In the criminal justice system, sexual-based offenses are supposed to be considered especially heinous.
In New York City, however, the detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Division (SVD) and, recently, they haven’t been able to do their jobs very well.
A 165-page report was released by the Department of Investigation that outed the New York City Police Department for knowingly neglecting the division of the department that investigates sexual assault crimes. According to the report, the SVD has been severely understaffed since 2010.
“In March 2018, NYPD’s homicide squads had 101 detectives with 282 homicides in 2017; during the same time period, SVD’s adult sex crime units had only 67 detectives despite its 2017 caseload of 5,661,” the report reads.
The unbalanced ratio of crimes to investigators has resulted in many sex crime cases receiving less attention than others. Some have been ignored altogether. The report specifically cited an incident where a victim had spent the entire night in the hospital waiting for a detective to show up and, when none did, “the victim, thoroughly discouraged, decided against reporting the crime to the police and went home.”
There has been a 65 percent increase in reported sex crimes since 2009, yet the number of SVD employees has remained relatively static. The division issued a series of complaints throughout the years regarding the understaffing dilemma which in turn lead to sensitive cases being handed to inexperienced detectives.
In response to the complaints, the NYPD deputy commissioner told to division that they “did not have to investigate every [sex crime].” The unit ignored the advice of the leadership and continued to try to balance the workload.
It’s estimated that only 5 percent of sex crimes committed in New York City are reported to the police while all other crimes have an over 70 percent reporting rate. The small percentage of allegations is not uncommon as victims of assault notoriously have a much harder time reporting crimes committed against them.
When it comes to investigating sex crimes, victim participation is often the most crucial element. Without the victim’s compliance, an investigation has a lesser chance of success and without successful investigations, more assailants and predators will never receive punishment for their despicable crimes.
The reports also found the NYPD guilty of prioritizing high-profile cases and stranger rapes over acquaintance or domestic rapes.
Because of the low reporting rates, it’s important for investigators to take every accusation seriously in order to encourage victims to continue to step forward. If victims feel that what happened to them will not be respected as a serious crime, they will be much less likely to report the assault.
“Victims of sexual assault deserve justice, with the full weight of law enforcement by their side,” said Mark Peters, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation. “The neglect and understaffing of NYPD’s Special Victims Division are serious and deeply troubling.”
The NYPD must begin to recognize that, despite their triage of guidelines, there is no hierarchy of pain. Assault of any caliber is still assault and needs to be treated as such. Prioritizing stranger rapes only enforces the misconception that rapists are always strangers lurking in the dark. The reality is that most rapes are committed by someone the victim is at least acquainted with.
The NYPD issued an official statement defending their leadership and called the report “inaccurate” and “misleading.” They have not yet addressed whether or not there will be changes made to the management of the Special Victims Division.
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