7-13 Sexual Assault

Effective: 8/22/2016

Revision Date: 8/22/2016



The purpose of this policy is to provide law enforcement officers with guidelines for the proper response to reports of sexual assault. The VCUPD is a participating member of the You Have Options Program. As such, the department recognizes the need for a victim-centered and offender-focused response to sexual violence. The traditional law enforcement response to sexual violence tends to discourage sexual assault victims from seeking assistance through the criminal justice system. As a result, often law enforcement does not receive the information necessary to hold sexual offenders accountable, and those offenders go on to victimize additional persons.

A small percentage of the population commits a large number of sexual assault offenses. Utilizing the victim-centered and offender-focused strategies of the You Have Options Program allows law enforcement to work collaboratively and gather the information necessary to identify and successfully investigate serial sexual predators. In accordance with the You Have Options Program Memorandum of Understanding, VCUPD personnel agree that reasonable efforts will be made to address barriers victims face when reporting a sexual assault to law enforcement and when working with law enforcement during an investigation. VCUPD personnel understand a sexual assault victim’s wants and needs may at times be in conflict with the criminal justice process and agree to place the victim’s preference first when legally possible to do so.

Each victim reporting a sexual assault will have unique needs and circumstances that influence the decision to report. Often law enforcement has means of addressing the reasons why a victim may be hesitant to report. Working in coordination with the sexual assault victim, and his/her advocate if applicable, to identify and address these barriers is a core component of the You Have Options Program.

Understanding that each victim’s individual situation is unique, investigating officers shall attempt to view the reporting process from the victim’s perspective and not assume what barriers a victim faces when reporting sexual assault. Many barriers such as fear of reporting to a certain gender, lack of transportation to the interview location or hesitancy to enter a law enforcement facility may be readily remedied by law enforcement if known. By addressing the barriers victims face when reporting sexual assault, and thereby increasing the number of sexual assault reports, investigators receive information they would otherwise never have had access to. Personnel shall offer options and not advice or directives. For example, it is never appropriate for any officer to tell a victim that they should cooperate with an investigation in order to prevent the sexual offender from assaulting others. The responsibility to not harm is the offender’s, not the victim’s.


Accountability Statement

All employees are expected to fully comply with the guidelines and timelines set forth in this written directive. Failure to comply will result in appropriate corrective action. Responsibility rests with the division commander to ensure that any violations of policy are investigated and appropriate training, counseling and/or disciplinary action is initiated.



