Sexual assault has been a ballooning topic on campus with last semester’s It’s On Us campaign to the uproar over George Will for his comments on the topic. But those who actually have to handle those crimes have taken steps to improve how those cases are dealt with.
During the start of fall semester, MSU police initiated a new unit in the investigative division called the Special Victims Unit, or SVU, to investigate and handle six specific crimes on campus. The crimes consist of sexual assault, domestic and relationship violence, stalking, missing persons, child abuse and vulnerable adult abuse.
The unit consists of two primary investigators, although one will join the unit in March, and three assistant officers, who each get specialized training to learn how to handle cases where the victim went through a specific type of trauma. The assistant officers handle a wider variety of cases than just SVU.
“We’re still part of the police department, it’s just a group of us get specialized training,” said SVU primary investigator Detective Sgt. Andrea Beasinger. “Because a lot of times victims that have suffered that type of trauma, it takes a unique approach to investigate these cases without re-traumatizing the victim. And so with that our group can get additional training, can learn how to do a victim-centered investigation, taking into account the trauma that the victim has been through.”
Beasinger also said many of the changes to how the specific crimes are handled are geared toward both sympathy for the wishes of the victim in order and to hold the offender accountable.
An investigator with the SVU, Detective James Terrill, said the training teaches officers about such topics as the neurobiology of sexual assault victims, how a traumatized person might respond physically and mentally to the situation and helps officers understand that a victim might not remember every part of their experience.
“Our main goal, and our main thought, is to be victim-centered, to make sure that they have all the resources that they need, that they’re comfortable with the reporting process, and we hope that this makes it easier for victims to come forward and talk to us,” Terrill said.
The way in which officers of the SVU handle especially sexual and domestic assault cases has been given a focus to be victim-centered, and officers are constantly trying to stay updated with their training, primarily trying to encourage victims to report crimes of this nature and make them feel more comfortable after they do so. SVU has gotten feedback from individual cases, and the responses indicated dealing with one officer is easier for the victims.
"(Victims) seem more comfortable, just dealing with one person than going through several different people in a department,” Beasinger said, noting that victims often have to relay their story to a menagerie of officers, which can be exhausting and further traumatize the victim.
“This way I can be the point person for this particular victim and assist them through the whole process so that they feel more comfortable in reporting,” Beasinger said.
Beasinger can be reached by phone at (517) 353-0732 or by email at email@example.com, and officers are working on presenting the unit on the MSU police website.