Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training


Approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will experience sexual assault in their lifetime.1 In addition, 97 out of 100 rapists never see a day in jail.2

From 2014-2017, the IACP with support from the Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), conducted 26 on-site training's to over 1,300 participants on Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation. This project better equipped law enforcement to understand the complexities of sexual assault through training centered on the neurobiological impact of trauma, the influence of societal myths and stereotypes, understanding perpetrator behavior, and conducting effective investigations. Funding for this grant ended March 2017.

At present, crimes of sexual assault go vastly under reported and perpetrators continue undetected. By using the lens of trauma, participants of the two-day training strengthened their response to survivors of sexual assault while simultaneously holding offenders more accountable. The IACP worked with departments and agencies to assess the specific violence against women training needs for their agency and community.


The goal of the Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training program was to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement to provide effective response to victims of sexual assault. At the completion of the Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training, law enforcement officers were able to:

  1. Describe how specific experiences impact victim trauma, memory, reactions and behavior and how officer interpretation of this behavior impacts sexual assault investigations.
  2. Explain how key decisions made by law enforcement impact the progression of a sexual assault investigation.
  3. Understand that victim disclosure often occurs in pieces over time and identify strategies for working with victims to facilitate trust and communication.
  4. Employ strategies that postpone judgment regarding the validity of a case until a thorough investigation is completed.
  5. Identify investigative methods and techniques that focus on offender behavior.
  6. Conduct victim interviews and document sexual assault cases utilizing physical, psychological and sensory evidence to effectively build a strong case.
  7. Recognize potential sources of officer bias and ways to mitigate its impact on reports.
  8. Make case coding and clearing decisions based on analysis of evidence identified through a thorough investigation.


The following clips feature Dr. Rebecca Campbell, a Professor of Psychology and Program Evaluation at Michigan State University, speaking at the National Institute of Justice. She examines the underlying neurobiology of traumatic events, its emotional and physical manifestation, and how these processes can impact the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults.

YouTube clips of Dr. Rebecca Campbell
NIJ interview clip 
NIJ presentation slideshow w/audio


Sexual Assault Training Video: Bringing Sexual Assault Offenders to Justice, IACP
Sexual Assault Guidelines, IACP
Sexual Assault Supplemental Report Form, IACP
The Brain, Body, and Trauma, NSVRC
Neurobiology of Trauma, Dr. David Lisak (ACASA)
Article on Fight, Flight, or Freeze Response (Tonic Immobility), Dr. Rebecca Campbell (Joyful Heart Foundation)


The Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training project has received support from the following organizations:

Also with support from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the IACP's National Law Enforcement Leadership Initiative (NLELI) builds the leadership capacity of sworn law enforcement executives across the United States on violence against women crimes, strengthening the commitment of law enforcement officers to respond to these crimes, and enhancing the ability of communities to respond to victims. For more information on this initiative and its associated trainings and resources, please visit the NLELI page.

For more information on the IACP's Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training efforts, contact Aviva Kurash at or 800-843-4227 ext. 809. Funding for this grant has ended and on-site training is no longer offered.