Complaints Bring Scrutiny of New York's Sex Crimes Unit

Justice Department to review treatment of victims
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 30, 2022 6:20 PM CDT
Special Victims Unit of NYPD Faces Federal Inquiry
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington last August.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

(Newser) – The US Justice Department has launched a sweeping inquiry of the New York Police Department's famed sex crimes investigators following years of complaints about the way they treat crime victims. The civil rights investigation, announced Thursday, will examine whether the NYPD's Special Victims Division engages in a pattern of gender-biased policing, officials said. "Survivors of sexual assault should expect effective, trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations by police departments," said Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, the AP reports. New York City's two U.S. attorneys joined her in announcing the inquiry.

The police unit inspired TV's Law & Order: SVU, and the real-life version has tackled such major cases as the prosecution of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. But the division also has faced a decade of complaints about thin staffing and superficial investigations. In a 2019 lawsuit, a woman alleged detectives shrugged off her report of being raped by someone she'd been involved with, logging it as a "dispute" instead of a sex crime. Another woman said in the suit that her account of being kidnapped and gang-raped was grossly mishandled for months before she was told the case was "too complex" to investigate. After the lawsuit and a leadership shakeup, the NYPD promised change. But victims' advocates say it hasn't happened.

The NYPD said it welcomes the review and is committed to improving its investigations. Breon Peace, the US attorney in Brooklyn, said the NYPD has already taken steps to address concerns, but authorities want to ensure victims are treated fairly in the future. Last October, a woman who identified herself as a rape victim told a City Council hearing that detectives failed to interview witnesses, collect security camera footage from the bar where she’d been before the attack, or test for date-rape drugs. She said they closed the case twice without telling her. Damian Williams, the US attorney in Manhattan, said sex crimes victims “deserve the same rigorous and unbiased investigations of their cases that the NYPD affords to other categories of crime."

(Read more New York City Police Department stories.)

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