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Principal Deputy Director Bea Hanson of the Office on Violence Against Women Delivers Remarks at the Announcement of Gender Bias Policing Guidance


Washington, DC
United States

Thank you, Attorney General [Loretta] Lynch, for your kind acknowledgement, for your remarkable leadership in bringing this guidance to fruition and for your career-long commitment to championing the rights of victims of crime.  Thank you, also, to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General [Vanita] Gupta of the Civil Rights Division and Director [Ron] Davis of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office).  A high point of my tenure at the Office on Violence Against Women has been forging true partnerships with you and your extraordinary staff at the Civil Rights Division and the COPS Office.  It’s an honor to join you and our distinguished panelists and guests this morning.

Since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 1994, the Justice Department has worked to improve the criminal justice response to violence against women, particularly through grant funding administered by OVW.  Over the past 20 years, VAWA funding has yielded dramatic results in many jurisdictions, transforming the way these communities respond to sexual assault and domestic violence.  VAWA grants have supported collaboration between law enforcement and victim service providers; created specialized law enforcement and prosecution units; improved training for police, prosecutors and judges; and pioneered innovations such as enhanced offender monitoring, domestic violence courts and the use of evidence-based lethality assessments to curb domestic violence homicides.

The Justice Department and our partners in law enforcement, prosecution, victim services and elsewhere should be rightfully proud of our accomplishments.  But, we also know that our progress has been uneven, and many communities still struggle to implement effective responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

As you already have heard this morning, the Civil Rights Division has engaged in ground-breaking use of its enforcement authority to hold jurisdictions accountable for failing to meet their obligations to respond to violence against women.  And, while the Civil Rights Division’s investigations have exposed ways that gender bias can undermine the police response to sexual assault and domestic violence, these investigations have also paved the way to progress and reform.  They have highlighted how collaborations between law enforcement and victim service providers and other promising practices can create meaningful change in both law enforcement agencies and communities as a whole.

Through our many partnerships with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, the Civil Rights Division, OVW and the COPS Office recognized that many agencies are seeking assistance and support for their efforts to improve their response to sexual assault and domestic violence.  The guidance being issued today is intended to reflect and further our partnerships with police leaders, line officers and detectives who are dedicated to policing that is free from bias and to keeping their communities safe.  It also reflects our partnership with advocates and service providers who make sure that we hear – and listen to – the voices of survivors.

In a few moments, you will hear from our panel of law enforcement experts, officials and advocates about how this guidance can be implemented on the ground and the promising practices they have witnessed in the field.  I want to thank them for the advice they provided to the department while we were developing this guidance.  I also want to thank those of you in the audience who attended a roundtable discussion this summer, co-hosted by the COPS Office and the Police Executive Research Forum, to review and discuss the draft guidance.  Your insight, criticism and experience were invaluable.

Before turning the discussion over to the panel, I’d like to briefly share with you the eight fundamental principles to prevent gender bias in policing that are set forth in the guidance.  I realize these may seem elementary to many of you.  And, indeed, these principles are intended only as the starting point for a police department looking to strengthen its policies, protocols and training.

PRINCIPLE 1:  Recognize and address biases, assumptions and stereotypes about victims.  Put simply, law enforcement officers should not make determinations about victim credibility based on stereotypes about who can be a victim of sexual or domestic violence – or how an ideal “victim” should respond or behave. For example, if an officer doubts a victim’s credibility due to the victim’s sexual orientation, or gender identity, or because the victim was assaulted by a person of the same sex, that is an example of gender bias undermining an investigation.

PRINCIPLE 2:  Treat all victims with respect, and employ interviewing tactics that encourage a victim to participate and provide facts about the incident.  We all know that, if you treat victims with respect, they are more likely to assist in an investigation and prosecution.

PRINCIPLE 3:  Investigate sexual assault or domestic violence complaints thoroughly and effectively.  Because these crimes often occur in private settings with few or no witnesses, it is incumbent on law enforcement to gather, preserve and analyze as much evidence as possible.  It is also critically important to test rape kits in a timely fashion.

PRINCIPLE 4:  Appropriately classify reports of sexual assault or domestic violence.  If an officer too quickly classifies a complaint of sexual assault or domestic violence as “unfounded,” a full investigation may never occur.

PRINCIPLE 5:  Refer victims to appropriate services.

PRINCIPLE 6:  Properly identify the assailant in domestic violence incidents.  It is essential that officers are trained to identify the predominant aggressor so that victims are not erroneously arrested.

PRINCIPLE 7:  Hold officers who commit sexual assault or domestic violence accountable.  Neither victims nor a community will trust a law enforcement agency that does not fully investigate reports of crime or other misconduct by its own officers.

PRINCIPLE 8:  Maintain, review and act upon data regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.  Law enforcement agencies may be under-investigating these crimes without knowing there is a problem.  Jurisdictions should look for warning signs such as a homicide rate that defies national trends by exceeding reported rates of sexual assault.

In closing, I too want to thank all of you for your long commitment to supporting victims, holding offenders accountable and keeping our communities safe.  I look forward to continuing our partnership; identifying and testing promising practices through projects such as the new Sexual Assault Justice Initiative; and ensuring that VAWA funding provides communities with resources and technical assistance as they work to improve their responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. 

Updated September 29, 2016