An Open Letter to Sexual Assault Survivors
As a woman, I am angered, disheartened, and dismayed that 1 in 5 of us is sexually assaulted during our college careers, and saddened by the reality that, for a variety of reasons, we will report less than 10% of these sexual assaults to school or police officials. As a human being, I am appalled that every 98 seconds, someone in this country is sexually assaulted and that 90% of sexual assaults are committed by repeat offenders. And as a Chief of Police, I find it entirely unacceptable that only 6% of assaults reported to police will end with the assailant spending a single day in prison. Sexual assault is a violent criminal offense, period. Yet by and large, it is not treated within the criminal justice system — and in sentencing outcomes in particular — as on par with other violent offenses like robbery or battery.*
As a criminal justice practitioner, I am disappointed by the very system I serve when it falls short. I’m disappointed when blame is pointed everywhere but at the individual who actually owns the criminal behavior. I’m disappointed when the resulting message our processes send to those who have, or might, bravely come forward, is this: in your pursuit for justice, the odds are very much against you.
The decision to come forward to disclose or report is an individual choice and one that, considering the various existing barriers, is indeed a very difficult choice to make. When victims do come forward, a swift and meaningful criminal justice response is critical for preventing future victimization and in deterring repeat abuses.
As one who has served in the criminal justice field for nearly 30 years, I recall vividly the first sexual assault to which I responded as a young officer. The tears and the fears of the victim – a woman barely younger than I was at the time – changed me forever. Her story of sexual trauma and survival, and the stories of far too many who have followed during my career, are lessons in courage. Your stories have not only shaped me and the work I do, they remind me of the profound responsibility we have as criminal justice professionals at every level to serve with open minds and hearts, and to do what we can, wherever we can, to speak out about sexual violence.
To this end, I feel I must go on record to convey my deep disappointment in the sentence Alec Cook received for his violent crimes. I understand that there are various complexities involved in these cases, and that no one facet of the criminal justice process singularly owns its systemic failings. However, for all the reasons I’ve discussed and for many others, I believe justice was not best served here.
The finger of blame is easy to point, but I urge all of those who share in my disappointment to not only question individual accountability pointing at one judge, one prosecutor, or one officer, but to employ a holistic, constructive examination of the broader system and work together toward improved and more just outcomes for survivors.
Despite the challenges, the setbacks, the insults and ignorance that exist around sexual assault my message to survivors is not one of defeat or despair. Instead, my message is one of solidarity: I see you. I hear you. I support you. I am committed to addressing this critical issue in our communities and I believe that we can and will make a difference if we continue to speak out. As a woman, as a human being, and as a Chief of Police, I won’t give up. I hope you won’t either.
Chief Kristen Roman
UW-Madison Police Department
*Statistics obtained from combined resources to include the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) study, the Center for Disease Control National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NIPSV), RAINN, and the Callisto Proje6542c0t – Jessica Ladd, founder.