New Report, Co-Authored by Professor Donna Coker, Examines Why Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence Don’t Call the Police

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CORAL GABLES, FL (October 28, 2015) – A new report found that survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault face widespread and serious police discrimination when they seek protection from the criminal justice system.

The report, 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% of advocates reported that police sometimes or often do not believe victims or blame victims for the violence, leading advocates to identify police inaction, hostility and bias against survivors as a key barrier to seeking intervention from the criminal justice system.

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

Respondents reported significant bias against survivors on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, poverty, youth, sexual orientation, and sexual identity.  

“The report demonstrates the importance of advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence  working together with organizations that are fighting police racial bias,” said Professor Donna Coker, who co-authored the report with Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project; Julie Goldscheid, Professor of Law at CUNY School of Law; Tara Neal, former University of Miami School of Law Human Rights Fellow; and Valerie Halstead, University of Miami School of Nursing Ph.D. student

Concerns within marginalized groups include fear of the collateral consequences that police involvement can trigger. Nearly 90% of survey respondents said that contact with the police sometimes or often resulted in the involvement of child protective services, threatening survivors with the 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.

“These results illustrate 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 Coker. The report also finds that many victims seek solutions that are not based in the criminal justice system.  The report authors urge more police accountability for biased enforcement and research into alternatives to punishment such as restorative justice and community accountability models.

A full copy and highlights of the report are available at www.aclu.org/responsesfromthefield