(Washington D.C. Jan 24, 2013 — AVfM News)Today Human Rights Watch, a New York based non-profit organization whose stated mission is to “protect and defend human rights,” officially released a report outlining what it says are extreme shortcomings in the way the Washington Metropolitan Police Department handles sexual assault cases.  
During a press conference that took place at the National Press Club the report’s author, Sara Darehshori, accused the MPD of mishandling 170 reports of sexual assault over a three year period and called for outside oversight of the departments sexual assault investigations. Human Rights Watch covers a broad range of human rights issues on the international stage. This is the only known instance that it has turned its attention toward a large U.S. metropolitan police department.
Resistance to the report by the WMPD has been fierce, with Police Chief Cathy Lanier calling on the Department of Justice to do an independent evaluation of the report and the department’s handling of sexual assault cases. The DOJ says it considering the request. 
Heavy sparing between MPD Chief Cathy Lanier and Darehshori began on May 30th of last year when the Darehshori announced in a letter to the department its intentions to release the a report if its findings. In a brief summary of the 195 page report included in the letter Darehshori accused the MPD of failure to investigate sexual assault cases and poor treatment of victims citing “victim blaming” and “intimidating police behavior such as threatening to prosecute if the victim is found to be lying.” A prompt response to the letter was requested.
Lanier shot back with an letter dated June 8th 2012 in which the chief stated:
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your letter. As previously communicated the Metropolitan Police Department finds it disturbing that a highly respected organization such as Human Rights Watch would ask us for feedback on a report yet not provide the entire report for review. MPD was also perplexed that Human Rights Watch (HRW) asked for feedback on a 16 month investigation within three business days. Most disturbing is that in conversations subsequent to receiving the letter, HRW has showed no interest in working cooperatively with MPD to improve sexual assault investigations.
She continues later in the letter:
The department is concerned that the letter, and presumably the report, use unsupported and uncorroborated allegations as a basis for its conclusions. In many of the cases it appears that the allegation is not being made by the sexual abuse victim but by advocates and/or hospital staff. MPD does not automatically discredit the reports by advocates and hospital staff but in the letter it us unclear of the context in which these allegations were reported to these third parties.
If the letter in any way resembles the full investigation, we believe the matter needs further investigation to support and/or substantiate the allegations that you have made.
In the letter sent to Lanier, Darehshori cited three instances as key examples of police complacency. In all three cases the alleged victims had been severely intoxicated and remembered nothing. Furthermore, there was no evidence of penetration of any kind in all three cases. Darehshori contended that since the police dismissed the cases based on the fact that there was nothing to report they had mishandled them and treated the alleged victims poorly.
The MPD set up a web page dedicated to addressing the controversy in response to the criticism of its performance. On this page are copies of correspondence between MPD and Human Rights Watch. Also available on this page is an embargoed copy of the Human Rights Watch report entitled “A Capitol Offence” which the MPD posted on January 20, much to the consternation of Human Rights Watch. Until that date the MPD had no access to the report despite repeated requests for a copy. Lanier has said publicly that she has shared MPD data with Human Rights Watch since the onset of the controversy in order for them to produce a more accurate report, but no indication has been given by the organization as to whether or not they used it. While Lanier said that the data shared were forthcoming, Human Rights Watch has claimed they only got access to it after a lawsuit.
Human Rights Watch is a very well funded organization with a reported income in 2011 of $139,654,922, up from just $42,452,799 in 2010 according to its 990 IRS form dated April 7 of last year, an increase of $97,202,123. The overwhelming proportion of the increase was from contributions and grants which were reported to be $134,174,146 in 2011, up from $39,220,034 in 2010 according to the same document. [source: Guidestar]
Its total current assets are $212,033,446 and the CEO’s salary is $800,000 a year, drawing much criticism from many of its individual contributors. They do not publish a breakdown of grants and contributions they receive.
The organizations scope of interests is wide, with topics including everything from genocide to human trafficking and political corruption. Before becoming Senior Council of the U.S. Program, Darehshori was senior counsel in Human Rights Watch’s International Justice program where she worked on international justice issues relating to Darfur, Serbia and the International Criminal Court, according to their website.
She now focuses on research and advocacy on issues relating to police handling of sexual assault cases in the United States, including work on the rape kit backlog.
Contrary to the impression Human Rights Watch gives in its report the MPD has an established record of improving it’s handling of sexual assault cases during Lanier’s time as Chief. In 2008, after a highly publicized case in which an alleged victim was not able to get a rape kit performed due to inconsistencies in evidence collection, the MPD centralized its forensic examination routine at Med Star Washington Medical Center where all those reporting a sexual assault go to have a rape kit performed according to Laniers correspondence with Darehshori.
The department also shored up its Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. Since last year there has been a 50% increase in reported sexual assaults which the Lanier points out as an indication victims are feeling much more comfortable coming to the police with their stories. Recently a new web based reporting instrument on the MPD website was launched where victims can critique the performance of officers responding to their reports.
The Chief has stated her primary concern in the face of this controversy is that victims will loose hard earned confidence in the MPD and shy away from reporting due to the report.
Lanier herself is an impressive individual. She worked her way up from being a high school dropout and unwed mother at 15, to earning multiple degrees, including a Masters in National Security — as well as moving up from foot patrolman through the ranks to Chief of Police.
Concerns about the methodologies and perhaps motivation of the Human Rights Watch report may be confirmed in the reports first recommendation, which reads as follows.
Pass the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA). While the bill never reached the President last year, separate versions of VAWA before both the Senate and House in 2012 funded training for law enforcement agencies on how to improve investigation of sexual assault cases and on how to appropriately treat victims. The bills also provided grants to help appoint victim counselors for the prosecution of sexual assault cases.
This first recommendation has nothing to do with the MPD. It is national level legislation which was in full effect during the entire period covered in the HRW report. Given that, it is impossible to consider VAWA ameliorative of the problems the report purports to highlight.
Also, the timing and venue for this is hard to ignore. Washington D.C. is the focal point of national legislation like VAWA, as well as the controversies that surround it. In recent years progress has been made by organizations such as Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE) to reform domestic violence legislation, as proven by the current battle in congress to re-authorize the legislation.
It can arguably be stated that Human Rights Watch, undoubtedly a major player in the sexual grievance industry, has chosen the Washington Metropolitan Police Department as a target, not because they have a special or significant problem with the way the handle sexual assault claims, but because Washington D.C. is the focal point of the battle over VAWA, a matter unrelated to the HRW report.
However, if they can give the impression that there is a major problem with the handling of sexual assault cases in Congresses’ own back yard, and create the illusion that re-authorization of VAWA would ameliorate that problem, they can influence the outcome over the Congressional battle.
In short, the whole thing stinks of VAWA politics. The Chief, however, is giving them a run for the money.