Improving the Police Response to Sexual Assault



In 2012, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Women’s Law Project (WLP) of Philadelphia were awarded a Cooperative Agreement by the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) Technical Assistance Program to help law enforcement agencies improve their handling of sexual assault cases through the development of internal guidelines and quality assurance mechanisms.  Through this initiative, PERF and WLP provided direct assistance to help improve policies and practices in the police agencies of four cities -- Scottsdale, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; Fayetteville, NC; and Chattanooga, TN.  PERF documented the technical assistance process in each agency, including challenges in implementation and the lessons that were learned, to share with other agencies across the nation. The resulting publication is a guidebook that provides recommendations and promising practices from the field, to help law enforcement agencies assess and improve their response to sexual assault victims through better policies, procedures, training, and investigations.


About the Project

PERF tapped a cadre of experienced police leaders to serve on the project team as subject matter experts. PERF also established an Advisory Board of leaders on this issue from many fields, including policing, academia, victim advocacy, prosecution, forensic medicine, psychology, and social services.  The board also included federal perspectives from officials representing the FBI and OVW.  The Advisory Board helped to identify promising practices related to sexual assault investigations and provided guidance throughout the project.

In selecting the sites to receive technical assistance, PERF identified departments facing a wide range of issues and challenges, so that agencies across the country could benefit from the project’s findings. The project team considered department size, location, jurisdiction size and demographics, surrounding jurisdictions, special circumstances (such as close proximity to military bases, colleges/universities, and county and federal law enforcement resources), current events in the jurisdiction related to sexual assault, and UCR data, such as the number of unfounded cases. Participation by each agency was voluntary, and each agency signed a memorandum of understanding committing themselves to the project.

Each site’s technical assistance included two phases: 1) an assessment phase, and 2) a planning and implementation phase. In Phase 1, the project team assessed each agency’s current policies, procedures and practices related to sexual assault investigations, and developed an initial set of recommendations for the department’s consideration.  In Phase 2, participating agencies worked collaboratively with the project team to create a specific action plan for implementing the recommendations in the department.  Each action plan reviewed the challenges and issues identified during the assessment, and described steps for implementing promising practices, revising policies and procedures, developing quality control and audit functions, and improving training.  The sites documented their efforts to implement the recommendations, including obstacles encountered, changes to policies or practices, improvements in police responses to sexual assault, lessons learned, and overall outcomes.  The project team provided technical assistance to the departments during implementation as needed. The project team produced a final report documenting the promising practices and lessons learned by each agency so that other agencies could benefit from the findings.

Executive Guidebook: Practical Approaches for Strengthening Law Enforcement’s Response to Sexual Assault

This guidebook presents recommendations for law enforcement agency policies and procedures, accountability mechanisms, training, collaboration, report-writing and file maintenance, crime coding, case management, and public education.  Each section includes promising practices that are informed by research and the extensive experience of practitioners, including police officials, prosecutors, advocates, and social service providers, as well as PERF’s experience working with agencies across the country.  This guidebook also provides examples from the project sites that have already implemented the recommendations, as well as additional resources that offer further guidance for police officials who are exploring various issues and strategies for improving their department’s response to sexual assault. Click on the link below to access the guidebook:

Executive Guidebook: Practical Approaches for Strengthening Law Enforcement’s Response to Sexual Assault


Project Team

PERF’s Project Team provided support and subject matter expertise throughout the project, particularly in working with PERF staff members on the site visit assessments and developing recommendations. The project team also contributed to the guidebook by identifying promising practices and reviewing and providing feedback on the publication.

Charlie Deane

Charlie Deane is the retired Chief of the Prince William County, VA Police Department. During his 24 years as chief, Deane played a leading role in the investigations of the “East Coast rapist” and the “Beltway sniper” cases. Deane is also an expert on the role of local police agencies on immigration issues.

Sue Riseling

Sue Riseling is the retired Chief of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department. Riseling was the youngest and first female Chief of a Big Ten Conference university police department. As chief of police, Riseling led the response to the 2011 “Act 10” protests in the state Capitol and also implemented measures to improve the police response to sexual assault. Riseling is currently the Executive Director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

Women’s Law Project

The Women’s Law Project (WLP) seeks to create a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To accomplish its mission, WLP engages in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education. Carol Tracy is the Executive Director of WLP and Terry Fromson is WLP’s Managing Attorney. Tracy and Fromson have been involved in the current project and have served as consultants to the U.S. Department of Justice. Additionally, Tracy and Fromson were integral in the formation of the “Philadelphia Model,” an auditing model that brings advocates into police departments to review sexual assault cases.

Advisory Board

PERF’s Project Advisory Board members identified promising practices for sexual assault investigations and were available for guidance throughout the project. Additionally, several Advisory Board members participated as panelists in PERF’s December 2016 meeting on Improving the Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault.

The Advisory Board included:

  • Sheryl Goldstein, Managing Director, Programs and Grants and Program Director, Education for the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation;
  • Jennifer Long, Chief Executive Officer of AEquitas;
  • Melissa Morabito, Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell;
  • Dave Thomas, a retired police officer, formerly with the Montgomery County, MD Police Department and current Program Manager at the International Association of Chiefs of Police;
  • the late John Timoney, former Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department and Chief of the Miami Police Department;
  • Linda Williams, Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor Emerita at the University of Massachusetts Lowell;
  • Sheriff Kathy Witt, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office; and
  • Kym Worthy, Wayne County, MI Prosecutor.