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NYPD to Retrain Amid Controversy Over Handling of Rapes, Women's Group Told

By Gwynne Hogan | February 1, 2017 11:51am
 Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at the NYPD recruitment center on East 20th Street, Oct. 24, 2016.
Police Commissioner James O'Neill speaks at the NYPD recruitment center on East 20th Street, Oct. 24, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

ONE POLICE PLAZA — The NYPD will talk to survivors of sex attacks to see how they were treated by investigators, a women's rights group was told.

The focus groups come after controversial comments made by Greenpoint's precinct commander that downplayed the severity of many reported rapes, as first reported by DNAinfo New York.

They are part of a series of initiatives being introduced by Police Commissioner James O'Neill, according to a women's rights group which met with him Tuesday.

By July, all officers in the Special Victims Unit, the department which deals with sex crimes, will receive training in Forensic Experiential Trauma Interviewing tactics, said Sonia Ossorio, the president of National Organization for Women's New York City chapter.

O'Neill will also make a video to circulate to precincts across the city about taking all rape cases seriously.

"They are going to start with a message from the commissioner himself that will be delivered to not only the detectives in the [Special Victims Unit] but police department wide with all the patrol officers," said Ossorio.

A police department spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The changes follow a DNAinfo report on a surge of acquaintance rapes in Greenpoint, most of which have not resulted in arrests.

Peter Rose, captain of the NYPD's 94th precinct which covers the neighborhood, said the increase was "not a trend that we're too worried about because out of 13 [sex attacks], only two were true stranger rapes."

His comments, which he later apologized for, triggered widespread outrage

Commissioner O'Neill denounced Rose's comments while touting all of the work the department had done to better investigate sexual assaults, including hosting a poster competition to raise awareness on college campuses. 

But women's rights advocates at NOW saw Rose's comments as indicative of a larger issue about how acquaintance rape cases are handled by law enforcement.

"We see a pattern, the cases are just not being investigated properly," Ossorio said, adding that they'd brought a survivor of a sex attack in 2014 in the East Village to speak with O'Neill about her experience with SVU.

The woman, who testified in court against her attacker, was violently raped by a man named Juan Scott who she'd briefly dated. Scott sprained her hip, broke her rib and bashed her head against a wall multiple times, giving her a concussion, DNAinfo reported.

But when she reported the rape to police, weeks went by without an arrest while she received threatening calls and texts from her attacker.

The woman testified that she was treated like a “vengeful girlfriend” and at one point an investigator on the case scoffed and said, "He’s not going to jail for this."

About a month later, Scott tried to rape a stranger in Stuyvesant Town and was immediately arrested. Prosecutors later linked him to an earlier sexual assault where he'd followed a 23-year-old woman into her apartment building and attacked her.

She testified that if police had taken her rape seriously, they could have spared his third victim.

The Special Victims Unit currently has around 275 officers who handle 13,000 cases a year.