Skip to main content

West Valley City Journal

‘Game Changing’ New Study Revolutionizing Sexual Assault Investigations

Jun 16, 2016 08:33AM ● By Bryan Scott

West Valley City Police Department brought in Julie Valentine, a BYU researcher and forensic nurse, to analyze the TIVI protocol being utilized by the department since 2014. – Travis Barton

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley prosecution rates in sexual assault cases are increasing and trust between the victims and the police are increasing as well. 

A new study released by Julie Valentine, a BYU researcher and forensic nurse, showed that sexual assault cases investigated by the West Valley Police Department were almost four times more likely to be prosecuted. 

Valentine was granted unprecedented access to analyze the Trauma Informed Victim Interview (TIVI) implemented in 2014 by the West Valley City Police along with the Utah Prosecution Council. 

“It really is amazing for a law enforcement agency to give us this degree of transparency,” Valentine said in a news conference on April 14. 

West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo, hired to the position in 2013, said they now process all rape kits rather than leaving it to investigators’ discretion as was done before. 

 “It’s exciting to come forward and say ‘we’ve been watching, we’ve been listening and actually, we’ve been doing something about it,’” Russo said during the news conference. 

The study compared results from toolkits used between 2003-2011 in Salt Lake County to results of the TIVI protocol taken between 2014-2015. The new protocol involves special training for sexual assault investigators.

It found that cases successfully prosecuted increased from 6% to 22% under the new program. 

When Russo first started, the department had 126 cases in back logs. Now they have zero. 

As part of the TIVI protocol, detectives have changed the way they handle the sexual assault cases. 

“We have learned that if we slow things down for a victim, if we recognize the trauma and the process that the victims are going through in their recollections, we more often can be successful in obtaining better information, support and cooperation,” Russo said. “Which leads us to more successful outcomes, not just for the prosecution of cases, but for the healing of victims.”

Investigators now give victims a day or two to properly piece their memories together where as before it was protocol to discover the timeline of events immediately afterwards.  

Russo said officers are now aware that memories aren’t a “streaming video” but more a “collection of snapshots.”

“We know that trauma has a significant and debilitating effect upon human behavior and memory,” Russo said. 

Donna Kelley, Utah Prosection Council and an original developer of the TIVI protocol, said victims tell their story in a unique way that officers, juries and prosecutors don’t often understand. With this new training, however, prosecutors will be able to not only understand, but articulate cases better.   

“This interviewing process is a game changer, it changes what we see, it changes how we handle cases,” Kelley said. 

Kelley said with everyone now trained from first responders and dispatchers to judges and juries, everyone understands trauma and the science behind it to make it investigations more accurate. 

It’s a unique collaboration that is almost unheard of.

“I’ve never seen this in 25 years,” Kelley said. 

Rachelle Hill, Victim Services Coordinator with West Valley City, said it’s a collaboration that didn’t exist when she started 10 years ago. Before, they were perceived as nosy, now they’re regularly invited to sit in on interviews. 

Victim Services has even created a Victim Impact trauma room where the police can hold their interviews in a living room setting with a couch, lamp and a chair. 

“[The room] is across from our office so it’s made its just more accessible so that’s helped that partnership a lot,” Hill said. 

The whole process has increased a trust between a victims and police that wasn’t always there before. 

Of the victims who completed surveys during the study, almost 90% gave perfect scores to the officers’ treatment of the victims. 

“It’s allowed victims to have a voice and feel supported,” Hill said. 

Interviews now act as therapy sessions of a few hours rather than the 20-30 minute interviews that were done before. 

“Everyone at the end gets done with this big, deep breath – it’s definitely the best way to interview victims,” Hill said. “Coming from a victim-centered approach, is a game changer.”