New Report Examines Why Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Don’t Call the Police

ACLU, CUNY School of Law, and University of Miami School of Law Release Findings of Gender-Biased Policing Survey

October 27, 2015 3:30 pm

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NEW YORK – A new report issued today reveals that survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault face widespread and serious police discrimination when they seek protection from the criminal justice system.

Responses from the Field: Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, and Policing is based on a nationwide survey of 900 advocates, attorneys, service providers, and non-profit workers who support or represent domestic violence and sexual assault victims. As a topline finding, 88 percent of respondents reported that police sometimes or often do not believe victims or blame victims for the violence. Advocates identified police inaction, hostility, and bias against survivors as key barriers to seeking intervention from the criminal justice system.

“Unless police officers are held accountable for blaming victims and refusing to investigate domestic violence and sexual assault the same as they do other crimes, our criminal justice system will continue to fail survivors,” said Sandra Park, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project who co-wrote the report. “Federal, state, and local governments should expand efforts to provide oversight over how police respond to these cases.”

Many concerns about police hostility and inaction are magnified within communities that are already burdened with problematic policing practices. Over 80 percent of respondents believed that police relations with marginalized communities influenced survivors’ willingness to call the police.

“The report confirms what survivors and service providers know all too well, that police response to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault continues to be riddled with bias based on gender, race, immigration status, gender identity, and poverty, and against others from marginalized groups,” said Julie Goldscheid, Academic Dean and Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law and report co-author. “It underscores the need for ongoing, multifaceted training that focuses on respecting the survivor and on ensuring that police understand the ways that multiple forms of bias intersect.”

Concerns within marginalized groups include fear of the collateral consequences that police involvement can trigger. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said that contact with the police sometimes or often resulted in involvement of child protective services, threatening survivors with loss of custody of their children. Other negative consequences named by respondents include initiation of immigration proceedings and loss of housing, employment or welfare benefits. Advocates noted that resources outside of the criminal justice system must be available to survivors looking for options other than punishment for the abuser.

“The report demonstrates that if the government wants to assist victims, there must be changes in policies that impact immigration, child welfare, economic security, and criminal justice more broadly,” said Donna Coker, Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law and report co-author. “The police are not a viable resource for victims because involving the police often results in deportation, the loss of children, arrest of the victim, and devastating economic consequences.”

In addition to naming problematic policing practices, advocates identified police collaborations that are working in their communities and recommended improvements in police training, supervision, and hiring of more women and people of color, changes in police culture that include prioritizing domestic violence and sexual assault cases, and greater partnerships between police and community resources.

The report authors call for the following next steps:

  • Strengthening police accountability using federal, state, and local mechanisms;
  • Addressing multi-faceted police biases through trainings and oversight;
  • Addressing collateral consequences of seeking police involvement, particularly immigration, child welfare, and economic consequences; and
  • Engaging in additional research on the intersectional biases that survivors experience, the impact that criminal justice strategies have on the prevalence of violence, acts of sexual and domestic violence committed by police, and alternatives to criminal justice responses to sexual and domestic violence.

A full copy of the report is available at:

Highlights from the report are available at:

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