CPD wants to make it easier on victims to report sexual assault

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Police Department is implementing a new program, called "You Have Options", which aims to make reporting sexual assault more comfortable for the victim.

CPD Public Information Officer Bryana Larimer said the program's approach is victim-centered and offender-focused.

"It gives power back to the victim and lets them decide how much or how little information they want to provide to law enforcement officers," Larimer said.

"You Have Options" lets victims control the date, time and location of the initial report, set the pace of the interview, and have an advocate with them while reporting. It also gives victims the option to remain anonymous and have a third party give information for them.

Larimer said the program's goal is to reduce the barriers victims have when reporting sexual violence.

"It provides our criminal investigations division with information that they otherwise would not have been able to obtain from maybe the victim being fearful of going through the entire process from the start to the prosecution of the suspect," she said.

"You Have Options" is a nationwide effort. According to its website, it focuses on "increasing the number of victims who report to law enforcement, and thoroughly investigating identified offenders for serial perpetration."

Larimer said, before implementing the program, law enforcement officers mainly focused on catching the suspect.

"It's really helping our officers take a step back and recognize that this victim has been through a lot," she said. "It's very traumatic to have a sexual assault occur."

Larimer said the training process for "You Have Options" can be rather lengthy.

"For our department, we have a lot of people to train and there's a lot of information and different ways we're going to have to set up our record system," she said.

Larimer said CPD is currently working to train its civilian staff. Complete implementation of "You Have Options" will take about 18 months.

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