Understanding Your Local Problem
The information provided above is only a generalized
description of sexual assault of women by strangers. You must combine the basic
facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Carefully analyzing
the local problem will help you design a more effective response strategy.
In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following
groups may have an interest in the sexual assault problem, and you should
consider them for the contribution they might make to gathering information
about the problem and responding to it.
crisis centers, support groups, and other organizations that provide counseling
to sexual assault victims. These agencies can be instrumental in providing
details about risky locations, offender behavior and characteristics, and
victim vulnerabilities in assaults not reported to police. They can also
provide information on the barriers to reporting sexual assaults in your
and women's clinics, and urgent care clinics. Forensic medical evidence is
crucial to successfully prosecute sexual assault cases. Not only can these
agencies provide information on the types of injuries that occur during sexual
assaults, but also they are critical partners in interagency sexual assault-prevention
efforts. They can also help to assess the need for and benefits of dedicated
forensic medical staff.
Groups with established credibility among women may best implement responses
that require access to potential victims.
security forces in downtown areas, malls, or other places where sexual assaults
These agencies can contribute information on suspicious people who frequent
particular areas that could benefit from improved safety features.
transportation agencies. If sexual assaults occur on or near public
transportation, these agencies may be able to implement specific environmental
strategies to fortify the locations in which potential victims are vulnerable.
Communities with military bases may benefit from input from military police or
other officials involved in handling cases of sexual assault by strangers that
occur on base.
These agencies have an interest in ensuring that women, including tourists and
other potential customers, consider the areas safe.
and nightclub associations. These organizations can help to support responses
that target intoxication in public places as a contributing factor to sexual
These programs can support police efforts to increase surveillance of risky
Active associations may be able to contribute information on risky locations
and other factors that contribute to the problem.
districts and local colleges and universities. Not only are these
institutions' students potential victims, but also the schedule of night
classes and the lack of safe transportation may contribute to the problem.
Asking the Right Questions
The following are some critical questions you should ask
when analyzing your particular sexual assault problem, even if the answers are
not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will
help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.
many sexual assaults occur in your community? (Do not limit your inquiry to
only those offenses charged as sexual assaults. Other offenses, such as
homicides, kidnappings, and burglaries, may subsume sexual assault charges,
even though the offenses included forced sexual acts. You should train department
research staff to ensure that each distinct offense is tallied, rather than
subsumed by other offenses occurring in a single incident.)
many sexual assaults are committed by a stranger versus someone the victim
many attempted sexual assaults occur in your community? What stops these assaults
(e.g., the attacker flees when the victim resists, a bystander intervenes)?
many reports do police receive? Why do some women choose not to report they
have been attacked?
are sexual assault victims' characteristics in terms of age, marital status,
ethnicity, education level, activity involvement, occupation, etc.?
there repeat sexual assault victims? Do their characteristics differ from
one-time victims? (Separate adult and childhood victimizations, as they will
lead to different outcomes.)
are victims doing just before they are attacked? What is their distraction
level? Are they intoxicated?
what extent do victims resist the attack, and how do they do so (e.g.,
verbally, physically, with a weapon)? What types of weapons do victims use
(e.g., guns, knives, pepper spray, rocks)?
offenders injure victims during the attack? How severely? What percentage of
victims seek medical treatment? For what types of issues (e.g., injuries,
sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy)?
do the victims tell about the attack?
often do victims use rape crisis centers' services?
many victims have had self-defense training? How many victims carry a self-protection
item (e.g., whistle, pepper spray, gun)?
characteristics do offenders who commit sexual assault have [e.g., age,
ethnicity, marital status, education level, occupation, group affiliations
(e.g., university fraternities, the military, gangs)]?
far from the attack scene do offenders live? How well do they know the area? If
offenders are not local, how do they become familiar with the area?
long have offenders lived in the community?
percentage of offenders are under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the
motivates the offenders to attack?
percentage of offenders take something from the victim (e.g., an item with
monetary or sentimental value, a seemingly insignificant item)?
percentage of offenders have criminal records? For what types of offenses? What
percentage of offenders are on probation or parole when they attack?
patterns exist in how offenders approach and control their victims?
percentage of sexual assaults involve more physical force than needed to gain
and maintain control of the victim?
percentage of offenders use a weapon? What type of weapon?
Locations and Times
do sexual assaults occur? Do obvious hotspots exist?
are victims traveling to or from when offenders attack them?
the places where sexual assaults occur have obvious safety flaws (e.g., poor
lighting, poorly maintained shrubbery, abandoned buildings, no surveillance
businesses, high-traffic areas, or other places where people congregate are
what time of day do most sexual assaults occur? On what days of the week? At
what times of the year?
the incidence of sexual assault increase during certain community events (e.g.,
community festivals, sporting events, holiday celebrations)?
community programs are available to reduce men's propensity to commit sexual
assaults? Has anyone assessed their effectiveness?
community programs are available to help women avoid sexual assault? Has anyone
assessed their effectiveness?
initiatives has anyone taken to increase community awareness of the sexual
strategies has anyone used to enhance the safety of locations where sexual
assaults occur? Has anyone assessed their effectiveness?
initiatives has anyone taken to increase victims' likelihood to report crime to
the police? Has anyone assessed their effectiveness?
well do reporting victims say they were treated by police during the
percentage of reported sexual assaults do police clear by arrest?
percentage of reported sexual offenders do prosecutors take to court?
percentage of offenders accused of sexual assault are convicted? Incarcerated?
types of sentences do convicted offenders receive? Do offenders comply with their
Measuring Your Effectiveness
Measurement allows you to determine how much your efforts
have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are
not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before
you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after
you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should
take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more-detailed
guidance on measuring effectiveness, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing
Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers,
and Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and
The following are potentially useful measures of the
effectiveness of responses to sexual assaults of women by strangers. Process
indicators show the extent to which the police properly implemented the responses.
Outcome indicators show the extent to which the responses reduced the level or
severity of the problem.
You should use the following process indicators in your
compatibility between the number of women who report sexual assaults to police
and the number who report them to rape crisis centers or in victimization
number of women who feel prepared to defend themselves against an attacker,
number of community members who know the problem's severity and will intervene
to prevent an attack,
safety features at locations where sexual assaults could potentially occur,
number of sexual assaults cleared by arrest, and
number of sexual assaults successfully investigated and prosecuted.
You should use the following outcome indicators in your
number of sexual assaults by strangers,
number and severity of injuries women suffer during sexual assaults, and
proportion of attempted rapes compared with completed rapes.