Sex assault on campus: Why are police waiting?

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) A report of a sex assault on campus at the University of Utah had police on alert and students on edge Tuesday.

Campus police and a university spokesperson relayed as much information as they could, as reporters crowded around them in a hastily arranged news conference.

University officials confirmed that an incident had happened Monday night at about 10:30. They stated that detectives spoke to the reported victim at about midnight. They then explained that the approximately four hours between the time investigators took the report and the school sent out a campus alert was the result of police and administrators making certain they had correct and actionable information for the student body.

It was near the end of the news conference police mentioned something that raised more questions about the timing of the process of responding to this latest report of campus crime. Police announced they would be waiting two days before interviewing the reported victim, saying they wanted to give her two sleep cycles.

Reporters didn’t follow up on the statement, at the time, undoubtedly rushing to beat their deadlines. But looked into it, posing questions to law enforcers as well as psychologists.

Why wait? Wouldn’t a delay risk the victim forgetting details and even key facts that might help investigators track down the attacker? Might the victim change her mind and decide not to cooperate with police?

Law enforcers tell that what is happening in this sex assault investigation is a fairly new crime fighting phenomenon known as trauma informed interviewing. Law enforcers say waiting at least 48 hours — two sleep cycles — allows the survivor to rest and refresh their memory, rather than lose it. It also begins to allow the emotional trauma to subside, allowing their brain to function better, and allowing them to do a better job of recalling the incident and reporting it.

The most comprehensive response to these questions came from Stephanie McClure, a member of the Board of Directors of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Violence. She concedes that there is, in almost every sex crime case, the possibility that a survivor can change their mind about reporting a crime.

In Utah, survivors report being worried about what will happen if people find out, says McClure. There are concerns about confidentiality. They worry they will not be believed or that they won’t be supported. They also may feel a lot of shame around what happened, because of the harmful social norms and victim blaming that permeates our culture and is difficult to not internalize. Some survivors may not feel reporting is a safe option for them, and in some instances, particularly with intimate partner sexual violence.

McClure went on to explain the power struggle between an abuser and a survivor.

Violence is about power and control and reporting takes that control away from the abuser. Some survivors don’t want to report or change their mind because they don’t want the person who harmed them to get in trouble, they just want them to stop engaging in violent behavior. They want the violence to stop, she said. Still, others know that possibly 5 out of a 1000 rapists will ever serve time, and that going through the criminal justice system often results in the revictimization of survivors. There are many more reasons why someone may change their mind.

McClure went on to clarify the message.

None of this is to say that survivors shouldn’t report. Reporting is a personal decision, and not always an easy one to make. Survivors should have access to advocacy services to be able to understand their rights, their options, and process through the pros and cons of each choice, so they can make an informed choice about what is best for them.

Click here to access UCASA’s website.

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