestic violence context, if gender bias influences the initial response to or investigation of the alleged crime, it may compromise law enforcement’s ability to ascertain the facts, determine whether the incident is a crime, and develop a case that supports effective prosecution and holds the perpetrator accountable.”

“In some cases, a police officer may discriminate against victims of sexual assault or domestic violence because of a general bias against women or LGBT individuals,” it stated. “More commonly, discrimination may be based on explicit stereotypes about women or LGBT individuals.

“Acting on stereotypes about why women or LGBT individuals are sexually assaulted, or about how a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault should look or behave, can constitute unlawful discrimination and profoundly undermine an effective response to these crimes,” the guidance stated.

“For example, if an officer believes a sexual assault to be less severe because the victim was assaulted by an acquaintance or was intoxicated when the assault occurred, or based on stereotypical assumptions about a victim who is a gay man or lesbian woman assaulted by his or her partner, that is gender bias and may constitute unlawful discrimination,” it added.

The guidance provides examples of “assumptions or stereotypes” that may affect law enforcement’s ability to “gauge a victim’s credibility.”

One example stated: “A tall man, in good physical condition and with no visible injuries, goes to the local police precinct and reports that his boyfriend, with whom he lives, has been sending him threatening text and voice messages over the past several weeks, and that, the night before, his boyfriend had assaulted him. The responding officer looks at the man skeptically and tells him that he’s not sure that he can take a report based on this situation. The officer tells the man to think carefully about whether he has a crime to report and to come back another day if he still believes he needs assistance.”

The DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) awarded a $5 million Demonstration Initiative Award to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) to build law enforcement’s capacity to develop sustainable strategies to address and eliminate the impact of gender bias on police response to, and investigation of, sexual and domestic violence; and implement agency-wide procedures that are trauma-informed and victim-centered.”

The DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) awarded $599,742 to the IACP in partnership with Futures Without Violence to provide technical assistance and training to law enforcement agencies; $599,983 to Police Executive Research Forumin partnership with End Violence Against Women International to provide technical assistance and training to up to five law enforcement agencies; $393,049 to Sam Houston State University, Texas, “to evaluate a training program based on the department’s guidance for all sworn law enforcement personnel in an urban police department.”

OVW also awarded five grants to “the city of Salem, Massachusetts, $450,000; St. Louis County, Missouri, $750,000; the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, $450,000; the South Dakota Office of the Attorney General, $750,000; and Human Options, California, $450,000.”

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