  1. It is the policy of the VCUPD to take a victim-centered and offender-focused approach when responding to victims who are reporting a sexual assault and conducting sexual assault investigations. This includes, but is not limited to, providing victims of sexual assault with as much control over their report and any subsequent criminal investigation as state and federal guidelines allow.
  2. Unless legally mandated (i.e., certain instances of domestic violence; when the victim is under 18; when a victim is in continuing physical danger) or in other rare circumstances such as a significant threat to public safety, the following 20 Elements of a Victim-Centered and Offender-Focused You Have Options Law Enforcement Response, at a minimum, shall be offered during every sexual assault report and/or investigation:
    1. A victim of sexual assault is offered three options for reporting: Information Only, Partial Investigation or Complete Investigation.
      1. An Information Only Report includes any report of sexual assault where, at the reporting party’s request, no investigative process beyond a victim interview and/or a complete or partial Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA) is completed.
      2. A Partial Investigation includes any report of sexual assault where some investigative processes beyond the victim interview and a complete or partial Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA), have been initiated by law enforcement. This may include, but is not limited to, interviewing of witnesses and collection of evidence such as a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) kit.
      3. A Complete Investigation includes any report of sexual assault where all investigative procedures necessary to determine if probable cause exists for a criminal sexual assault offense have been initiated and completed.
      4. A sexual assault victim may change from an Information Only report to a Partial or Complete Investigation at any time.
      5. A sexual assault victim may initially request a Complete Investigation and change to a Partial Investigation at any time prior to the conclusion of all investigative processes.
      6. Victims of sexual assault are encouraged to report even if they never intend to pursue criminal charges against the person who assaulted them.
    2. A victim or other reporting party may remain anonymous and still have the information they provide documented by a You Have Options Program Law Enforcement Agency.
      1. Sexual assault information received from any of the reporting options shall be documented in written form and retained in a way that best preserves a victim’s options and supports retrieval at a later date to aid in identifying serial sexual perpetration. No report of sexual assault shall be purged or deleted from RMS.
      2. All information received on a reported sexual assault shall be documented regardless of the apparent credibility of the reporter or apparent veracity of the information being provided. Failure to document all available information inhibits the ability of investigators to identify serial sexual perpetration.
      3. Investigating officers shall respect the decision of the reporter and not initiate inperson contact.
    3. A victim or other reporting party shall have questions answered regarding their options for reporting and/or a criminal investigation prior to providing any identifying or incident information to law enforcement.
    4. A clear explanation of the reporting process and/or investigative procedures will be provided by a law enforcement officer to the victim at the time of the report.
    5. When making a report there is no requirement to meet in person with a law enforcement officer. For example, a victim or other reporting party may report using an online form or a victim may choose to have a sexual assault advocate report on their behalf.
      1. Victims who choose to report through a third-party, such as a sexual assault advocate, maintain their chosen level of confidentiality while still providing to law enforcement important information on serial sexual perpetration. With a victim’s permission, law enforcement has the ability to contact the victim through the thirdparty.
    6. Reasonable efforts will be made to allow the victim or other reporting party control over the location, time and date where their initial report is made to law enforcement.
      1. If accommodations are unable to be made as requested by a victim or reporting party, a clear explanation as to why shall be provided by the law enforcement officer.
    7. A victim or other reporting party may provide as much, or as little, information as they choose with no time limitations or restrictions on when the information is given to law enforcement.
      1. Information obtained on an incident outside the current statute of limitations shall be documented to assist in identifying serial sexual perpetration and/or in other investigations.
    8. Law enforcement officers will offer assistance in locating sexual assault advocacy services to every person reporting.
      1. The physical and mental health and welfare of every victim of sexual assault shall be the priority at all times.
      2. Not all victims of sexual assault request or want the services of a sexual assault advocate, and care should be taken to respect each victim’s individual decision.
      3. Additional confidentiality and victim safety concerns should be considered when contacting sexual assault advocacy, particularly in rural communities and/or in communities where the victim may personally know the advocate.
    9. A victim may be accompanied by a sexual assault advocate or other appropriate support person during all phases of the reporting process and criminal investigation.
      1. If necessary, a clear explanation will be provided to a victim if his/her selected support person is not appropriate, such as a person who was a witness to the assault.
    10. A victim, or other reporting party, may end an interview with law enforcement at any time without having to provide a reason.
    11. After making a report, a victim or other reporting party will not be pressured to participate in a criminal investigation.
    12. Reasonable efforts will be made to meet the needs of the victim and address any barriers the victim faces in providing information to law enforcement during the reporting process.
    13. Law enforcement officers will conduct victim interviews in a trauma-informed manner.
      1. Reasonable efforts shall be made to limit the number of times a victim is interviewed regarding the assault.
