tv The Stream Al Jazeera September 9, 2013 7:30pm-8:01pm EDT
hi i'm lisa fletcher and you are in the stream. up to 98% of reported sexual assaults turn out to be true, so why do some law enforcement have such a hard time believing the survivors? the disconnect may be linked to brain function. we'll take a look at how science may solve it. ♪ >> the community has some really strong opinions about this. >> yes. this doctor says . . .
elizabeth says . . . and darasays . . . strong words. you the community are the third host of the show as always. join the conversation by tweeting at us live throughout the discussion with ajamstreet. >> after admitting to a crime, the perpetrator got 30 days in jail, the 14 year old committed suicide. advocates say this is one of many examples of the criminal justice system failing sexual assault survivors. >> i think the way i was treated was so traumatizing, and when i
sought mental health services after the crime occurred i focused more on my treatment by the police than what happened with the sexual assault, and i have heard that that is not uncommon. [ sighs ] plot faster, if i hadn't reportd to the police. >> a recent human rights report lists washington, d.c. as one of the worst. one of the key findings, the need for new interview techniques. so there's a fundamental shift required in the way that sexual assault is investigated and prosecuted. we are joined by a former prosecutor, he consults in the investigation of sexual violence in the u.s. and abroad. liz joins us from austin, texas. during her tenure with the sexual assault unit, she helped change th way that victims are
treated. and we have a survivor of a sexual assault, and a senior counselor at human rights watch. welcome to all of you. john, i want to start with you. talk about these misconceptions that still exist about rape and who the rapist is. >> yeah, there's still a lot of misconceptions out there. and if we can't overcome some of these, simple things like when i say rapist, the image in somebody's head is somebody jumping out of a bush. but the vast majority of these cases are non-stranger from intimate partner down to an equatance. if we can't get over those humps it makes it really difficult to make these cases. the vast majority of rape victims never come forward. and when somebody has the courage to come forward, we need to start out by believing them.
>> eleanor you are the survivor of an attack at knife point, tell us about your story. >> my story comes from [ inaudible ] i was walking home late one night, and i noticed there was a man behind me, and i got nervous, and i pulled out my cell phone ready to call 911, but before i was able to do that, he put a knife to my throat, and ended up taking my phone from me. and [ inaudible ] and anything else he wanted. and i told him i would give him my money. and he said no, i want you to go into the ally with me. and i said no i'm not doing that. and finally he started counting down from five -- so i got up and went into the ally with him. i screamed rape and help me i'm bleeding, and people came to my aid and the police came, and at
first they were very kind to me, but later in my subsequent dealings with them, it was increasingly apparent they were not listening to what happened. they weren't writing down anything. i felt like he was trying to rape me. the nurses at the hospital had been telling me -- the nurses at the hospital asked me if i needed to get a rape kit done? six of them asked me that, and the doctor asked me that, and i tried to -- i tried to [ inaudible ] impossible either. and they wouldn't pick up my phone calls. >> did things happen that made you feel more like a criminal than a victim? >> oh, absolutely. even that night, i had one police officer ask me, honey why didn't you just give me your purse. and another said you are far braver than me for walking down this street late at night. it made me feel uncomfortable
and sort of filthy for being there. >> jonathan says . . . and liz best says . . .. so sarah, i'm going to go to you with this, how much of this results from the myth and stereo type that women are, quote, responsible for the sexual behavior? >> i think unfortunately a lot of this still exists in society, but when law enforcement has those beliefs it means cases aren't investigated because they shut them down at the time of pdangerous in terms of public safety issues. that means the perpetrators ae free to commit other crimes. so unfortunately these thoughts still are common, but there
hasn't been enough understanding of the realistic dynamics of sexual assault, and it really has an impact. >> i have enough faith in humanity and america's police officers to leave the majority of them are not intentionally trying to criminalize these victims. where is the disconnect? where is the breakdown? >> i think it really goes back to what we're teaching our cadets and police officers in the academy. and much of what we're still seeing across the country are stranger cases only. and we need to address non-stranger assaults particularly. we're still seeing the old school, this is what we really believe sexual assault is, and it couldn't be further from the truth. so as law enforcement becomes educated, you will see a shift in the investigation and the
prosecutor experience as well. >> comes there are red flags, david leesack explains how that translates in many cases just going nowhere. >> when they approach an inview o investigation of a rape case they have this erroneous belief. and they feel part of their job is to try to uncover the real truth. they therefore approach rape victims with a lot of skepticism. sometimes a lot of dispassionate -- they try to be victim reads that as hostility, and as soon as they feel there is this hostility coming, especially from a male officer, they shut down, and that pretty much shuts down the investigation. and that often tends to cooperate for the police officer their belief that nothing really happened here, because the rape
