Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in our Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

December 17, 2015

Courtesy of Vanita Gupta, Head of the Civil Rights Division

The Justice Department’s gender bias policing guidance, announced by Attorney General Lynch earlier this week, marks a critical step in our ongoing efforts to help state and local law enforcement agencies across the country implement clear policies, comprehensive training and effective supervision measures to more effectively protect victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  The guidance highlights our commitment to advancing a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach in response to these heinous crimes.  And it represents the impact of collaborative partnerships with key stakeholders to advance meaningful reform developed through robust community input and engagement.

The guidance, “Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence,” provides a set of basic principles to ensure that gender bias, either explicitly or implicitly, does not undermine law enforcement efforts to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable.

In developing this guidance, the Justice Department relied on lessons learned from our work with police departments in Missoula, MontanaNew Orleans and Puerto Rico.  Following our investigations into – and settlement agreements with – these departments, law enforcement leaders and civil rights advocates alike sought additional guidance to address the role of gender bias in policing.  So we responded, meeting with a wide array of stakeholders in recent years to better understand how the Department of Justice can provide the most effective assistance to support our state and local law enforcement partners.  In many ways, this guidance reflects the product of these engagement and outreach efforts.

Through our partnerships with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, we see the desire to improve responses to allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence.  And we will continue to invest in partnerships with the police leaders, line officers and detectives committed to reducing the impact of bias on policing, dedicated to strengthening the safety of their communities and determined to uphold the civil rights of all citizens.

This week, I spoke with law enforcement leaders from across the country who emphasized how their colleagues and fellow officers stand eager and ready to begin implementing the key principles outlined in our guidance.

As Terry Cunningham, President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), explained: “The newly released DOJ guidance will help law enforcement leadership strengthen and institutionalize effective, bias free policing practices as they respond to and investigate crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence.  Without doubt, this guidance will enhance police capacity to respond proactively to these crimes of violence against women and hold perpetrators accountable.  More broadly, incorporating this guidance will also help law enforcement establish meaningful change to build more trusting relationships with their communities.”

The Department of Justice has a vital role to play in combating sexual assault and domestic violence, but real and lasting change must take shape at the local level.  Sustainable reform works best when it is informed by police officers who walk the streets each day, by the experiences of victims who have suffered these crimes firsthand and by community leaders who have the courage to lead challenging conversations.

The complexity of causes that lead to sexual assault and domestic violence – and the wide-ranging, lingering effects they leave not only on individuals, but also on families and entire communities – require that we advance effective reforms through a spirit of collegiality and cooperation with our dedicated law enforcement partners.

Though the work ahead will not be easy, I remain confident that, as we demonstrated with this week’s guidance, together we will continue to make tangible strides of progress.  And together, we will continue our steadfast efforts to protect our most vulnerable citizens from harm.

Updated January 7, 2016