      2. The victim’s safety, cognitive impairment and mental health shall be taken into consideration prior to any interview.
      3. Victim statements shall be documented in a manner best allowing for an accurate record of the victim’s exact statements, not a synopsis of the interviewer’s perception of what was said. Paraphrasing can impart a different meaning. It is strongly recommended that, with a victim’s consent, all victim interviews be audio and/or video recorded. This method of documentation allows the written record to most accurately reflect the actual words spoken by a victim or reporting party, and removes the chance for inconsistencies between the victim’s and interviewer’s recall of the interview.
    14. Reasonable efforts will be made to meet the needs of the victim and address any barriers the victim faces when participating in a sexual assault investigation.
    15. A victim’s right to keep the assault confidential shall be respected. When legally permissible, no person (outside of a law enforcement agency) shall be notified that the victim has reported without the victim’s consent. This includes the interviewing of identified witnesses and perpetrators.
      1. Investigators shall make reasonable efforts to only initiate processes that will maintain the victim’s requested level of confidentiality.
      2. Personnel shall be careful to restrict information-sharing with any institution with Title IX mandated reporting requirements for sexual assault, unless the victim consents to the information dissemination after being informed of how the institution’s Title IX policy may limit the victim’s ability to remain confidential.
      3. VCUPD shall take reasonable steps to inform sexual assault victims prior to a report being made when their requested level of confidentiality may not be legally permissible.
      4. Personnel are encouraged to share information with appropriate campus personnel regarding reported sexual violence related to that campus when the sharing of that information does not impact the victim’s requested level of confidentiality.
    16. Investigators will utilize strategies to identify and document serial sexual perpetration, such as the Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA).
      1. Serial perpetration strategies include, but are not limited to: focusing on how a suspect made the victim vulnerable, accessible and appear to lack credibility and identifying those who can corroborate that behavior; identifying witnesses to the victim’s and suspect’s behavior prior to and after the assault; and identifying opportunities for corroborative intelligence that can reveal motive, premeditation and/or information that may lead an investigator to additional victims.
      2. If reasonably possible, investigative strategies conducted by the investigating officer shall be discussed with the victim prior to their execution.
      3. Investigators shall make reasonable efforts to only initiate processes that will maintain the victim’s requested level of confidentiality.
    17. Investigators will collaborate with victims during the investigative process and respect a victim’s right to request certain investigative steps not be conducted. Criminal investigations will be conducted at a pace set by the victim, not the law enforcement officer.
      1. At a victim’s request, reasonable efforts will be made to collect and store evidence regardless of the victim’s decision on whether to proceed with charges or participate in a Complete Investigation.
      2. Investigating officers will keep victims of sexual assault informed regarding the status of the investigation.
      3. Victims will be informed that no case can proceed to arrest or referral to an office of prosecution until the investigative process is complete.
    18. A victim may disengage from a criminal investigation at any time prior to an arrest being made or the case being referred to an office of prosecution. There is no requirement that an explanation be given by the victim to law enforcement.
    19. If legally permissible and probable cause exists for a crime, no arrest or referral to an office of prosecution will occur without the consent of the victim. All You Have Options Law Enforcement Agencies respect the choice of every victim who reports a sexual assault, and understand that justice is not the same for every person who is victimized.
    20. Criminal investigations that do not result in arrest or referral to an office of prosecution will be classified as “inactive”, unless found baseless or false, allowing for the investigation to be re-opened in the future at a victim’s request and/or if additional information is discovered.
  3. In addition to the 20 Elements of a Victim-Centered and Offender-Focused You Have Options Law Enforcement Response, all VCUPD personnel should:
    1. Prioritize medical and advocacy resources for every victim who reports a sexual assault, regardless of their decision to prosecute the offender and/or choice to assist law enforcement with an investigation.
    2. Promote an environment in which victims of sexual assault are not judged or blamed for their assault and instead are treated with dignity, sensitivity and courtesy.
    3. Not polygraph victims reporting a sexual assault. A polygraph examination of a victim shall not be requested, required, or conducted as a condition for proceeding with the investigation of the crime.
    4. Not arrest any person for filing a false report of sexual assault without evidence beyond a recantation to support the false report charge. Additionally, VCUPD agrees that if corroboration does exist, careful consideration will be given prior to initiating an arrest for false report. VCUPD understands that often evidence-supported false reports are the result of emotional problems and false report arrests deter other victims of sexual assault from reporting. Consideration of these factors should be made in cases where no reported perpetrator was named and/or impacted by the false report.
    5. Identifying alternative options other than an immediate arrest of a victim for criminal activity he/she engaged in related to the assault.
    6. Not require any victim of sexual assault to sign a waiver stating they do not want to participate in an investigation.
    7. Not list any victim who chooses to disengage from the reporting and/or investigative process as “uncooperative.”
  4. Nothing in this practice should prevent officers from responding to acute or in progress situations that may need immediate enforcement action.