Police Officers Are Changing How They Talk To Sexual Assault Survivors

The new training is changing how many police officers understand and investigate sexual assault cases.

Police are adjusting how they respond to survivors of sexual assault, thanks to new training that educates officers on the science of trauma and its impact on memory, as reported by NBC. After years of questioning why survivors couldn't recall details of their assault, authorities are now learning how to accommodate specific behaviors and reactions to trauma, including fragmented memory.

According to NBC News, this schooling, known as "trauma-informed training," is part of a growing movement that uses scientific research about trauma and its effects on the human brain and body to change how authorities investigate and understand sexual assault.

In the past, law enforcement personnel has faced criticism for their insensitive handling of sexual assault cases, often questioning a person's credibility based on their recollection of the particulars of the attack. This process, known by experts and survivors as "secondary victimization," has been commonly seen in police stations and among military ranks for decades.

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But as a growing understanding of sexual assault and its effects permeates our culture, many officers are now realizing their previous mishandling of these cases and shifting their approach to their investigations.

The training teaches officers about the reactions commonly associated with trauma, including dissociation, involuntary paralysis, and memory fragmentation. As scientists and experts have concluded, survivors typically don't have a perfectly linear memory of their assault. While most are able to recall the attack itself, peripheral details (such as where it took place or the exact date) often aren't encoded into the brain in the same way.

It also aims to debunk some of the false narratives around assault.

The training has led some veteran authorities to rethink their treatment of past sexual assault cases. Tom Tremblay, a former police chief in Burlington, Vermont who now teaches trauma-enforced courses, told NBC News that many officers have told him they wished they would have received this education a decade ago.

The new approach may already be having an impact in some cities. Per NBC, a study published in the Utah Journal of Criminal Law this month found that the prosecution rate of sexual assaults in Salt Lake County nearly quadrupled for a local police department (from 6 percent to 22 percent) after its officers underwent training.

Cover image via y Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.

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