UT Police Agency Uses Trauma Research To Improve Rape Victim Questioning


Frustrated by a lack of rape prosecutions, West Valley, Ut., police detective Justin Boardman is developing a new way to investigate sexual assaults based on recent research surrounding the neurobiology of trauma, reports the Salt Lake Tribune. Important to a successful investigation is understanding the impact of trauma on a rape victim, Boardman says, pointing to studies by a Michigan State University researcher. They explain why a victim's story could be inconsistent and even incoherent, and why, after undergoing an invasive exam seeking forensic evidence, a victim would drop the case.

“A soup of hormones,” including opiates, cortisol and oxytocin, released at the time of an attack can disrupt the victim's consolidation of memory temporarily, says psychology Prof. Rebecca Campbell's examination of the neurobiology of rape trauma. Victims can provide “fragmented and sketchy” statements that investigators often discard as not credible. Pressed for more details, the victim can experience a “secondary victimization,” Campbell says. They feel “blamed, depressed and anxious.” When the victim realizes police don't believe her, she disengages from the investigation. The West Valley City Police Department is adopting a process similar to that suggested by Campbell. It has led the department to develop a new protocol for questioning rape victims that already is increasing the number of cases being filed for prosecution. Prosecutor Sim Gill says, “This emphatically addresses what the victim's needs are before we press for arrest or prosecution. Why we haven't applied it to adult victims boggles the mind.”

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