What is law enforcement’s role with medical or anonymous reporting survivors?
Medical reporting was introduced in Colorado in 2008, and anonymous reporting in 2015. Both of these options are designed to assist survivors in receiving crucial medical care in the aftermath of a sexual assault. They also allow for the preservation of evidence and the ability to connect survivors to community resources to assist them in their healing. These options stem from the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorizations of 2005 and 2013.
Many survivors were, and continue to be, hesitant to seek medical care and/or have evidence collected via a medical forensic exam because of fear of having to report to law enforcement and concerns about the cost of having an exam. As a law enforcement official, it is important for you to understand why these options are necessary. While it may feel difficult for you not to take a full report at the time you respond to a hospital, giving survivors the option of preserving evidence and extra time to seek support and guidance can actually help you in the long run.
Allowing survivors time to heal from their experience of trauma can increase the likelihood they will be more engaged with the investigation, if they seek out law enforcement at a later date. An engaged survivor makes a law enforcement investigation much stronger. Time also enables the brain to recover from the effects of trauma, which can scramble memories and make recall for the survivor very challenging.
If you are the first interaction a survivor has with law enforcement, how you respond can shape a survivor’s perception of law enforcement and potentially enhance or damage their desire to request a law enforcement investigation. Understand the effects of trauma, seek out education on the neurobiology of trauma and how to speak with survivors of traumatic events. Doing these things can ensure the survivor/law enforcement relationship begins on solid ground. This is especially important when a survivor chooses medical or anonymous reporting options as they are still deciding whether they want to do more. Making a positive impression, starting by believing, and refraining from making any assumptions about what happened are all important steps you can take to build trust with a survivor of sexual assault.