Monday, sexual assault survivors and their supporters gathered at City Hall calling for reform. They applauded courageous victims for coming forward, but pointed to a frightening incident last month and demanded change.
“The NYPD ignored a rape victim, talked her out of proceeding with their own investigation and failed to investigate her case,” said Jane Manning of the Women’s Equal Justice Project. “They let a rapist go free who went on to attack three more New York City women. That catastrophic failure is a symptom of a Special Victims Division in deep crisis.”
City Council member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality, was also at City Hall, and appeared on CBSN New York to discuss her concerns.
CBSN New York’s Natalie Duddridge asked Rosenthal about staffing in the Special Victims Division.
“The Department of Investigation looked at the SVD over a period of eight years and found chronic staffing shortages. So think of it this way: If the homicide unit at the NYPD, which is dealing with about 300 homicides a year, in the Special Victims Division, we have about double the number of detectives, 200, and they’re dealing with over 5,000 cases a year. And these, the rape cases, the sexual assault cases, are especially nuanced. You have to be really thoughtful and victim-centric, trauma informed, when you’re talking to assault survivors, and instead these detectives are just overwhelmed,” Rosenthal said. “They have case after case. Their case loads are two or three times higher than the national standard.”
Duddridge pointed out that the NYPD says changes have been made at the SVD since the report Rosenthal cited came out two years ago.
“They did double the number of detectives, that is true. But what they needed to do was increase by even double that amount,” Rosenthal said. “So, you know, we’re starting from a position that’s pretty low, and where we need to go is really high.”
Rosenthal said officers get 10-16 weeks of training to patrol on a motorcycle, whereas officers are given a week of training to investigate a rape case.
“And what they need is ten weeks, 15 weeks of training, in order to help someone become experienced, understand from the victim’s point of view what’s happening,” Rosenthal said. “If they took that much time, they would better understand why a victim might change their story three times, perfectly natural and normal to do that.”
CBSN New York reached out to the NYPD and the mayor’s office about Rosenthal’s concerns. NYPD spokesperson Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell said:
Recent criticism of SVD has presented inflammatory and inaccurate charges that ignore the real improvements that have been implemented over the past two years. Those include including leadership changes, enhanced staffing with dozens of new investigators, improved facilities, new specialized units and policy changes. What’s worse, these misleading attacks may actually dissuade survivors from coming forward. The NYPD will never be complacent — because survivors deserve the very best police work and personal assistance we can possibly provide. But it is critical to have an honest, fully-informed discussion about where the Special Victims Division is now. The NYPD urges all survivors to come forward and report these heinous crimes, and we pledge to continue to do everything possible to investigate it, no matter when it occurred or who it is against.
“No, I don’t think meaningful changes have happened,” Rosenthal said. “And in fact, I think that the culture in the SVD has deteriorated. I think our detectives are demoralized. And while we do, of course, want rape victims to come forward so they can seek justice, what I would encourage them to do is also reach out to survivor groups like the New York Alliance Against Sexual Assault, to reach out to advocates who are really going to support them, believe them, and help them come forward in, again, a trauma-centered, victim-centered way. It concerns me that the police are overreacting to these criticisms.”
“We need a reallocation within the NYPD and fundamentally we need them to take rape seriously. We need them to create the most elite, world-class, perfect Special Victims Division. That’s what advocates and survivors are looking for,” Rosenthal said.