Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses to Sexual Assault of Women by Strangers

The table below summarizes the responses to sexual assault of women by strangers, the means by which they are meant to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy
1Implementing a multifaceted responseIt simultaneously attacks several factors that contribute to sexual assault...you have accurate data on your community's sexual assault problemPolice data often do not show the extent of the problem and omit important victim, offender, and location characteristics
2Developing an interagency collaborationIt relies on each agency's specific expertise and requires coordination among agencies...cross-training of agency staff is in place; full-time staff are assigned; formal protocols for communication and information-sharing are developed; team members develop methods to collect complete information about the sexual assault problemVictims' privacy wishes must be respected; distrust among team members can disrupt information-sharing
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best IfConsiderations
Specific Responses To Reduce Sexual Assault of Women by Strangers
Victim-Oriented Responses
3Supporting sexual assault victimsIt increases the likelihood that victims will report assaults to police...victims work with a single advocate as long as needed and are not transferred among caseloads; advocates protect victims' interests throughout all of the stages of the medical and criminal justice process, and beyondEven with emotional support, some victims will not want to report assaults to police
4Making forensic medical exams less burdensomeIt increases the quality of forensic evidence...nurses are on call 24 hours; nurses have special training in the technology of forensic evidence collection and receive regular updates about changing legal proceduresNurses who specialize in sexual assault examinations must remain impartial when examining the victim
5Improving police skill in interviewing victimsIt increases the quality of information police obtain about reported sexual assaults...police adapt their interviewing style to the victim's manner of presentation; training includes videotaped role- play and feedbackSome victims may be more comfortable talking to an officer of a specific gender, so the department should have a diverse cadre of well-trained officers; well-paced interviews that are responsive to victims' needs can be time-consuming
6Teaching women self-protectionIt increases the effort required for an offender to complete a sexual assault...women consider the level of resistance with which they are comfortable long before an attack occurs; women stay alert for opportunities to flee or resist throughout the attackEmphasizing resistance may cause victims to believe they must resist for the police to view the assault as legitimate; emphasizing resistance by women may suggest that men are not ultimately responsible for their actions
7Offering safe transportation or escort servicesIt limits the availability of potential victims...the transportation is legal, credible, and easily accessible, and operates when and where women are at the highest risk of attackIf the analysis of high-risk times and places is inaccurate, this response will have no impact on the problem
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best IfConsiderations
Offender-Oriented Responses
8Detecting prowlersIt decreases the likelihood that a motivated offender will be able to commit a sexual assault...foot patrols and volunteer groups focus on high-risk areas; volunteers are trained to identify suspicious behavior and to contact police; police interview callers and neighbors and document suspicious activity, even if the prowler has fled; police assigned to provide increased surveillance are not sidetracked with other assignmentsOffenders may become aware of patrols and move to an area without increased surveillance
9Encouraging involvement by community membersIt increases the likelihood of apprehension and successful prosecution of offenders... residents feel a personal duty to address the problem of sexual assault; residents call police immediately to report an assault in progress; residents are willing to be formal witnessesMost offenders choose isolated locations to avoid being observed by bystanders
10Collaborating with probation and parole officers to identify suspectsIt increases the likelihood of identifying a suspect...police share subtle facts about offenders' characteristics or behavior with parole and probation agents who are very familiar with the offenders on their caseloadsPolice may unfairly harass offenders who didn't commit the crime in question
11Using validated risk assessments to identify the supervision needs of known sex offenders in the communityIt increases the likelihood that supervisors will address an offender's risky behaviors before they escalate into a new sexual assault...staff use an instrument specifically designed to assess the risk of sexual reoffending; police are aware of high-risk behaviors for individual offendersSupervisors must adjust the intensity of supervision as the offender's risk level changes
12Developing case- management plans to reduce the risk individual offenders poseIt decreases offenders' propensity to commit sexual assault...staff balance plans between surveillance activities and long-term treatment; staff individualize plans based on each offender's unique characteristicsThe management and treatment of high-risk offenders is costly; the community must have evidence-based treatment programs
12aMonitoring offenders' activitiesIt decreases the likelihood that a motivated offender will be able to commit a sexual assault...field contacts supplement office contacts; officers make collateral contacts with spouses, employers, roommates, etc.Field contacts are time- consuming; interagency agreements for information- sharing are required; GPS is very costly, depends on the availability of a cell-phone signal, and requires the offender's cooperation
12bProviding evidence-based treatment to known sex offendersIt decreases the propensity of offenders to commit sexual assault...the program focuses on examining offenders' own behavior rather than changing attitudes or creating victim empathy; therapists verify self-reported behavior with police, probation, and parole officers; therapists share information about offenders' risky behaviors with those responsible for monitoring them in the communityInteragency agreements for information-sharing are required; long-term intensive treatment can be costly
12cUsing lie detectors to inform case- management planning and executionIt improves the quality of information available to therapists and officers responsible for supervising offenders in the community...lie detector examiners are highly trained; examiners collaborate with therapists and officers to develop questionsThe best treatment outcomes are noted when indicators of deception lead to investigation and treatment, rather than to immediate parole revocation
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best IfConsiderations
Location-Oriented Responses
13Limiting intoxication in public placesIt decreases the propensity of some men to become aggressive; it decreases the tendency of potential victims to become less aware of their surroundings or to take other risks...bar and nightclub owners practice responsible beverage serviceNot all victims and offenders are intoxicated when an attack occurs, so this response has the potential to affect only a subset of potential sexual assaults
14Improving lightingIt increases offenders' risk of detection...the high-risk locations for sexual assault have been properly identifiedImproved lighting may displace potential offenders to areas with limited surveillance opportunities; installing and maintaining lighting may be expensive
15Removing hiding spotsIt increases offenders' risk of detection; it decreases the places available for offenders to wait for suitable victims...the high-risk locations for sexual assault have been properly identifiedReducing hiding spots will deter only those offenders who rely on cover to surprise their victims; it won't affect offenders who openly approach their victims and verbally persuade them to move to a more isolated area
Response No.ResponseHow It WorksWorks Best If…Considerations
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
16Reforming legislationIt makes it easier to convict offenders once police apprehend themResearch has shown that efforts to reform the criminal code have had very minimal effects on the number of arrests, indictments, and prosecutions of sexual assaults by strangers