WASHINGTON — Police say many sexual assault cases are not reported to them, and now there’s a push to encourage victims to come forward by offering them more support.
On Thursday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced legislation that would ensure that victims have advocates with them during all interviews with law enforcement.
Michelle Garcia, director of the Office of Victim Services and Justice Grants, said that when victims feel supported, “they are more likely to engage with the criminal justice system and more likely to stay engaged with the criminal justice system, leading to greater offender accountability.”
Also under the proposal, the definition of a sexual assault victim would be expanded to include any person at least 12 years old in order to ensure that adolescent victims are provided the same rights as adult victims.
Prosecutors would be required to explain a decision not to prosecute a sexual assault as well.
“This piece was a really critical component because it was one of the pieces that victims and survivors most vocally said they wanted included — that often the lack of information from prosecutors was one of the most difficult pieces of their process through the criminal justice system,” Garcia said.
She added that the U.S. attorney’s office, which handles prosecutions in the District, is already adhering to the practice.
Garcia said the proposals were the result of more than 18 months of work by a sexual assault response task force.
Bowser said they had wanted to introduce the legislation in January or February, but took extra time to coordinate with law enforcement agencies. April is also Sexual Assault Awareness Month.