The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is adopting a pioneering program that encourages victims to report sexual assault.
Sheriff Corey Falls, who took office in January, is instituting the program countywide. He previously worked as deputy chief for the Ashland Police Department, which developed the You Have Options program.
Ashland launched the program in 2013 in an effort to increase reports of sexual assault, which is one of the most underreported crimes in the nation. Many sexual assaults are committed by serial predators, according to police.
This week, the Jackson County commissioners authorized a cooperative agreement among the county, APD and several social services agencies that assist sexual assault victims, homeless youth, Southern Oregon University students and others. The agreement spells out the ways the different partners will participate in the You Have Options program.
The commissioners said they appreciated Falls’ efforts to bring the program to the sheriff’s office.
“Sexual assault is one of those crimes that is rarely reported. A lot of people get abused,” Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office already has a detective sergeant from APD assigned to the sheriff’s office to help get the program started there, said Sue Watkins, finance manager for the office. A community advocate for a social services agency is also stationed at the office, and a victim’s advocate will be given office space as well, Watkins said.
The You Have Options program has gained widespread national attention from the media as well as organizations interested in adopting the model.
The U.S. Department of Defense, which acknowledges widespread problems with how the military handles reports of sexual assault, has sought advice from Ashland police.
Under the You Have Options program, victims have more control over the investigation and prosecution of suspected offenders.
Victims can choose to provide information without triggering a criminal investigation, can ask for a partial investigation or request a full investigation, according to APD.
The victim can report information anonymously and police will document the information. Instead of meeting with police in person, the victim can use an online form or have a sexual abuse advocate report an assault.
Police help victims access medical treatment and advocacy resources, even if the victim doesn’t want to pursue prosecution.
The program led to a doubling of reports of sexual assault to APD a year after it was launched.
Police and prosecutors say sexual assault victims hesitate to report the crime because of fear, shame and social stigma. While society sometimes blames the victims, sexual offenders often target victims based on how vulnerable and accessible they seem, and their perceived lack of credibility, according to APD.
For more information on the You Have Options program, visit www.ReportingOptions.org.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.