The Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative at the Wellesley Centers for Women is collaborating with the Philadelphia Women’s Law Project and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to audit the Austin Police Department’s handling of sexual assault cases.
The city council of Austin, Texas, contracted with the Police Executive Research Forum for the audit after a joint report from Newsy, Reveal, and ProPublica highlighted the practice of “exceptional clearance” used by police departments in Austin, Texas, and across the country to close sexual assault cases without making an arrest.
The Justice and Gender-Based Violence Research Initiative has extensive experience reviewing police use of “exceptional clearance.” In 2019, the research team, co-led by senior research scientist Linda M. Williams, Ph.D., concluded a multi-year study funded by the National Institute of Justice that investigated why so few sexual assault cases move forward to prosecution in the U.S. criminal justice system. In their review of 2,887 sexual assault cases, they found that about 30 percent were concluded through “exceptional clearance.”
The current comprehensive audit, led by PERF, involves the review of hundreds of sexual assault cases filed with the Austin Police Department between 2012 and 2018. The WCW team will review characteristics of cases that did and did not move forward to prosecution. In addition to reviewing past cases, the project will review the department’s policies and procedures and conduct interviews with key personnel and with survivors who reported to the police.