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HRW: DC police mishandling sexual assault claims

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Thursday released a report [press release] accusing the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) [official website] of failing to effectively respond to, document and investigate claims of sexual assault. The report [text], titled "Capitol Offense: Police Mishandling of Sexual Assault Cases in the District of Columbia," is based on a 22-month investigation that found that MPD officers regularly did not file sexual assault incident reports and misclassified serious assaults as lesser or other crimes. In particular, the report found that more than 200 cases between October 2008 and September 2011, or just over 40 percent of cases reviewed, appear never to have been documented or properly investigated. As a result, HRW recommended that the DC mayor and city council create an independent mechanism to monitor the MPD's response to complaints of sexual assault. Until this mechanism is established, claimed HRW, there is a "serious risk" of further mishandling of sexual assault cases, thus "causing many traumatized victims further suffering and deterring others from coming forward at all."

Reporting, preventing, and investigating sexual assault and similar crimes is an issue of international significance. Earlier this month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] called on India's government [JURIST report] to "strengthen critical services for rape victims," expressing sympathy for the family of the 23-year-old medical student who died from injuries sustained in a gang-rape last month. In October the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] announced that overall violent crime, which includes rape and sexual assault, has increased by 17 percent [JURIST report] since 1993. In July a human rights group released a report documenting 81 instances of sexual assault and rape in Syria [JURIST report] since anti-government demonstrations began in March 2011. A month prior, HRW reported that Syrian forces are sexually abusing [JURIST report] men, women, and children who have been detained during the ongoing conflict. In April two former cadets from the US Military Academy and the US Naval Academy [official websites] brought a suit in New York alleging that the service academies failed to prevent rapes [JURIST report].

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