Violence and VictimsThis article appears in Violence and Victims Volume 28, Number 4.  Full sample downloads of this journal are available here.


Secondary victimization may occur when rape victims make police reports. This can compromise the quality of official statements and jeopardize criminal cases. Rape reporters receive better treatment by police officers when advocates are involved and best practice police work includes such collaboration. Studies of advocates have described tension, role confusion, and poor communication with police officers. Many variables, including rape myth acceptance (RMA) and training on sexual assault dynamics, may affect officers’ collaboration with advocates. There were 429 police officers who responded to a survey measuring their victim interviewing skill, formal training about rape, years on the job, number of victims known personally, number of recent rape cases, RMA, and collaboration with advocates. Results suggest that officers’ interviewing skill, years on the job, and specific training are related to collaboration with victim advocates on rape cases. Professional, rather than personal, variables were most predictive of collaboration. Implications for officer selection and training are explored.

Rape victims are often reluctant to make police reports because of self-blame, shame, fear of retribution, and mistrust (Ahrens, Campbell, Temier-Thames,Wasco & Sefl, 2007; Patterson, Greeson & Campbell, 2009). Survivors may be mystified about criminal justice processes and unsure what their rights are. They may feel pressure from family, friends, partners, and agency staff (Ahrens & Campbell, 2006) to take action, yet have difficulty sorting out their options. Crime victim advocates can assist by explaining procedures, available options, and services. They can also supply advocacy and social support, which may minimize victims’ post-traumatic stress and secondary victimization (Campbell & Martin, 2001; Zweig & Burt, 2007). 1

Perhaps the most intimidating task for survivors is navigating the criminal justice system (Campbell, 2005; Martin, 2005; Parsons & Bergin, 2010). The needs of victims may be subsidiary to identifying perpetrators and bringing them to justice (Martin, 2005). Community-based advocates can help survivors decide whether to make police reports and accompany them to interviews (Zweig & Burt, 2007). Although “best practice” police work involves transdisciplinary collaboration (Hazelwood & Burgess, 2008; U.S. Department of Justice, 2002), some law enforcement agencies are resistant to including “outsiders” (Roberg, Crank, & Kuykendall, 2004). In addition, implementation of victims’ rights policies varies across states and jurisdictions (Montagraff, Garvin, & Beloof, 2006), leading officers to exercise discretion in collaborating with advocates (Lonsway & Archambault, 2008). This study seeks to identify characteristics of officers most receptive to working with advocates as well as reasons for resistance to this collaboration. This information could be useful in making police assignments and identifying training needs.


Rape survivors are often vulnerable to the responses of others. Even mixed reactions may silence them by eliciting feelings of shame (Campbell, 2006; Kaysen, Morris, Rizvi, & Resick, 2005). Supportive reactions decrease negative sequelae for victims (Ullman, 2010) and improve the recall of traumatic material, including details of sexual assaults (Hardy, Young, & Holmes, 2009). However, officers may not know how to interview crime victims and rely on inappropriate skill sets used to interrogate suspects (Epstein & Langenbahn, 1994; Milne & Bull, 2007) such as distancing, intimidation, expressing dis - belief, blaming, rushing, distracting, controlling, and violating interviewees’ privacy and confidentiality. They may question survivors’ motives, urge them to rescind complaints, or fail to promptly investigate reports they do not view as “ credible” (Campbell, 2006; Jordan, 2001; Lonsway, Archambault, & Lisak, 2009; Patterson et al., 2009; Schwartz, 2010). This is problematic because without support, traumatized victims may behave in “noncredible” ways, increasing police skepticism (Maddox, Lee, & Barker, 2011). This can have significant implications for prosecution: In one study (Patterson, 2011), negative detective behaviors toward rape reporters were related to poor case outcomes; in another (Maddox et al., 2011), rape reporters who found detectives empathetic were more likely to have their cases go to court.


Interdisciplinary teams of police, medical, mental health, victim advocacy, faith, educational, prosecutorial, and media professionals are the best way to inoculate communities against violence toward women (Herz, Stroshine, & Houser, 2005). As a result, police literature recommends that officers work with advocates when handling rape cases (Hazelwood & Burgess, 2008; U.S. Department of Justice, 2002). Advocates can have a positive effect on the treatment of survivors by other professionals; for example, Campbell (2006) found police less likely to make derogatory comments, omit important procedures, and take harmful actions when one was present.

