DOJ: Law Enforcement Should Stop Violating Rights of Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault Victims

The Department of Justice issued new guidance to law enforcement agencies today, pointing out that certain police responses to domestic violence and sexual assault complaints violate victims' civil rights.

These suggestions document the "systematic failure" of police departments in Maricopa County in Arizona, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, and Missoula, Montana, to properly investigate domestic abuse and sexual assault cases, as well as to hold cops accountable when they commit domestic or sexual abuse, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union. DOJ is currently investigating gender-biased policing in those regions. 

The department has found that victims of domestic and sexual abuse are denied equal protection under the U.S. Constitution in cases when these complaints are deal with "less seriously than other offenses based on gender bias."

"Victims’ due process rights are also violated when police commit acts of violence, such as sexual assault, or when a victim is put at greater risk as a result of police conduct," the ACLU says. 

The DOJ guidance asks local police departments to look into their policies and practices pertaining to domestic and sexual violence, and breaks down the following eight principles that they should follow:
Recognize and address biases, assumptions, and stereotypes about victims.

Treat all victims with respect and employ interviewing tactics that encourage a victim to participate and provide facts about the incident.

Investigate sexual assault or domestic violence complaints thoroughly and effectively.

Appropriately classify reports of sexual assault or domestic violence.

Refer victims to appropriate services.

Properly identify the assailant in domestic violence incidents.

Hold officers who commit sexual assault or domestic violence accountable.

Maintain, review, and act upon data regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.
The ACLU, as well as several other civil rights and anti-violence groups, have led the effort pressuring DOJ to issue these new guidelines. More than 180 national, state and local organizations joined the demand.

According to the ACLU, "domestic violence and sexual assault are two of the most prevalent forms of gender-based violence. In the U.S., over one million women are sexually assaulted each year, and more than a third of women are subjected to rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime, with women of color disproportionately affected."

Survivors often face disbelief and victim-blaming from law enforcement—all of which is detailed in the ACLU report, "Responses from the Field: Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Policing."