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Douglas County making changes after false rape report cases

Douglas County law enforcement officials are undergoing training and planning to coordinate investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault cases after facing criticism last year for charging women with making false sexual assault complaints.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said this week other changes planned in the county include a task force and continuing education on handling trauma and sexual assault cases, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

In October, Branson dismissed a case against a woman who was charged with filing a false rape report, after a Lawrence police detective said in an affidavit that he thought the woman reported the rape because she was angry the man involved was seeing another woman.  Advocates for sexual violence victims criticized Branson and investigators, saying filing such charges would make victims reluctant to report sexual assaults. Two similar cases were dismissed in December.

A group of social work students at the University of Kansas said prosecutors and investigators showed a “concerning lack of crucial knowledge” about trauma and sexual assault, as well as behaviors survivors might display after an assault.  Anne Divine, president of the KU Edwards BSW Student Group, said the group saw a “regrettable pattern” in the investigations.

In the past three months, all attorneys and victim/witness coordinators in the Douglas County district attorney’s office have completed a five-hour training course on sexual assault investigations. Lawrence police detectives will also take the training.

Tom Tremblay, a retired police chief from Burlington, Vermont, who specializes in trauma-informed response, investigation and prosecution training, will lead a two-day training session for more than 40 senior prosecutors, victim/witness coordinators, community service providers, detectives, investigators and their supervisors in April, Branson said. He also will help Branson’s office draft procedures to coordinate responses of area law enforcement and attorneys in investigations and prosecutions in sexual assault cases.

The county also will develop a continuing training program for the investigators and first responders who have first contact with survivors, “so they have at least the basic tools to understand what’s going on, how to respond and how to make the handoff to the trained investigators,” Branson said.   “It is anticipated” that all area law enforcement will take the annual in-service training, he said.

Divine said Wednesday that she thought it was “really wonderful” that Branson’s plans include many points she and other students promoted in letters to Lawrence city leaders, the district attorney’s office and local law enforcement.

Branson said a major concern was that agencies handled their investigations differently.
“We didn’t want people to have a different experience based upon who investigated the case,” Branson said.  “It also made a difference in how the case was investigated with what our office would do with it and how we would necessarily view it.”

He’s working with area law enforcement and service providers to create the Douglas County Sexual Assault and Trauma Task Force, which aims to develop protocols to ensure that investigations are consistent from agency to agency.  Most of those currently appointed to the task force are males, but Branson said he is trying to add more community partners.

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