Sexual Assault Cases: A Trauma-Informed Response

According to the Department of Justice, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2006-2010, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.

For most of us, these numbers are shocking. What’s even more disturbing is the fact that only 3% of the people committing these crimes ever see a day in jail.

So where is the disconnect?

We know that sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes for many reasons (fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, embarrassment, humiliation). In the Crime Victimization Survey, it is estimated that only 46% of sexual assaults are reported to the police, and according to the FBI, Uniform Crime Reports: 2006-2010, only 12% of reported rapes lead to an arrest. And even fewer are actually prosecuted.

Effective investigation strategies can reduce sexual assault case attrition and hold offenders accountable. Successful law enforcement response starts with understanding the neurobiology of sexual trauma. Many of the behaviors sexual assault survivors exhibit are often interpreted as indicators of a false report or are viewed as a weakness in a case, yet are in reality signs of trauma. Law enforcement can create stronger, more thorough reports for prosecution as well as increase the number of perpetrators behind bars by understanding trauma in the context of sexual assault and implementing trauma-informed investigative strategies.

The IACP, with support from the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, is developing a training curriculum and will be conducting training events to increase officers’ understanding of the role of victim trauma and the complexities of sexual assault investigations. For more information on how your agency can get involved, click here or contact Jessi Bell at

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