Reporting Sexual Assault to the Police: Victim Experiences and the Potential for Procedural Justice
Lorenz, Katherine Paige
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Sexual assault is a largely underreported crime (Bachman, 1998). Fear of mistreatment by the legal system – particularly the police – deters many victims from reporting (Campbell, 2008). Victims who report to the police often cite negative experiences (Filipas & Ullman, 2001), which may be harmful to post-assault adjustment (Campbell, 2005) and reduce willingness to provide information during the investigation (Patterson, 2011). The procedural justice perspective suggests that for crime victims in general, satisfaction with police encounters influence views toward the police and outcomes related to the investigation of crimes (Parsons & Bergin, 2010), yet this has not been studied specifically for sexual assault victims. This study used a mixed-methods design of survey and semi-structured interviews of community sexual assault victims to explore the relationship between victims’ experiences with detectives during the investigation, and several outcomes including satisfaction with the detective, cooperation with the investigation, views of the police, future reporting, and recovery. This study also examined victims’ reporting decisions, and demographic differences between victims who reported and victims who did not report. Qualitative results suggest that pre-existing views of the police contribute to victims’ decision to report sexual assault to the police. Results showed that victims considered several factors in the decision to report, victims who expressed concerns of mistreatment and expressed negative views of the police tended to not report the assault. Quantitative findings showed differences in reporting based on gender and sexual identity, but not race or age. Results from regression analyses showed that procedural justice during detective-victim interactions significantly predicts victims’ satisfaction with the detective, cooperation with the investigation, positive views of the police, willingness to report future crimes, and recovery. Qualitative results underscored relationships between the quality of detective-victim interactions and the positive outcomes identified in the quantitative results, qualitative findings revealed that some of the outcomes associated with procedural justice are more complex than anticipated when looking specifically at detective interactions with sexual assault victims. Implications for practice and directions for future research in light of these findings are discussed, including recommendations made by interview participants on improving the police response to victims who report.