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Anonymous Reporting
by Deb Friedman
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Jan/Feb/Mar 1975

Frequently, women who have been raped want to notify the police yet do not want to prosecute. Anonymous reporting, i.e. reporting the rape without identifying the victim, has been recognized as an option by women organized against rape in some areas.

Anti-rape groups that are not primarily committed to reforming the criminal justice system may find anonymous reporting to be an acceptable compromise. It allows the woman some input into law enforcement channels without becoming fully involved. At the same time, it is a reform that can be accomplished without a major investment of energy on the part of the anti-rape group.

Anonymous reporting allows a woman to 1) notify the police that a rape has occurred; 2) alert the police to the location of the rape, description of the rapist and the modus operandi; and 3) act in her own behalf and for other women who may be potential victims of the same man. At the same time, the lengthy and humiliating procedures - at the hospital, at the police station, and in the courtroom - can be avoided by a victim who does not wish to prosecute.

In the D.C. Metropolitan area, police are generally willing to take anonymous reports, even though these reports do not enable them to make an arrest. Also, since the police cannot make an arrest, they are less likely to be concerned about the credibility of the victim.

Police consider anonymous reports to be useful because they are thereby made aware of areas in which rapes are occurring, and can increase their surveillance in these areas. However, they may not act until they have received a series of calls which indicate that several rapes, following the same pattern, have occurred in an area. Also, greater protection is not as likely to be provided if the community is non-white or poor.

A physical description of a rapist and/or a description of the modus operandi, which has been given to the police anonymously by other victims, can also help identify a suspect in a case where an arrest can be made.

Once police departments begin accepting anonymous reports on a routine basis, the extent of the problem will become better known. When asked if anonymous report statistics were kept by the police, several police officers said that they did not receive more than a few such calls a year. However, if enough calls were received, they said, then statistics would probably be collected and published.

Groups who wish to offer anonymous reporting as a service to rape victims should contact their local police departments to determine if they are willing to take information anonymously, what procedures should be used in phoning the reports in, and what details about the rape are most important in terms of usefulness to the police.

At the D.C. Center, victims are informed of the possibility of making an anonymous report. (In D.C., a victim can make the report herself but unless she calls the Sex Offense Unit of the police directly, she often will not be taken seriously.) If a victim gives her permission to have a report made for her, she is then asked for certain details. These are:

  • a. Time and location - In order to assure anonymity, it may be important not to pinpoint the exact location (if she was raped at home, for instance). House numbers aren't asked for. The name of the street or a general description of the neighborhood is sufficient. However, it is noted whether the rape occurred on the street or in a house or apartment. Example: "She was raped two days ago, in the evening, in her apartment on Davenport Street."
  • b. Description and M.O. - It often helps the victim remember details if she is asked specific questions. However, it is not necessary to obtain all of the details. It is very important to be sensitive to her reactions to the questions. This will probably determine how detailed the questions can be ..

    Some of the questions asked are: How many men were there? Was he heavy or slender? Was he tall or short? (using her height as a frame of reference) Was he wearing a jacket, glasses: etc? Did he say anything to her? Did he have a gun or a knife? etc.

    Memory can be very fragile and pressing for details in the wrong manner can lead to frustration, confusion and a sense of failure. Sometimes asking questions which are less important but easy to answer may lead her to remember more than she thought she could and may help build her confidence.
Getting the police to accept anonymous reports and to work with a group to establish procedures may be difficult, depending on the community. It should be made clear to the police that the group does not expect an arrest to be made from the report. Also, it may help to find a police officer or detective who is willing to initiate the procedure and take the reports until more police are willing to do so.

One thing the police will probably want to know is why a woman wouldn't want to report. Although more and more communities are becoming aware of the reluctance of rape victims to report, it will be necessary for many groups to be prepared for a discussion about why women don't want to report.

Groups that offer anonymous reporting as a service to rape victims shouldn't consider it a "second choice" to be used only if they can't "convince" a woman that she should report. It should be presented as a positive alternative that the woman can evaluate from her own perspective.