Last week, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control reported the results of its extensive survey on intimate partner and sexual violence in the United States. The findings were staggering. In the past year alone, 1.3 million women were raped. In their lifetime, approximately 1 in 5 women have been raped and 1 in 6 women have been stalked. 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
The report notes that incidents of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and stalking are underreported crimes in the U.S., as survivors are reluctant to disclose their victimization for a number of reasons, including shame and fear of retribution from perpetrators. Additionally, laws may not be enforced properly or consistently, and perpetrators may become more dangerous after their victims report these crimes.
Although violence against women is clearly prevalent throughout the U.S., local police departments are not doing all they can to prevent or respond to it. The Department of Justice (DoJ) recently announced its findings in an ongoing civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona, which has failed to investigate a large number of sex crimes. DoJ reported similar failures in its investigation of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD). According to DoJ, the PRPD has not effectively addressed domestic violence and rape in Puerto Rico, and has not appropriately disciplined police officers accused of domestic violence. Additionally, statistics strongly suggest that the PRPD is not ensuring that women living under the threat of domestic violence make use of the legal resources available to them – namely orders of protection. Similarly, DoJ’s investigation of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) revealed a systemic breakdown in NOPD’s handling of sexual assault investigations and domestic violence cases.
Thankfully, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey reports that some communities have developed “highly trained, coordinated teams with expertise related to sexual violence victimization, stalking, and intimate partner violence and can provide compassionate, informed responses.” Local governments are also implementing domestic-violence policy changes in response to the ACLU’s landmark win at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. We support efforts such as these, which work to enhance training within the criminal justice system, can provide survivors with adequate support, facilitate reporting, and ensure that those who commit violence against women, and those responsible for responding to violence, are held accountable.