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Equal Protection for All Victims: Gender Bias and Policing

December 15, 2015

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) welcomes the ground-breaking guidance, Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.

“Gender bias in law enforcement is a serious issue that can deny protection, safety and justice to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). “The guidance released today is an important first step in recognizing and addressing this problem.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that sexual assault and domestic violence are crimes that disproportionately impact women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the United States. Implicit and explicit biases held by police officers, and skepticism of victims’ reports, can have negative consequences for victims – from arrest decisions to evidence collection to deciding what crime to charge.

The DOJ guidance serves two key purposes: (1) it seeks to examine the ways in which gender bias can influence and undermine law enforcement agencies’ response to sexual assault and domestic violence; and (2) it offers guidance which will help ensure that neither implicit nor explicit gender bias will undermine efforts to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable. It reminds law enforcement departments to treat all victims with respect and employ interviewing tactics that encourage the victim to participate and provide facts about the incident.

“Harmful stereotypes about women and LGBT individuals have often tainted the integrity of domestic violence and sexual assault investigations, and have impacted the way that victims are treated,” said Gandy. “If victims fear they will be treated disrespectfully and further traumatized, they are less likely to come forward for help and, as a result, dangerous criminals will be left free to reoffend.”

Organizations funded by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) programs, including the 56 state and territorial domestic and sexual violence coalitions, are experienced in these issues, and can help train officers to understand bias and improve their practices.

We applaud the Justice Department and its partners for the development of this guidance and look forward to the implementation of this guidance and the opportunity to ensure equal protection for all victims.