© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
Public Files Contact · ATSC 3.0 FAQ
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Connecticut lawmakers say protections for sexual assault victims should be tightened

The Accountability Project obtained new video in the case of a woman who was charged with false reporting after telling police she was the victim of a sexual assault.

When a woman reported being raped to the Meriden Police Department, she was later arrested and charged with false reporting.

Police records show the officer investigating her case began to doubt her account because she initially left out details about what happened.

False reports of sexual assault are rare. But in Connecticut, and across the country, there are numerous examples of people who report these crimes being charged themselves when police doubt their claims.

Since first reporting on this story, The Accountability Project obtained video recordings of police interviews in the Meriden case.

Those recordings, received through a Freedom of Information Act Request, show how the conversations between the woman and a police detective evolved over the course of several months, shifting from an investigation into rape to a criminal case against the woman reporting the assault.

Kerry Dalling, a former Connecticut detective who taught trauma-informed interviewing at the police academy, reviewed the videotapes. Dalling said they demonstrate some strengths, but also underscore how similar interactions between police and those reporting sexual assault can be improved.

Some Connecticut lawmakers are also taking up the issue, and are calling for more dialogue on how police can best approach these scenarios.

In the Meriden case, the first video interview took place in February 2018.

"The first thing that caught my attention, and probably the only thing that really kind of jumped out at me, was his whole ... body language, his demeanor," Dalling said, referring to the detective conducting the interview.

In her opinion, the detective's appearance seemed to suggest that he was "kind of disinterested," Dalling said.

“What I did like about it is he just lets her talk," she continued. "And that's good. I think that's a good strategy to try and get her comfortable talking."

In the first tape, the victim shares her story with the officer from beginning to end. In later interviews, there’s a change in tone when the victim becomes a suspect in the case.

The Meriden Police Department and the union that represents Meriden officers declined to answer questions for this story. The detective who conducted the interviews did not respond to a request for comment.

The officer is heard on videotape saying: "I highly doubt they’re going to prosecute it, prosecute him, with those facts. And depending on the prosecutor, it's even possible that they may want to prosecute you.”

The victim eventually pleaded guilty in court to interfering with a police officer. She told Connecticut Public it felt like her only choice to avoid potential jail time, and maintains her innocence.

Multiple studies show less than 10% of reported sexual assaults are false.

The Accountability Project shared the videos with the victim and she decided she didn't want to see them.

“I don't want to remember the worst moment I experienced with the department," she said. "I really don't want to remember.”

Paul Melanson is president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. He said police should be cautious about accusing people of filing false reports because it has a chilling effect.

“When a victim comes in to make a statement, it should be a very high bar to then arrest somebody," Melanson said.

Some lawmakers want to address this issue. State Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw of Avon and Canton had a similar case in her district, in which a victim of sexual assault was charged with false reporting.

"A working group is kind of a possibility that might help us figure out how best to address the situation," Kavros DeGraw said.

Kavros DeGraw thinks hearing from victims and officers about their experiences in these cases could be a good place to start.

"We really need to be listening to figure out how to come to a better solution," she said. "Because it's not acceptable to have situations where women are the victims, and they end up being charged with a crime of false reporting.”

This month, a Connecticut bill on police interrogation tactics went into effect. The bill aims to improve conditions for people being interrogated to ensure police don’t use deceptive or coercive tactics.

“What we're trying to do is make sure that if someone is charged with a crime, it's the right person charged with it," said state Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport.

Stafstrom said the changes weren’t designed specifically to safeguard sex assault victims. But it’s an issue lawmakers are keeping in mind.

"We're always looking at tightening up our statutes and making sure that we are protecting victims of sexual assault," he said, "and also making sure that we are convicting folks for crimes they actually committed."

Bria Lloyd joined Connecticut Public as an investigative reporter for The Accountability Project in November 2022. She’s also the co-host of the station’s limited series podcast, 'In Absentia'.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content