How Ashland, Oregon, Removed Barriers for Sexual Assault Reporting

ARTICLE | Nov 8, 2016

An interview with Detective Carrie Hull, Program Director, Ashland, Oregon, and Christia Currie, Tra

In 2010, Ashland, Oregon, Detective Carrie Hull noticed that there was a gap in reporting on assaults. A series of reports were coming in as “stranger assaults” and were missing key information about both the victim and perpetrator. This prompted Detective Hull to dig deeper to find out why victims were not able to give information about an assault to law enforcement. Was it that victims were afraid to report the details of the assault? Why were the facts missing?

Detective Hull looked to sexual assault survivors and advocacy agencies to identify barriers to reporting. What she found, among other barriers, was that survivors overall did not feel comfortable or supported when reporting these crimes to law enforcement. After discovering these trends, the “You Have Options” program was developed within Ashland’s Police Department. The Alliance talked with Detective Hull and Christia Currie, Training and Information Specialist, Central Point, Oregon, to learn more about the program and its impact.

 

Can you describe the “You Have Options” program?

Christia Currie: The “You Have Options” program was first implemented in 2013 and has since then served as a model program that law enforcement agencies across the country can participate in. The program identifies 20 critical elements needed to help positively impact many of the barriers survivors of sexual assault have historically faced when it comes to reporting these crimes to law enforcement. The elements were created by Detective Hull after discussions with sexual assault advocates and survivors. The 20 Elements also provide a written commitment from the police department promises to sexual assault survivors.

Survivors are given three reporting options; 1) Information only report 2) Partial investigation and 3) Complete investigation. A survivor can choose which option works best for their own safety and particular circumstance. The online reporting form that an agency is able to provide once they are a fully participating You Have Options Agency allows for anonymous reporting. ReportingOptions.org is the national website that provides information to survivors, law enforcement and the community about YHOP and maintains a webpage for each Participating Agency.   

Detective Carrie Hull: I created this program after identifying that the criminal justice system needed to change and become more accessible to survivors. By giving survivors the options on how to report and providing the 20 Elements about how investigations will be handled, the program in itself has helped to increase trust among survivors in law enforcement and takes pressure off of the survivor in having to conform to a system that often controls the process.

Currie: The “20 Elements” involved in this program are law enforcements promise to the community that they will respond to sexual crimes reported in a way that works for survivors. All 20 Elements are as the law allows and give law enforcement the opportunity to do work collaboratively with victims of sexual assault. For example Element 10 states that a survivor may end an interview with law enforcement at any time and without question. This takes the pressure off of survivors. Law enforcement understands that an individual has a right to leave an interview at anytime but making that options explicit is important for victims. Element 8 states that advocacy will be offered which makes clear that the wellbeing of the survivor is at the forefront of the interaction.

Element 5 states that survivors do not have to report in person, which also helps to protect their identity. Element 19 states that no arrest will occur without the survivor’s approval (as the law allows), thus giving the power to the survivor and also demonstrating that the department will acknowledge that justice is different for every individual.

Hull: Advocate partners have been a huge help in making this program work. They are the folks encouraging survivors to report and ensuring that survivors know that the police department can be trusted and has a program that advocates on their behalf. Overall this benefits the investigation at large.

 

What problem or challenge does it address?

Currie: The program specifically identified barriers survivors face when reporting sexual assault crimes to law enforcement. One barrier being anonymity – Survivors can report as much information as they would like to and they do not have to do this in person of identify who they are if they so choose. The program also slows down the process for the survivor. The survivor gets to choose how they report and are able to pause the investigative process at anytime before an arrest or referral to an office of prosecution is made. The program also builds trust in that advocates are also involved and help survivors through the process and also champion the police department, letting survivors know that the right process for their circumstance will occur. Involving advocates is a best practice that has demonstrated proven results in assisting with sexual assault investigations.

 

What makes “You Have Options” unique?

Hull: When we first implemented this program and began to get invited to other agencies to share, most would say they were doing all of these things already. The uniqueness within the program lies in its accountability elements as well as the story it is communicating to the public. It could be true, maybe a few officers in every department get it, but somewhere along the line the process breaks which results in inadequate reporting. Implementing this process provides uniformity and consistency department wide. Implementation also means a cultural shift for departments.

Education about the barriers survivors face when it comes to reporting must happen and commitment to each of the 20 elements occurs over time. Often an investigator may want to move forward quickly with a case but this program allows the process to go at the pace of the victim and provides information to the victim about what impacts that pace may have on the investigation. Overall, we’re asking law enforcement to stop making the process about them and make it about survivors while keeping in mind we all want justice just not at the cost of the survivor.

 

How have you determined its success?  What measurements have use used?

Hull: In the first year of the program we experienced a 106 percent increase in the reporting of sexual assaults. Our training goes beyond traditional evaluations of whether cases clear and leans on satisfaction of reporters. We want to know if survivors regret reporting and that is how we determine success.

 

What are the most significant obstacles you have faced thus far?

Hull: Something I tell each agency when it comes to implementation is that this program is not a sales pitch. Choosing to implement the program is just the right thing to do. Often the biggest hurdle to implementing stems from information and training – we are essentially changing the culture of a department and it happens slowly. The dynamics of understanding the experience of when survivors interact with law enforcement takes time. However once the program is understood large success occurs.

 

What does the future of the program hold?

Hull: We are now working with partner agencies who’ve implemented the program to create a uniform data base to begin taking a look at broader trends in barriers of reporting and the results the program yields. We currently invite local law enforcement agencies to get trained and we help with implementation.

 

What advice would you give local government interested in adapting this idea?

Hull: This program was designed to be responsive to the individual instead of the individual having to conform to one government process. This program is for all survivors of sexual assault and can be applied to everyone who needs a more customized process to report crimes to law enforcement.  In order to create a process that was inclusive and considerate of the survivors we had to get out of our own way and partner with community partners to ensure our process was effective and this did not happen quickly.

Even if you feel your organization is performing well in this area we challenge you to analyze your data and be transparent about where you stand and why, and if there is room to at the very least communicate to survivors that you are appreciative of their report do so whether through the 20 Elements or other means.

Learn more about Ashland’s “You Have Options” program at www.reportingoptions.org.

You may also be interested in

Feedback