DOJ updates guide on gender bias for police response to sexual assault, domestic violence

2022 version of guidance includes input from law enforcement leaders, victim advocates, and civil rights advocates

By: - June 8, 2022 3:52 pm
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Federal officials have issued new guidance for law enforcement officers when investigating gender-based violence. (Photo by Oliver Helbig, Getty Images)

The Department of Justice is trying to help law enforcement better recognize, mitigate and prevent gender bias when responding to and investigating sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence cases.

“At the Department of Justice, we know that investigating cases involving sexual assault and domestic violence is challenging,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta in a press release announcing a new guide for law enforcement agencies. “It demands thorough investigations and a careful effort to avoid unintentionally worsening the victimization for survivors of these crimes.”

The guide is called “Improving Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence by Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias.” The guide indicates that gender-based violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence, are crimes that disproportionately harm women and girls as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals in the US.

“Gender-based violence is violence and other harmful acts directed at an individual because of gender, which includes biological or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex traits,” the guide says.

In the U.S., about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men have experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, stalking by an intimate partner, and intimate partner violence-related impact during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When gender bias impacts policing — from ignoring reports of sexual assault, mishandling sexual misconduct investigations or the failure to discipline officers who commit domestic violence — law enforcement’s legitimacy erodes, and survivors’ trust in police is diminished,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in a press release. “Our dedication to combatting gender bias in policing is about promoting accountability, and fostering greater trust in investigations of gender-based violence.”

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According to the Department of Justice, this 2022 guidance will help build on the department’s comprehensive strategy to reduce violent crime by “building trust through meaningful law enforcement engagement with, and accountability to, the communities they serve, including survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.”

“This guidance provides best practices that — when implemented into all levels of policy, training and supervision — help law enforcement provide services free from discrimination on the basis of gender, and therefore handle these cases more effectively,” Gupta said.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 44% of lesbian women and 61% of bisexual women have suffered rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of heterosexual women; 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men have suffered rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.

Office on Violence Against Women Acting Director Allison Randall said the department’s announcement of the updated guidance reaffirms its commitment to expanding access to justice for all survivors, who deserve respect, compassion and self-determination.

“Eliminating gender bias in policing is a key piece in ending gender-based violence, and can have a real, immediate impact on the safety of survivors, their loved ones, and, indeed, their entire communities,” Randall added.

The 2022 version of the guidance includes input from law enforcement leaders, victim advocates, and civil rights advocates.

“Recognizing and mitigating instances of bias in the law enforcement response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of gender-based violence is critical to (law enforcement’s) ability to protect and serve their communities and enhance public trust,” the Department of Justice wrote in the guidance summary. “Too often and for too long, gender bias within the justice system has thwarted investigations, caused further harm to victims, and allowed perpetrators to evade accountability and continue to commit crimes.”

There are eight principles listed in the guidance.

The first principle is to recognize and address biases, assumptions, and stereotypes about victims.

“When myths and misperceptions about sexual assault and domestic violence influence law enforcement’s response, law enforcement officers can blame victims and fail to hold offenders accountable,” the guide said.

The second principle is to treat all victims with respect.

“Use interviewing strategies that are trauma-informed and support the victim’s disclosure of facts about the incident,” the guide said.

The third principle is to ensure that policies, training, supervision, and resource allocation support thorough and effective investigations.

The fourth principle is to appropriately classify reports of sexual assault or domestic violence.

The fifth principle is to refer victims to appropriate services.

The sixth principle is to properly identify the predominant aggressor in domestic violence incidents.

The seventh principle is to implement policies to prevent officers perpetrated sexual assault and domestic violence and hold officers who commit these offenses accountable.

The final principle is to maintain, review, and act on data regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.

“This guidance provides law enforcement agencies with principles with which they can align their policies, practices, and training so that gender bias and other types of bias do not undermine justice in cases involving domestic violence and sexual assault, including those perpetrated by law enforcement officers,” the guide said.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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