Crime investigations delayed when not immediately reported

The recent report of a sexual assault on campus highlights the difficulties police face when conducting investigations when victims do not immediately report a crime.

TCU Police Sgt. Kelly Ham said not calling university police can delay investigations by a week in some cases.

“The sooner the university police receive information about a crime on campus, the quicker they can start investigating,” Ham said. “The longer it takes to get the information, the harder it is to find witnesses and video evidence.”

A female student reported to campus police on Sept. 9 that she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance in a campus residence hall, according to a campuswide e-mail sent Friday. The incident reportedly occurred on or around Aug. 30, according to the e-mail sent by TCU Police.

No arrests have been made on the case as of Tuesday afternoon, Ham said.

Jason Clark-Miller, assistant professor of criminal justice, said delays can interfere with the investigation process by hindering the collection of evidence, particularly biological evidence, and lessening the victim’s credibility.

“There’s a kind of assumption that someone who’s experienced a sexual assault is going to know it and immediately jump up and run for the phone,” Clark-Miller said. “That’s just not the case.”

Victims often wait to report crimes as a result of trauma, Clark-Miller said. Experiences can be so traumatic that it can take a while for the victim to come to terms with what happened, he said. A victim’s friends can also influence his or her decision to report the crime as the victim tries to define what happened to him or her, especially in sexual assault cases involving acquaintances, Clark-Miller said.

Some women are certain that what has happened to them is sexual assault but they don’t want to risk being exposed to accusations that they are trying to get back at someone. Some women may also be concerned about the possibility of the case going to trial, Clark-Miller said. In a trial, victims are forced to relive traumatic events in situations that are not necessarily conducive to letting them tell their story, he said.

“Many victims actually experience an incredulous or suspicious or unsupportive environment when they come forward,” he said.

Some police agencies may not be trained in assisting victims in sensitive cases and might be somewhat dismissive and unintentionally inappropriate in the manner in which they question victims, he said.

Clark-Miller said he isn’t sure of the university’s procedures on sensitive cases, noting that his understanding is that the university takes such cases very seriously.

Staff reporter Kim Little contributed to this report.