Victim advocates are concerned that the New York Police Department may be forcing rape victims to sign “withdrawal” forms that close their cases without ever investigating them, the Appeal reports.
In 2012, the Special Victims Division asked 19-year-old Katherine Murrell to sign a “C-3 Uncooperative Complainant” form, which authorized the NYPD to close Murrell’s case on her account of lack of cooperation. But Murrell signed the form thinking she had no other option, and that by signing it, she was cooperating with officers:
Later, on Aug. 16, 2012, Paribello handed Murrell a one-page “withdrawal” form she believed she had no choice but to sign, allowing detectives to close the case as either “B-6 Unfounded” or “C-3 Uncooperative Complainant.” “I have informed Detective Paribello that I do not wish to pursue this case any further,” read the form that Murrell signed. “I have been informed of alternative options available to me regarding this matter.” The next day, Paribello closed her case, writing that she was “no longer willing to cooperate or pursue this case,” according to the his notes in Murrell’s case file obtained through a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.
“I remember distinctly thinking that this was the only thing that I could do, because that’s the way he presented it to me,” Murrell told The Appeal. “He pretty much said we’re never going to find him, you don’t know whose house it was, you don’t know anything essentially. … He said there’s nothing else we could do.”
Murrell doesn’t know if the NYPD ever investigated her case; they did, however, label her “uncooperative.”
In another case, according to former Staten Island rape counselor Stacia Buckner, NYPD “pressured” a teenage rape victim into signing the form at the ER where she received a rape examination. Withdrawing from an investigation also makes it much harder for victims to receive financial aid or public assistance for therapy or medication needed in response to the trauma.
In March, the Department of Investigation (DOI) issued a damning report that found the understaffed department “has been knowingly neglecting victims of sexual assault since 2010 and undoubtedly before that,” according to New York City Councilman Donovan Richards, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. During this era, between 2014 and 2016, the NYPD declared 16 percent of rape cases “unfounded”—defined by the FBI as an investigation that “shows that no offense occurred nor was attempted.” As the Appeal notes, this number is “significantly higher than that of any other major city with more than 1 million residents in the United States,” and much higher than what research estimates: that only 2 to 10 percent of reported rapes are actually false.
While experts told the Appeal that police departments typically use the form as protection from legal liability in instances where the victim does not want to proceed with the investigation, the NYPD did not comment on its policy around the forms. The department is undergoing a major restructuring in response to the DOI report, and in a statement to the Appeal, a spokesperson noted that “As part of this review, Deputy Chief Harrison is looking at the Withdrawal Form and will be making changes to it.”
“These changes will include eliminating language that has a negative connotation associated with it, and ensuring that as this information is collected, it is done in a capacity that is victim-centric,” the statement read. “This may involve creating a new document or making significant changes to the existing one.”
While that statement acknowledges the NYPD needs to improve the language on the form, that doesn’t solve the problem of officers pushing forms on vulnerable people in traumatic moments, or the larger, systemic problem of police departments failing to take sexual assault claims seriously. Read the rest of the Appeal’s report here.