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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department will begin training its officers in September on a new way to interview victims of sexual assault.

The program is called You Have Options, and its goal is to give victims as much control as possible.

"So what we want to do is give the victim control back over the reporting and investigating process. The victim of the sexual assault controls the pace of the investigation for whatever they feel comfortable with," said Columbia Criminal Investigation Lieutenant Barbara Buck.

With the new program, victims will have the option to report the assault online and even anonymously if they choose to. Victims can also choose whether they want a full or partial investigation. 

"This takes the pressure off the victim of sexual assault, and they provide us what they're able to recall at the time," Buck said.

The interview technique is called Forensic Experiential Trauma Interviewing (FETI). Buck said the department's sexual assault detective is already trained in FETI.

"Patrol officers will ask a few open ended questions during the initial investigation to determine what the victim is able to tell the officer about what happened during the assault and who assaulted the victim. The detective will follow up with the victim and do a FETI interview to determine if the victim is able to recall further information," Buck said. 

Patrol officers will ask questions like, "What are you able to give us?"

"Traditional law enforcement will want to know who, what, when, where and how. A person who has been sexually assaulted has been traumatized, so therefor their brain has been affected in how they recall the incident," Buck said. 

Buck says the goal of the program is to increase the number of reported sexual assaults by removing some of the barriers victims face during the reporting process.

"What people need to realize is sexual assault and sexual violence can happen to any person of any age, race, religion, occupation, and it's not just the college student. I would recommend it to any law enforcement agency and community that's concerned about sexual violence," Buck said.

The department has around 200 sworn members and civilian staff to train on the new program. Columbia Police hope to have the program fully implemented by late 2017 or early 2018.

 

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