Friday, July 09, 2010

An Attitude All Investigators Should Share

So often actions and statements made by those who investigate sex crimes demonstrate why so many victims of sexual assault don't trust that they will be treated as a genuine victim deserving of respectful treatment. Harmful bias, incompetence and/or a desire to rebuff most reports is still too common. Too often those in charge work to uphold the perception of safety from sex crimes over the reality of safety.

When people ask me if I would report if I were raped again, my answer is that if I were raped in my current home of Rochester, MN that yes I would report in the company of a victim's advocate because of what I know about those who would be entrusted to respond to my report.

In Wednesday's Rochester Post-Bulletin, Eli Umpierre, a sergeant in the Rochester Police Department wrote an editorial which highlights why I would report here.

Here is the opening:

If I have a specialty within policing it is my knowledge of issues and truths related to sexual assault. With more than 18 years of policing experience, I have come to believe that the prevalence of women and girls being sexually assaulted is much higher than what most people know.

National statistics are trending toward the belief that one-in-three women, rather than the previously held belief of one-in-four women, have been sexually assaulted at some point during their lifetimes. Of course, men and boys can and have been sexually assaulted as well, but by all known accounts the percentage of such an occurrence is much lower than that of females who have been victimized.

I'm sure much of what I say here has been heard by many before, but just maybe somebody will read something that will touch a place that they thought nobody would ever recognize as a whisper of their own experience. Even if not recognized by your own experience, perhaps having this information will allow you be more empathetic to those who have been sexually assaulted.

1) If you were sexually assaulted it was NOT your fault. I don't care if you were dancing naked with heroin needles sticking out of your arms in a room full of men. In the United States of America, bad decisions are not justifiably punishable by sexual assault.
This first point of 10 is one where too many investigators and too many citizens flunk. The belief that some victims deserve rape (or cause it) is often expressed indirectly, but softening the words does nothing to soften the reality that too many people are quick to find excuses for all but the most horrific sex criminals. Excuses and shifting blame to victims are key contributors to sex crimes since they provide practical help to perpetrators.

Another contributor to the prevalence of sex crimes are mistaken beliefs about what doesn't count. Umpierre highlights one such example.
6) You can start making out with somebody and then decide you do not want to go further. When you either said "no" or indicated "no" with your body and the person continued the sexual actions on you, the definition of the continued actions is sexual assault.

I encourage everyone to read the entire commentary and to expect this level of understanding in action from the sex crime investigators in your jurisdiction. Victim blaming investigators are incompetent investigators and they must either improve or be replaced.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:05 AM   4 comments links to this post


At July 09, 2010 6:20 PM, Anonymous TBJ said...

I love what this sargeant has to say and wish that prosecutors could just lay it out like that to jurors. Does anyone know if there was one particular case that prompted Sgt. Umpierre to write this editorial? Pity about the headline, though. "Education is key to preventing sex assault." Seems to imply that if only victims were educated (by this article or by the well-meaning but often victim-blaming rape prevention tips), then victims wouldn't "get themselves" assaulted.

At July 09, 2010 8:35 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


I'm not aware of a particular case which might have prompted this op-ed.

I understand your point about the headline since in most contexts the focus on education excludes the education of those who support harmful attitudes and behaviors. Thankfully, Umpierre's points address common dangerous beliefs held by many people who are the least likely to become victims.

At July 21, 2010 1:55 PM, Blogger Elisa said...


This is Eli Umpierre and I wanted to thank Ms. Chester for this blog. Additionally, I thought I would let you know that the editoral I sent the PB I had titled, "What Everyone Needs to Know About Sexual Assault." The editor changed the title w/o consulting me. All told, as long as the info got out there I am all good with that.


At July 21, 2010 3:01 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


You're welcome.

I like your original title with the emphasis that all of us need to be informed about sexual assault.


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