Supporting rape victims in criminal investigations


Lars Nørr Mikkelsen. Photo: Private.
Lars Nørr Mikkelsen

Analyst with the National Danish Police for the Center for Analysis and Development.

Tine Søberg. Photo: Henrik Brøndsted.


Tine Søberg

Analyst and project worker with the National Danish Police for the Center for Crime Prevention.

As part of an extensive study on the experiences of crime victims in their encounter with the police, we learned that only 37 percent of the women and men, who had reported a rape, was satisfied with the overall handling of their case by the police, whereas 47 percent were explicitly dissatisfied (Rigspolitiet, 2020). This was significantly worse than the experiences of victims of all the other types of crime. We wanted to learn the reason for this dissatisfaction, but also what made a positive difference for the minority of rape victims who actually had a positive experience with the police.

The study consists of three kinds of data, all originating from the general study on the experiences of 6.318 victims of different types of crime: 1) Quantitative questionnaire data from 244 rape victims; 2) Written experience notations from 180 rape victims; 3) In-depth qualitative interviews with eight rape victims. The sample was made directly from the Danish police case management system (POLSAS). This made it possible for us to make direct connections between the respondents’ questionnaire data and the case data recorded in POLSAS, such as whether or not there were any charges filed on their case.

The study reflected pretty much all the main negative issues quoted in the international literature on police handling of rape victims. Thus, there are several examples of rape victims communicating experiences of their reports not being taken seriously, of being met with disbelief, of being encouraged to drop their attempt to report the crime, of not getting the legal counsel they have a right to, etc. But the study also provides insights on the positive experiences of the encounter with the police, and on what is actually important for the rape victims as they find themselves in this fragile situation.

A general characteristic in the narrated experiences of the rape reporters is how they express the need to increase their sense of security in several ways, especially in the early stages after initiating contact with the police. The reporters who express the most positive experience with the police especially stress how the police has helped them improve this sense of security in different ways, not least by guiding them closely and benevolently all through the different stages of their case. This is critical in every part of the case process, but nowhere is it as central as during the interrogations by the police. There are several aspects of this, but most of them are very basic, such as gently preparing the interviewee of what is to come:

”Before we started, he told me that there would sometimes be a break, because he needed to write in the report. It was very much about how you get informed on what’ll happen, and what he will be asking about”.

Contrary to the concern sometimes expressed by criminal investigators, the data from this study suggests that the ambition of helping the rape victims gain a sense of security, especially during the interrogation, rarely conflicts with the ambition of getting the answers needed for proceeding with a criminal investigation. This point is beautifully illustrated by this rape victim describing her experience with an empathic investigator:

”I could feel how he was actually listening and processing what I was telling him. It was small details as these that ensured that I wanted to tell him more, because he actually seemed interested”.

The full report is available here (in Danish).