Hanover Police adopts new sexual violence reporting program

by John Fulton | 3/29/18 2:10am

The Hanover Police Department recently received certification for a nationally-recognized sexual violence reporting program called You Have Options, the seventh agency nationwide to do so.

The You Have Options program is intended to empower victims of sexual assault by offering them a wide variety of choices for reporting their experiences and extensive control over the process, according to Hanover Police captain Mark Bodanza. The program provides sexual assault survivors with three law enforcement options: an anonymous report, a partial investigation or full investigation.

In the first option, if victims are hesitant to engage with police, they can report their assault anonymously and provide as many — or as few — details as they are comfortable with.

Anonymous reporting gives victims “the opportunity to have a voice and be heard.” It also allows the police to track individuals who might be involved in sexual predation in the community, Bodanza said.

The second option involves a partial investigation into the assault in which victims provide only basic details of the event, such as “who, what, when, where, why and how,” Bodanza said. This stage allows the police department to start a file on the case and potentially obtain physical evidence, but still provides the victim with a great deal of privacy.

The third option is to conduct a full investigation into the matter, which could lead to pursuing criminal charges if there is sufficient evidence.

Once victims choose which option they would like to pursue, they have the ability to change their mind at any time.

“The individual, who’s reporting throughout the entire time, has the option to stop the process or make the process go on to the next step,” Bodanza said. “That really empowers the person through the victim-centered approach program.”

The program, which took several years to come to fruition, also involved extensive training of the Hanover Police Department staff and the introduction of a “soft interview room,” which has sofas and carpets instead of “white walls and hard chairs and metallic tables,” Bodanza said.

The soft interview room allows victims to feel as comfortable as possible, rather than feel like a suspect in an interrogation room, he added.

Bodanza anticipates that more victims of sexual violence will report to the Hanover Police Department now that the You Have Options program is in place.

“We’re already seeing people calling the police department as a result of seeing the article [about You Have Options] in the Valley News,” he said.

Others who work with victims of sexual assault in the Upper Valley are equally enthusiastic about the introduction of You Have Options.

Delaney Anderson, the campus advocate for WISE, which offers support services to victims of sexual violence, said that the program is a crucial development for the Hanover Police because it gives victims control in a highly uncomfortable situation.

“You Have Options provides a real education and allows for [victims] to be in control as much as possible throughout the process,” she said. “I think that provides people with an opportunity to engage in something that they might otherwise feel is not an option.”

Assistant director of WISE Abby Tassel said that the You Have Options program’s focus on increasing the reporting of sexual violence is needed in the Upper Valley.

“This has been such a huge problem historically, that victims don’t feel as though they’re going to be well-served by the system and haven’t been well-served by the system,” Tassel said. “You Have Options makes [the Hanover Police Department] now an agency where they’re going to put the needs of victims first, and that should really increase people’s willingness to come forward and talk about their experiences.”

Additionally, according to Tassel, You Have Options makes WISE and other organizations like it more confident that the survivors they refer to the Hanover Police will be served in an effective and sensitive way. Officers have been trained in conducting trauma-informed interviews, which will greatly increase effectiveness, she said.

Due to the impact of trauma, victims were often unable to provide coherent information to police officers, which hurt their credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and prosecutors, she added.

“This is [what] we’ve been looking for so that won’t be happening anymore,” Tassel said.