Forensic Compliance Resources

Forensic Compliance Resources

This information is designed to:

  • communicate the requirements of the Violence Against Women Act (as reauthorized in 2005 and 2013), and
  • offer recommended practices for implementation.

The goal is to highlight examples of communities striving to achieve a higher standard of the “spirit of the law,” rather than simply meeting the “letter of the law” for VAWA forensic compliance.  It is critically important that readers consult state laws and regulations, as well as local policies and protocols, because they may have additional requirements beyond those included in VAWA 2005 and VAWA 2013.  For more information specific to your state or territory, contact the STOP Grant Administrator or coalition of advocacy organizations providing services for sexual assault victims.  A listing is available from the website for the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice.

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Our VOICE (an advocacy program in Asheville, North Carolina) worked collaboratively with the Asheville Police Department and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to offer blind reporting for sexual assault victims, using an online form provided on the Our VOICE website. Victims are advised that they may provide as much or as little information about their sexual assault as they choose. They are also free to provide contact information for themselves and/or for the suspect(s), but an investigation will not be started unless the survivor chooses that options. Our VOICE staff reviews all of the reports, and submits them to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

When victims are given options for alternative reporting methods, it will be necessary to develop a form for them to use. One recommendation is to adapt the Supplemental Reporting Form developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

This form and the corresponding guidelines for investigative strategies designed to supplement the IACP Model Policy on Sexual Assault Investigations and the corresponding Concepts and Issues Paper (October, 2017).  The IACP also created the Sexual Assault Response Policy and Training Content Guidelines (2015), which provide law enforcement with issues, procedures, and recommendations to consider when developing a policy related to sexual assault as well as accompanying training content.

These tools are based upon national best practices regarding sexual assault investigations and were developed in collaboration with local, state, and federal law enforcement, prosecutors, advocates, medical, and forensic professionals. The goal is to support officers and departments in preparing sexual assault cases for successful prosecution through detailed case documentation and thorough investigations. These tools can also be used for anonymous reporting when victims are willing to provide information to law enforcement without identifying themselves or making an immediate decision about whether or not to participate in the investigation and prosecution of their sexual assault. (Note: These guidelines are not intended for use when the victim is a minor.)

Community professionals in Duluth, Minnesota have implemented a fully functioning protocol they describe as anonymous, third party reporting. Their multidisciplinary team, led by the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) developed the following materials to implement the protocol, so they can be used as a starting point to adapt for use in other communities:

In January 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) published a critical position paper, offering guidance on the storage and testing of evidence in a non-investigative case. Entitled Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiatives and Non-Investigative Kits, the paper outlines three reasons for not submitting evidence in a non-investigative case to the laboratory for analysis. The paper also offers additional background, guidance, and context for this complex and challenging issue.

If a release wavier is going to be used for the purpose of documenting the victim’s wishes, a sample form is the Victim Preference Statement developed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). This form can be adapted by other agencies, particularly because it meets several purposes beyond simply documenting victim preferences. By asking victims to read and sign the statement, a number of purposes are actually met:

  • Explaining the various reporting options for victims
  • Explaining the limitations of alternative reporting methods
  • Memorializing the victim’s decision regarding reporting and participation
  • Documenting the involvement of an advocate or other advisor in the process

The Victim Reporting Preference Statement is also available in the SAPR Toolkit, to provide information for victims about their options and document their reporting selection.

This module is designed to provide detailed information on the background, philosophy, and implementation of alternative reporting options for victims of sexual assault, such as anonymous reporting, non-investigative reporting, and third-party reporting. It provides a thorough overview of the key concepts and components necessary to implement such alternative reporting options, as well as recommendations for best practice.

This Training Bulletin addresses the question of whether or not evidence collected in association with a non-investigative report (often referred to as an anonymous report) should be submitted to the laboratory for analysis. In short, the answer is no.

Several state protocols for medical forensic examinations incorporate alternative reporting methods, including New Hampshire, Ohio, and Colorado. For more information, see the State Protocols tab.

The Non-Reported Sexual Assault Evidence Program was created by the Texas Legislature in 2009. Evidence collected during a medical forensic examination of a victim who has not yet decided to participate in the criminal justice system is stored by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Sample documents that might be useful for other jurisdictions include instructions for packaging and mailing the evidence, and releasing it to law enforcement. Forms are also provided to submit evidence to the crime laboratory for storage (not analysis), bill the state agency for specific services, and release evidence to law enforcement. These documents can easily be adapted for use in other communities.

In the webinar, Opening Doors: Alternative Reporting Options for Law Enforcement and VAWA Forensic Compliance, we explore a number of community models that have been implemented to improve victims’ access to the criminal justice and community response systems. Best practices are reviewed from across the country, and existing tools and resources are evaluated. With a focus on local implementation, the goal is for participants to leave prepared to make recommendations for positive changes in their own communities.

The You Have Options program (YHOP) provides victims with the option of reporting their sexual assault in a variety of ways, including “Information Only,” “Partial Investigation,” and “Complete Investigation.” In order to become certified as a YHOP agency, law enforcement agencies must commit to the 20 Elements of a Victim-Centered and Offender-Focused Response. However, agencies can also adopt individual elements of the YHOP program. By addressing the barriers victims face when reporting sexual assault, and increasing the number of sexual assault reports, the goal of YHOP is to provide investigators with information they would otherwise never have.