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Rape trauma: Why cops may think victims are lying
Research » Reaction to trauma can account for fragmented, sketchy stories.

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Of the 20 posted so far, a fourth to a third — depending on interpretation of the online information — say the rape kit was not processed because victims declined to prosecute.

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Complex cases » Campbell’s research and the Salt Lake City backlog indicate that Salt Lake City police officers have not been trained to recognize impacts of rape trauma, LaMalfa says.

"What problem are we trying to solve here?" he asks. "We have been focusing on rape kits. But the data behind the rape kits reveals a harder problem to deal with."

According to Campbell, it is important for all police officers to be trained in rape trauma because a victim’s initial contact with law enforcement most likely will be a patrol officer.

"Every contact with a victim is a chance to help or to hurt," she says. "If the first responder doesn’t recognize trauma, it could shut it down right there."

As in most law-enforcement agencies, Salt Lake City police officers are not trained specifically in rape trauma, says Deputy Chief Terry Fritz. But the department is open to new information, training and investigative techniques.

"I would welcome the [victim-trauma] training," he says. "The more proficient we become at recognizing these types of behavior the better we perform."

Fritz says officers in the department recognize that trauma comes with most crimes, including nonviolent ones such as burglary. That is why, he explains, detectives re-interview victims three to six days after any crime, including sex crimes.

Rape is especially difficult because so many factors — including culture — come into play.

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Fritz allows that some victims may not want to prosecute, believing police and prosecutors aren’t on their side. But, he adds, there may be other reasons, including disgrace in the eyes of family and church members.

And the victim may fear testifying in open court where defense attorneys could seek to undermine her credibility, he says.

"They may want to move on," Fritz says, "rather than have this dragged out."

Long-term impact » Campbell’s research can be helpful to victims in a number of ways, says Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City. The neurobiological analysis reveals that hormones called corticosteroids released during a rape can immobilize a victim so she cannot fight or run. This "tonic immobility" adds "freeze" to the traditional "fight or flight" scenarios.

"When they come to us, they are filled with so much self-induced blame," she says. "We spend a lot of time working back from there."

The realization, Mullen says, that biologically they could not have done more to escape or fight off a perpetrator can give them some solace.

Mullen applauds Boardman and the West Valley police for adopting a progressive approach to rape victims. But, she laments, the treatment of rape victims, for the most part, remains troubling.

"I don’t know why rape victims aren’t afforded the same respect as victims of other crimes," she says. "It’s important that more law enforcement and prosecutors see [Campbell’s] information."


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