NYPD Routinely Neglects Sexual Assault Investigations, Damning Report Claims

Only 5 percent of sexual assaults in the city are reported to police. Reporting rates for most other crimes are well over 70 percent.

Andrew Burton/Getty

The New York City Police Department has understaffed and under-resourced its Special Victims Division—which probes sexual assaults—leading to “diluted and shortened investigations, jeopardized prosecutions, re-traumatized victims” and a city where only 5 percent of such crimes are reported, according to a watchdog agency.

The new, 165-page report by the city's Department of Investigation was compiled based on interviews with current and former members of the division, prosecutors, internal documents, and victim advocates.

Only 67 detectives work in the NYPD's adult sex crimes unit, which was tasked with solving at least 5,661 suspected attacks in 2017. Meanwhile, homicide squads had 101 detectives responsible for solving 282 cases last year.

Though a working group in 2010 found many of the same problems and recommended that the Special Victims Division increase its number of detectives from 66 to 92, the NYPD did not heed that advice. Since then, the division’s caseload has increased by 65 percent.

As a result, some sex crime cases have received less attention and were sent to local precinct squads inexperienced at solving such crimes. Officers on these squads sometimes “responded insensitively, dismissively, or incredulously during some victim interviews,” the report stated.

“The sheer volume of the caseload, combined with inadequate staffing, leads to specific instances where victims must wait hours at hospitals after suffering a sexual assault before they meet with a detective,” the report said.

In at least one case, a client spent the whole night at the hospital waiting, and “when no detective showed up, the victim, thoroughly discouraged, decided against reporting the crime to the police and went home.”

The Special Victims Division estimates that only 5 percent of sexual assaults in the city are reported to police even though reporting rates for most other crimes are well over 70 percent.

Without victim participation, an investigation cannot go far, and “without a successful investigation, sexual predators remain unidentified and at large,” according to the report.

Twelve recommendations in the report include hiring 73 additional officers—specifically 21 more detectives in the Manhattan adult sex crimes squad, 11 detectives in the Bronx squad, 16 detectives in the Queens squad, 21 detectives in the Brooklyn squad, and four detectives in the Staten Island squad.

The report also recommends that the city require that all adult sex crimes be investigated, including “domestic rape” and “acquaintance rape,” which have apparently been shoved off to prioritize “stranger rapes” and other high-profile crimes.

The department is currently investigating several high-profile cases, including the rape allegations against disgraced media mogul Harvey Weinstein.

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“Victims of sexual assault deserve justice, with the full weight of law enforcement by their side,” Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said in a press release Tuesday. “The neglect and understaffing of NYPD’s Special Victims Division are serious and deeply troubling and the failure to treat acquaintance rape as an equal priority is unacceptable.”

Several women’s advocacy organizations responded to the report on Tuesday by calling for immediate action.

“We work every day with sexual assault survivors who have been failed by the system,” Jane Manning, director of advocacy at Women’s Justice NOW, said in a statement.  

“This report confirms what we see first hand: sexual assault is not treated as a high priority at the top levels of the NYPD, and sex crime victims and public safety suffer the consequences,” she added.  

NOW-NYC President Sonia Ossorio echoed that sentiment, noting that the report “backs up what women’s rights advocates already know.”

“There are some great detectives in NYPD Special Victims, but there are far too few of them and every victim in New York City deserves the best,” Ossorio added. “There's still a long way to go before victims can have full confidence that those who are entrusted to protect the public from sexual predators are swiftly brought to justice and the victims of their crimes will be met with respect, compassion and urgency.”