The city of Norfolk, Virginia only last week changed its official police policy away from assuming that victims of sexual assault are lying about what happened to them. According to Think Progress, Norfolk police classified all sexual assault claims as “unfounded” by default.
The rules changed in the wake of a case involving a 22-year-old woman who reported a sexual assault only to be told by police, “If we find out that you’re lying, this will be a felony charge.”
The woman was attacked in her home by serial rapist and diagnosed sexual sadist Roy Ruiz Loredo on April 22, 2012. Over the course of reporting the crime, police repeatedly expressed skepticism that the woman was telling the truth, even after the woman submitted to an exhaustive physical exam.
“You’re telling us a different story than you told … the other detectives,” they said to her, as well as saying “This only happened hours ago. Why can’t you remember?” Finally in frustration, the woman terminated the interview with police.
However, a forensics investigator was able to lift DNA from the woman’s attacker off of a cup he used at the crime scene. Eight weeks later Loredo was arrested in Virginia Beach, VA when he tried to attack three women near his neighborhood. Police were able to match the DNA from the cup to Loredo.
The attacker pleaded guilty on May 31, 2012 and was sentenced to 36 years, although he has yet to go to trial for the Virginia Beach cases.
In the wake of the department’s mistakes, Norfolk police chief Mike Goldsmith announced that there will be changes in police policy toward sexual assault victims, including the assumption by officers that people who report assaults are telling the truth. Officers will also be trained in helping victims cope with rape trauma and post-traumatic stress.
According to the The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, less than 2 to 8 percent of reported sexual assaults are false reports.
[image of police officer with back turned to camera from Shutterstock.com]