by Michelle Wolff, CCASA Blogger
“The You Have Options Program (YHOP) establishes uniform law enforcement options for sexual assault reporting and best practice law enforcement strategies to assist in the identification and documentation of sexual offenders for You Have Options Program Participating Law Enforcement Agencies.”
The You Have Options Program was developed in the Ashland OR Police Department after they recognized that traditional law enforcement responses to sexual assault unintentionally increase the barriers to reporting this kind of crime. This results in law enforcement receiving the information necessary to hold offenders accountable less than half the time which means more victims and no criminal justice for the current victim.
The YHOP discussion is trending high in this field because it is cost effective to implement, overall time and cost efficient and far more effective for everyone involved from the beginning to end.
The most common objection I’ve heard to this program is that it gives Detectives and other staff an “out” to not investigate sexual assault. While that may be true and is a significant barrier to crime victims it happens now without YHOP and it happens among all disciplines.
Caseworkers who want to will find a way to shut out child sexual abuse cases. Detectives who want to will find a way out of investigating. Prosecutors who want to will find a way to decline or dismiss cases. Advocates who want to will find a way to steer victims away. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners who want to will find a way to discourage victims from proceeding with an exam.
Discouraging the process of reporting and investigating sexual assault is an issue of training or burnout or both and not something that is changed by implementing the YHOP. That is unless you consider working with victims who are engaged fully in the process can be inspiring to morale, an efficient way to spend an overburdened responder’s time and a way to find offenders faster.
Exploring the website or the reporting site or attending training will help give a complete picture of the program. What follows has been taken from the website link above but is not all inclusive.
The You Have Options Program has two basic goals: “increasing the number of victims who report to law enforcement, and thoroughly investigating identified offenders for serial perpetration.”
GOALS OF THE YOU HAVE OPTIONS PROGRAM
- Increase sexual assault reporting by eliminating as many barriers to reporting as possible.
- Increase identification and prosecution of sexual offenders.
- Decrease sexual assault victimization.
Unless legally mandated (domestic violence, child abuse or other mandated requirements) or in rare circumstances such as a significant threat to public safety, the following is a sampling of what shall be offered during every sexual assault report and/or investigation (for the full list see website):
- A victim of sexual assault is offered three options for reporting: Information Only, Partial Investigation and Complete Investigation.
- A victim or other reporting party may remain anonymous and still have the information they provide documented by a You Have Options Program Law Enforcement Agency.
- A victim or other reporting party may have questions answered regarding their options for reporting and/or a criminal investigation prior to providing any identifying or incident information to law enforcement.
- A clear explanation of the reporting process and/or investigative procedures will be provided by a law enforcement officer if requested by the victim.
- When making a report there is no requirement to meet in person with a law enforcement officer. For example, a victim or other reporting party may report using an online form or a victim may choose to have a sexual assault advocate report on their behalf.
- A victim or other reporting party may provide as much, or as little, information as they choose with no time limitations or restrictions on when the information is given to law enforcement.
- A victim may be accompanied by a sexual assault advocate or other appropriate support person during all phases of the reporting process and criminal investigation.
- After making a report, a victim or other reporting party will not be pressured to participate in a criminal investigation.
- Law enforcement officers will conduct victim interviews in a trauma-informed manner.
- A victim’s right to keep their assault confidential shall be respected…
- Investigators will utilize strategies to identify and document serial sexual perpetration, such as the Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA).
- Investigators will collaborate with victims during the investigative process and respect a victim’s right to request certain investigative steps not be conducted. Criminal investigations will be conducted at a pace set by the victim, not the law enforcement officer.
- Criminal investigations that do not result in arrest or referral to an office of prosecution will be classified as “inactive” unless found [through investigation]( italics mine) baseless or false, allowing for the investigation to be re-opened in the future at a victim’s request and/or if additional information is discovered.
For information on how Law Enforcement Agencies can join the You Have Options Program click HERE. Go to www.ReportingOptions.org for more information.