victim backs away, and doesn't want anything to do with the police at that point. so that's probably one of the biggest problems we have in terms of the interactions of some law enforcement officers and rape victims, and it leads to a lot of stalled investigations. >> sounds like miscues. >> our community echos many of these sentiments of our guests. smj . . . and safe says . . . >> when we come back from the break, bridging the gap between police investigators and survivors, and how brain science is helping to solve the disconnect. first here is a look at some of the other stories you making trend across the us. ♪
and i -- and my response was. okay. we're done. and i never talked to him since then. >> that survivor is not alone. according to the human rights watch report, about half of the officers say they believe 10 to 50% of sexual assault victims are lying. and it comes from the type of training that officer receive. liz talk about how officers are trained to recognize when someone is lying, and why that doesn't apply to victims of rape. >> when you are -- as a police officer, you are taught to look for different cues, different body movements and interpret that as the individual not being truthful to you. and oftentimes when you have a victim who has been traumatized you are going to see things that are out of the norm for you, or what you think you should be seeing, your expectations.
we train our officers to expect the unexpected, to understand and recognize the neurobiology of trauma, and why victims respond the way they do, and why that is so difficult for police to rap their heads around. >> we have some community, arreus says . . . and smj says . . . and crystal says . . . all right. john you were a former prosecutor, what can the police and even lawyers do to make it is more safe environment for the victims? >> yeah, there is a lot you can do. if you start to investigate and interview victims like this is a ca theft or a burglary, you are not going to have much success. we spent a lot of time training
officers how to interview suspects but not as much how to interview victims of sexual assault. it requires special training and experience to do that effectively. police aren't the only ones, prosecutors also have to be informed. if we're not informed we're going to make bad credibility assessments also. if the prosecutors aren't working collaboratively with police, advocates and medical, we will make bad decisions. >> so you have to have a team approach? >> it has to be a team approach. that's where everybody is on the same page. a victim can intersect a system anywhere. >> you just mentioned the neurobiology of trauma, and this expert says this.
>> in the midst of a trauma, a person's frontal lobes are very, very often tremendously impeded. their functioning is degraded tremendously. and that's why you hear people talk about an experience like this and saying i couldn't think. soldiers and law enforcement officers forget half of their taining in the midst of a life-threating experience. and these victims have been effected that way as well. you ask them a question that you assume they will know the answer to, and they don't. and if you misinterpret that, if you see that as they are trying to cover up something or this is more indication that they are not telling the truth, then you are making a mistake. and that leads law enforcement
officers to sometimes make these erroneous decisions. >> if these techniques would have been deployed after your attack, how do you think that would be changed your feeling about the judicial system and your healing proess sesz? >> i would it would have help. i felt everything with the police department [ inaudible ] they changed my detective multiple times. they kept telling me any time i would contact one person they would send me down a rabbit hole giving me other people's contact information, which when you are traumatized it's really hard to deal with this information. and they were like we really want to know what he looks like. well, my back was to this man for the majority of the contact. and on the other hand it seemed like the police really did not
know how to deal with the situation, and there was no person i could go to within the department or advocate -- they didn't tell me about the advocacy program, so i was on my own dealing with it, and that made it much harder as well. and even when i started to see a therapist independently afterwards. i told them i think the police made a mistake. i need to talk to them about it. and she said as your therapist and as someone who is concerned about your mental health, i want you to be aware of the risks involves. >> john, i see you nodding your head. >> yeah, i can see how years later it is still so difficult for you to talk about this experience, and that's how bad that experience was, and how much more trauma was heaped on this individual. and why the police wouldn't want
to get every piece of information she wanted to share is beyond me. >> our community chimes in . . . elizabeth says . . . dr. vera says . . . so sarah, i'm going to go to you with that. help us understand the miskop - misconception about these victims dealing with trauma. >> it goes back to what liz and john have already said about how people have certain expectations for how victims behave, and then they immediately shut down and decide they don't believe the case, and then it doesn't go forward. so it -- it really goes back to the training and the understanding of the biology that has been described.
