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Hanover Police Adopt New Sexual Assault Reporting Method



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 23, 2018

Hanover — The Hanover Police Department has adopted a new policy for reporting sexual assaults with the goal of increasing the number of victims who come forward and disclose abuse.

The department is the seventh agency nationwide to become certified in the “best-practice” model called the You Have Options Program that affords victims three options for reporting a sexual assault to police, according to Carrie Hull, YHOP’s director.

A victim can submit to an information-only report, which entails providing only basic information to police with the understanding that an officer wouldn’t investigate further unless a victim wanted them to. A victim also could seek a partial investigation or a complete investigation into the matter. Anonymous reports are welcomed under the model.

By increasing the public’s comfort level in reporting sexual assaults, Hanover police could be one step closer to identifying serial perpetrators, which is a main reason why former law enforcement officers, advocacy groups and experts from the Oregon area created and went live with YHOP in 2013, according to Hull.

“It is part of being transparent in allowing victims to move at their pace. It’s so important to allow them their control versus us pressuring them,” Hanover police Chief Charlie Dennis said this week. “This has helped us tweak our approach.”

It wasn’t that Hanover police had mandated that victims report every bit of information to an officer. Victims still were at liberty to disclose what they felt comfortable discussing, but Hanover officers didn’t have a uniform approach to handling sexual assault reports. Now they do, and it’s in writing.

Hanover officers have completed YHOP training and must follow the same list of 20 elements when speaking with a victim. They include a victim reporting as little or as much information as they wish and the ability to back out of the interview at any time. In addition, after making a report, a victim still can opt out of a criminal investigation and won’t be pressured otherwise by police.

Doing so puts victims in the driver’s seat and gives them clearly stated options in hopes that more people will speak out. Sexual assaults are one of the most underreported crimes in the nation, Dennis said. He wants to change that.

“It is about making a difference and helping victims feel like they have an ability to come forward,” Dennis said, who announced the department’s participation and certification in YHOP in a news release earlier this month.

In furthering its mission to increase reporting and decrease the number of incidents, Dennis and other Hanover officers have participated in a weeklong training that focuses on how trauma affects the brain and how to best interview someone who has suffered some sort of trauma.

At the training held at Dartmouth College this week, the founder of the “Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview” technique, along with a physician who specializes in neuroscience, instructed Hanover officers and others on both of those concepts and engaged them in a practical application of them.

The FETI training helps the interviewer understand why the brain may only record certain information from a traumatic event, and why a sexual assault victim, for example, might not recall a specific detail about what an attacker was wearing, Dennis explained.

When interviewing someone, the methodology instructs officers to ask open-ended questions, among other things.

“Then, off (of) what the person is telling you, develop your questions,” Dennis said. Doing so can help a victim who suffered trauma recall memories.

Hanover police Capt. Mark Bodanza, who is an instructor at New Hampshire’s police academy, said officers only receive a block of instruction on interview and interrogation techniques.

“There is very little on trauma-informed interviewing,” he said, adding that he hopes awareness of the FETI model spreads to other agencies.

Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo also attended the training in Hanover, which started on Monday and wraps up today. Although prosecutors don’t routinely interview victims, they do interact with them throughout a case.

How the brain reacts to trauma “is fascinating,” Saffo said, and is something everyone who works with people who have suffered trauma should pay close attention to.

“It puts all of the pieces together and it makes all of the sense in the world,” she said.

For example, officers and other interviewers often are predisposed to what evidence of lying looks like, such as lack of eye contact. But, a lack of eye contact also could be an indicator of trauma, she and others at the training said.

Officials at a Lebanon-based nonprofit that works to end gender-based violence said they support the Hanover Police Department’s efforts to participate in the programs.

“We think it is really going to help — for survivors to feel like they can come forward and report,” WISE Assistant Director Abby Tassel said of YHOP. “Hopefully it’s the beginning to a change in culture, not only in Hanover but throughout the Upper Valley.”

She said Hanover police have been “on the leading edge” of offering victims options, and that YHOP will only further that effort.

Oftentimes, victims don’t want to speak with law enforcement out of fear that they won’t be believed or that their power will be taken away, and “historically that has happened,” Tassel said. “This is really a game-changer in terms of a law enforcement agency. It’s, ‘No you are going to be believed. You are going to be the one that will have control.’ ”

Tassel attended the FETI training too, and said a common theme was that an officer or an interviewer didn’t understand how trauma impacts the brain, which can alter the way a person acts or responds.

“We keep seeing that understanding trauma would be so helpful in having better outcomes (in) these cases,” Tassel said.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.