Thirty out of 95. That’s how many sexual assault cases the Austin Police Department misclassified as “exceptionally cleared” which may have warranted further investigation. A case can be marked as exceptionally cleared only when law enforcement has probable cause but is unable to make an arrest. These mishandled cases add to the prevalence of survivors unable to obtain justice.
Because sexual assault is such a widespread issue on college campuses, the UT Police Department has to be careful not to repeat APD’s negligence. In order to make students feel safe, UTPD has to hold themselves accountable for the investigations they conduct and must be transparent about their classifications of cases.
In response to APD’s report, UTPD has initiated their own internal review. Moving forward, they need to be open about these results and all possible misclassifications. Furthermore, UTPD should conduct reviews more often, and these findings should be made available to the student body in order to hold the department responsible.
According to UTPD Detective Eliana Decker, cases can be reported in a variety of ways, and the investigation process is dependent on the survivor. She said the department will always investigate the suspect and whereabouts of the occurrence, but the survivor may not want to move forward with the criminal prosecution process.
“The (process) is very guided for the survivor,” Decker said. “The survivor dictates how the investigation will go, and every person’s needs and expectations are different.”
It is, of course, up to the discretion of the survivor to proceed with an investigation. However, UTPD should ensure all of their efforts are dedicated to apprehending the culprit, and sexual assault must be treated as a priority. Additionally, without revealing personal details of cases, the department should publish the results of their classifications on a monthly basis as well as run internal reviews and audits more often.
Senior english major Tatum Zeko, the president of UT’s Deeds Not Words, said the police must be conscientious of what victims have been through and be clear about how investigations will proceed. As someone who advocates for sexual assault survivors through Deeds Not Words, an organization dedicated to helping end campus sexual assault, Zeko also said students deserve to know how their police department is handling cases.
“I’ve had friends who have gone through the reporting process (with APD) and never heard back, and it’s heart wrenching,” Zeko said. “I’m glad that the audits are coming forward, because it’ll be a way to kick law enforcement into action.”
Action — that’s what we expect from law enforcement, but it’s something sexual assault survivors are often denied. UTPD must learn from APD’s mistakes and commit to resolving issues of inaction through transparent investigations, as well as frequent audits and reviews made available to the public. Survivors deserve to be heard by law enforcement officials, not disregarded by those we depend on to seek justice.
Nayak is a communication sciences and disorders freshman from Austin.