There are two kinds of victim advocates: system based and community based. System- based advocates are typically employed by criminal justice agencies and often serve as liaisons between victims and criminal justice personnel—which precludes confidential communications. Community-based advocates are separate from criminal justice institutions, have a sole allegiance to the victim, and can often provide confidential communications (Lonsway & Archambault, 2008). Although better situated to help victims weigh options regarding system involvement, these advocates may have less credibility with police—and officers may have fewer incentives for collaborating with them (Campbell & Martin, 2001; Sudderth, 2006).

During police interviews, advocates may explain criminal justice procedures, ask clarifying questions, interpret survivors’ nonverbal behavior, recommend breaks, and assure that the physical environment is hospitable (Lonsway & Archambault, 2008)—actions that may reduce victim stress (Campbell, 2006) and result in a more coherent, consistent statement. Afterward, they can help victims weigh options and act to move the case for - ward (Hazelwood & Burgess, 2008). Many states allow victims to have support persons at police interviews; however, officers vary in (a) their implementation of these guidelines and (b) their familiarity with victim advocacy services (Hazelwood & Burgess, 2008; Hodgson, 2002).

Traditional police culture has been characterized as insular, self-protective, hyper - masculine, and hostile to interference from perceived “outsiders” (Dodge, Valcore, & Klinger, 2010; Roberg et al., 2004) such as advocates. In addition, the presence of a third party inevitably alters the nature of a dyadic interaction, even if that party is only an observer (Hewitt, 2003). An officer may perceive an advocate as a challenge to his authority, skill, or professional style. As a result, officers hold differing views about advocates’ attendance at victim interviews. Some feel they don’t belong there; others allow them to attend only if they remain silent. In contrast, collaborative officers confer regularly with advocates and welcome their participation at victim interviews (Hodgson, 2002; Lonsway & Archambault, 2008; Lord & Rassel, 2002).

Studies of advocates suggest their interactions with police can be stressful, leading to vicarious trauma, role confusion, and/or burnout (Carmody, 2006; Maier, 2008; Slattery & Goodman, 2009; Ullman & Townsend, 2007). They may refrain from asserting themselves with officers because of lack of clarity about their role, fear of upsetting survivors, or worry that survivors and/or the agency will be treated poorly in retaliation (Lonsway & Archambault, 2008; Wasco & Campbell, 2002). Their distrust of the legal system may be inadvertently communicated to victims, who then may decide not to file charges (Wasco & Campbell, 2002).

Rape myth acceptance (RMA) may influence an officer’s collaboration with victim advocates because it is related both to victim interviewing skill (Rich & Seffrin, 2012) and attitudes toward women (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994). Victim advocates have the lowest RMA of all groups surveyed (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994). Because people tend to be comfortable with others sharing their values, officers endorsing fewer rape myths may find collaboration easier.

Sexual assault–related training may improve officers’ attitudes toward rape reporters (Bachman, 1998) and enhance their victim interviewing skills (Lonsway, Welch, & Fitzgerald, 2001; Rich & Seffrin, 2012). Cross-training may enable officers and advocates to share knowledge, develop an appreciation for each other’s roles, and forge personal connections (Hazelwood & Burgess, 2008; Lonsway & Archambault, 2008), thereby increasing their ability to collaborate.

Officers who have been raped or who know rape victims personally could have a better understanding of their needs—increasing their motivation to collaborate with advocates. On the other hand, overidentification with a victim could incline an officer to engage in revictimizing behaviors. Knowing victims has been linked to better victim interviewing skills (Rich & Seffrin, 2012), but it isn’t clear whether or how this affects collaboration.

An important practical concern is whether officers can be influenced professionally to collaborate with victim advocates or whether deeply ingrained aspects of their char - acter and background (such as knowing victims personally and RMA) are the primary predictors. If professional variables are more important, then officers’ collaborative behavior may be more easily shaped by organizational practices, policies, and decisions.


There is little research on police officers’ collaboration with victim advocates; however, this could assist in (a) making appropriate police assignments, (b) identifying train - ing needs, and (c) improving collaboration so victims can receive the best service. It is also unclear whether officers’ collaboration is a result of their personal or professional characteristics. This study addresses a gap in the literature by exploring which officers are most likely to use advocates in their work with rape reporters. To better understand officer motivations, reasons for noncollaboration will be solicited. Hypotheses guiding this research, based on the previous discussion, are as follows: (a) Because working with advocates is best practice police work, better victim interviewers will collaborate with them more than less skilled interviewers; (b) officers who attend more training on sexual assault will collaborate more with advocates; (c) officers with less RMA will collaborate more with advocates; and (d) knowing victims personally/being a rape survivor will be associated with more collaboration.


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