New approach allows more options for sexual assault victims

The Commerce City Police Department (a neighboring city of Denver) recently became the sixth city in the nation to be certified by the You Have Options Program, a national program that focuses on changing how law enforcement responds to sexual violence.

The program centers on the victim, giving him or her choices when reporting and control over the investigative process. YHOP allows victims to feel more at ease, which allows them to move forward with the case and not get discouraged. The program also focuses on conducting thorough investigations of offenders in the community.

“Our usual response to sexual assault puts many barriers to victims when reporting and accessing the medical and advocacy services they need,” said Kim Messina, victim services coordinator. “The You Have Options Program is designed to break down all of these barriers to allow victims to report in a way that is best for them.”

The traditional law enforcement response to sexual violence may discourage sexual assault victims because they feel there is a lack of confidentiality, they fear their story will not be believed and their report will be delayed. This prevents victims from seeking assistance through the criminal justice system. As a result, law enforcement often doesn’t receive the information necessary to hold sexual offenders accountable, and those offenders go on to victimize others.

Through YHOP, victims can report online, in-person, submit a medical report only, through a third person or make an anonymous report. This new approach also ensures that every victim reporting will be believed and have access to medical and advocacy services.

In partnership with the University of Colorado Denver, CCPD carried out exhaustive research and data analysis to find the best practices on how officers relate to victims, investigate assaults and find suspects.

“A couple years ago, we initiated a review into how the department handles sexual assault cases and one of the things we determined was that we can do a better job serving the victims,” said Dennis Moon, deputy chief. “YHOP is an excellent example of CCPD determining the best practice and implementing a program that is victim-centered and offender-focused, ultimately paving the way to provide exceptional service to victims.”

It is estimated that one in four women and one in seven men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and only 10 percent of the cases are reported. In Commerce City there were 63 reported cases of sexual assault last year.

In conjunction with Brighton’s Police Department, which was also one of the first departments to join the program, the Victim’s Service Unit has 17 volunteers, five victim advocates and one coordinator, who are all available to help victims anytime.

Every Commerce City police officer, victim advocate and member of the department has been trained on YHOP’s 20 elements, which center on the victim and finding offender, as well as the common behavior and reactions of trauma.

“Now, through the certification of YHOP, every member of the Commerce City Police Department will be able to assist any resident who calls asking information about the program,” Messina said.

To learn more about the program and CCPD’s responsibilities as a certified agency, visit http://www.reportingoptions.org/commercecity-pd.

 

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