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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

April 2018 | Volume 11 | Issue 4

In late 2009 and early 2010, multiple sexual assaults by strangers were reported to the Ashland Police Department (APD) in Ashland, Oregon. Stranger sexual assault was a rare occurrence, and the oddity was compounded by how many were reported in such a short span of time. After investigations, detectives noticed with concern that the victims in many of these sexual assault cases had either withheld information that could identify the offender or provided false information about how the assault had happened, which is an occurrence that is not uncommon in sexual assault cases. While investigators believed that an assault had occurred, they struggled to build their cases with the information provided by the victims.

Almost all of the victims reporting to APD identified two factors as the most significant barriers to reporting their assault to law enforcement: the inability to keep the sexual assault incident private or confidential and the fear that they would not be believed. It became clear that traditional sexual assault investigations were contributing to an environment that kept victims from feeling safe enough to report accurate details of their victimization. Additionally, the method of questioning used by law enforcement did not incorporate the most current information available on trauma and memory. The changes made as a result of these discoveries became the basis of the You Have Options Program (YHOP).

Founded in January 2013 by the APD, the You Have Options Program is a law enforcement-led program providing uniformity and accountability through training and technical assistance to a nationwide body of sworn law enforcement agencies committed to the highest standards of response to victims of sexual violence. YHOP allows victims to report sexual assault in the manner most suitable for each individual, does not proceed with investigative steps without the victim’s consent, and provides three reporting options: Information Only, Partial Investigation and Complete Investigation. In an effort to provide assurances to victims that what law enforcement promises will actually be their experience when reporting, a website was created for the program. The site was unveiled to the public on January 1, 2013.

YHOP was originally intended as a local program created solely for use by the APD. However, after receiving regular requests for the program’s materials from law enforcement agencies across the nation, the APD administration made the decision to offer YHOP as a national law enforcement program. The first introductory s ession for YHOP was held in October of 2014. In 2015, the Brighton Police Department in Colorado became the first national YHOP law enforcement agency, followed by the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state in 2016.

The YHOP restricts participation to sworn law enforcement agencies and provides those agencies with ongoing technical assistance. Any law enforcement organization that investigates reports of sexual violence may implement and receive certification in the YHOP. Certification is not available to community partners such as offices of prosecution or advocacy organizations. However, many of the program elements are applicable to other professions, and community partners are encouraged to attend YHOP training with their law enforcement colleagues.

The YHOP believes in providing victims of sexual assault with as much control over their report and any subsequent criminal investigation as the law allows. Unless legally mandated, as with certain instances of domestic violence, or in other rare circumstances such as a significant threat to public safety, the Twenty Elements of a You Have Options Law Enforcement Response are offered during every sexual assault report and/or investigation. The Twenty Elements are viewed as a minimum standard and p articipating a gencies must abide by these as a condition of certification.

Element one of the Twenty Elements of a You Have Options Law Enforcement Response outlines the three reporting options offered to all victims of sexual assault in YHOP jurisdictions. The options include:

  • Information Only Report: Any report of sexual assault where, at the reporting party’s request, no investigative process beyond a victim interview and/or a complete or partial Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA) is completed.
  • Partial Investigation: Any report of sexual assault where some investigative processes beyond the victim interview and a complete or partial Inquiry into Serial Sexual Assault (ISSA) have been initiated by law enforcement. This may include, but is not limited to, interviewing of witnesses and collection of evidence such as a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE) kit.
  • Complete Investigation: Any report of sexual assault where all investigative procedures necessary to determine if probable cause exists for a criminal sexual assault offense have been initiated and completed.

All participating law enforcement agencies are provided with a unique page on the national YHOP website which provides the most current information available about the program and participating agencies. The official YHOP website allows victims to access information, report online, and learn about community-specific resources.

YHOP has been implemented at seven agencies nationwide and demand for the program is strong. The Police Foundation and the Jackson County SART, in partnership with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), are developing and testing a YHOP manual as a resource for agencies who are interested in, or training towards the implementation of, the YHOP.

Sarah Estill
Social Science Analyst, The COPS Office

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