Journal of Undergraduate Research


law enforcement trauma, response training, adult sexual assault




Sexual assault (SA) is one of the most common crimes in the state, affecting one in three Utah women (Mitchell & Peterson, 2008). Despite this, shockingly low numbers of Utah SA victims see their cases progress to prosecution; for example, in Salt Lake County from 2003-2011, only 6% of SA cases were successfully prosecuted (Valentine, Shaw, Lark & Campbell, 2016). These numbers reflect an urgent need in Utah to identify barriers to prosecution and take steps to eliminate those barriers. Police officers, as first responders when victims seek to report an incidence of SA, have an important role in determining whether or not SA cases will be prosecuted. They have the power to decide whether or not SA claims are founded, meaning they decide whether or not they meet the standard to be considered a crime and proceed through the criminal justice system (Mennicke, Anderson, Oehme & Kennedy, 2014). Unfortunately, researchers have found that many police officers are skeptical of SA reports, believing that victims frequently lie about having been assaulted. Mennicke et al. (2014) found that more than half of police officers believe the rate of false rape reports is above 50%. However, the true rate is only 2-8% (Lonsway, Archambault & Lisake, 2009). It is believed that this misperception regarding false reports of rape is partly due to a lack of understanding about the effects that the trauma of SA has on the brain – something referred to as the “neurobiology of sexual assault” (Campbell, 2013). Because law enforcement has so much influence over whether or not SA cases will be prosecuted, the fact that many police officers doubt victim claims of SA is worrisome. It suggests that training police officers about SA and its impact on victims, particularly on victim reporting, could be valuable in facilitating higher prosecution rates for SA cases. In a pilot study in 2013, it was found that after officers in the West Valley City Police Department (WVC PD) received SA training on the neurobiology of sexual assault, the percentage of adult SA cases prosecuted increased from 6% to 24% (Kelly & Valentine, 2016). The purpose of the current study was to conduct a follow-up to the pilot study and find out whether WVC PD maintained improved levels of prosecution once the pilot study ended. It was also to determine whether continued training could further improve prosecution rates, police officer attitudes toward SA cases, and victim perceptions of the officers.

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