Columbia Police Department aims to handle sexual assault differently with new program

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COLUMBIA- The Columbia Police Department is joining forces with the You Have Options Program to counter sexual assault.

The program originally started in Oregon and focuses on giving victims more choice in how they handle their investigation. In these cases the victim is able to choose whether the suspect is arrested and who is contacted throughout the investigation. 

The program also helps change the way law enforcement responds and investigates sexual violence by allowing the victim to have more control. 

Annabelle Ludwig, who has used the program, believes this method has improved the investigation in her own experience. 

"Through those empathetic questions, and getting to know me over the course of multiple questioning experiences, I think it produces a healthier investigation," Ludwig said. "Not only does it make it easier for us, but in the end it makes it easier on their end because they are getting the information they need in a more effective way."

According to the You Have Options website, law enforcement agencies using the the program implement twenty elements the site advises is the best way to handle the questioning and investigation of a sexual assault victim. 

The elements include allowing the victim to cut off the investigation without any explanation, allowing a support person during all aspects of the investigation and a right to anonymity. 

Ludwig believes when these elements are used properly, it can lead to better progress for those involved. 

"Trauma is not a logical thing to understand, but because of this training that they have done, they have a way of understanding a trauma victim a little bit better. That's beneficial to both parties," Ludwig said. 

CPD is using You Have Options in part right now, but plans to fully implement the program by the end of 2017.