>> john, it seems like there is such a cascading effect here too, because when the officer doesn't handle it properly on the street, the correct information isn't gathered, and then you aren't getting the evidence to prosecute, and it just snowballs. >> right. and it can happen at any juncture in the case. if nurses don't know how to respond, that may shut a victim down. it may be the initial patrol officer or me as the prosecutor who is interviewing the victim for the first time, and doesn't know how to talk to the victim and let them tell their story and not interrupt them. i want to hear what they have to say and then i'll go back to the things i need to clarify. so it can shut down anywhere. >> hey, liz nobody likes to get told they are doing things wrong, and, you know, within police departments there is a
sense of brotherhood and sister hood and unity, and how do you make the kind of successful changes that you have made? you have gone in and gotten people to approach the way they have treated these things for decades. >> i was allowed to go ahead and attend trainings, to bring different things into the department on all levels, starting from our cadets to our first responders to working response resource team. they just gave me an open door to go and do what was right, because i think they recognize on some level that we need to improve our level of service to ictims, and we need perpetrators accountable, and they gave me that opportunity. so it's unfortunate that i work with such a great pd, but i see the issue that eleanor was talking about where victims are
suspects, and all of the trauma that goes into that, and just the snowballing effect as john has said. we see that across the country, not understanding the complexity of these crimes. >> this new way of thinking and with the help of neuroscience is explaining the breakdown, but then how do you take all of that information and use it to move forward. we'll talk about efforts to train officers to ask the right questions. are you tweeting us now? if you are, check out the avenue tars behind me. you might see yourself.
♪ >> welcome back. we're talking about how police and the courts handle rape cases and why many are working to replace what some consider to be flawed techniques. contrary to traditional law enforcement belief, compassion is key to better investigation. >> one of the other problems that we have across the country, again, this is a true
not -- certainly not with law enforcement officers, but with some, there is this idea that in order to do your job impartially, that you cannot show compassion or empathy towards the rape victim. that that somehow biases you. and that's a real misunderstanding, i think of empathy and compassion. the problem with not doing that, is again, when -- when a law enforcement officer puts on this mask of dispassionate, sort of impartiali impartiality, very often that gets red by a rape victim as hostility. and once that read that hostility, they shut down. so it is completely possible to be impartial and show compassionate empathy and you
can still be -- the impartial gatherer of evidence. >> since the hr.w. report came out, what has changed. are there cities that you can point to, that you can say they have taken our advice to heart? >> d.c. itself is undergoing a process of re-examining how it handles its sexual assaul cases, and we're hoping by bringing attention to the issue in general, about police investigations of sexual assault, that other cities will look at their approach and follow the austin example. austin is a great example of a city that undertook reform of hot it handles sexual assault cases without having been shamed by an investigation. >> i mentioned the d.c. metro police, and they responded to her report. and they said . . .
thing. a stronger victim makes a better witness down the road. so that outreach is really important to let them know. and then how every participant dealing with that victim is very important. these are really tough cases. we're not that successful at them, but if we can improve the victim experience, that's a victory in itself. let's do everything we can to make it a better process. >> liz, austin is making great strides. what do you see still as challenges for your department and across the board from california to new york? >> i think it's maintaining that education and training, so we don't slide backwards to having an understanding about what real sexual assault is. we have to keep moving forward, and as john said bringing the
community on board. we work well together to support our victims throughout the judicial process, and that's where the direction we need to keep going. >> eleanor we have got about 20 seconds left. if you have a final thought you would like to leave us with, what would it be. >> i think compassion is one of the key issues. i was on the phone with the police and i was crying and the man on the other end of the phone said i can tell you are getting emotion, and he just hung up the phone after that, so i would urge people to be come ma -- compassionate. >> thanks to all of our panel and for sharing your stories. we'll see you tomorrow night. ♪
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