APD officers get sex assault training in response to rape joke

Austin police are still taking action to repair the damaging words of two patrol officers who were recorded joking about rape while on duty. The department recently trained officers about the role the brain plays when it comes to victims of sexual assault.

Last fall, an Austin attorney came across a conversation between two Austin police officers where they appeared to be joking about rape.

"Go ahead and call the cops, they can't unrape you," said one of the officers.

Both were suspended for several days.

The department recently held a special sexual assault victim sensitivity training class for officers. It featured research about how the brain responds to trauma.

"This is our proactive response in regards to our officers making such a heinous comment," said Lt. Gena Curtis.

Lt. Gena Curtis oversees the sex crimes unit at APD. She says one thing officers were taught is the "freeze mode" that some victims go into. She says it's not just fight or flight.

"The freeze is almost in the eyes of some, succumbing to something, that you're just giving in because you don't necessarily have it in you to flee because you're not able. And many times you're not able to fight," said Curtis. "So the fight and flight are off so you just give into the circumstances and try to sustain whatever is happening to you at the time and being able to survive that come out of it and tell your story so that we can have the proper authorities involved to pursue and investigation and bring an offender to justice."

In some "freeze" cases it may first appear the individual was a willing participant, but in actuality they weren't. Curtis says officers also got a refresher on the fact that no two victims are the same. It's information that she hopes will make its way to every patrol officer who will respond to these traumatic calls.

"It was about the total impact. First responders how they have that first reaction or interaction with that survivor, based on that your investigation at that point can go in any direction. It either ceases because that person closed off or you open up a dialog in which they want to continue to articulate if not all at that time they'll come back to you later," said Curtis.

Rose Luna is the spokesperson for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. The organization recognized Curtis as the Champion for Social Change at its banquet last week for being a trailblazer when it comes to finding new ways to serve victims.

"You start by believing the victim and acknowledging what happened to them. And then asking questions and then understanding that because of the role of trauma in the brain their account of events may not be consistent, because it takes time for that to come through. Don't discount victims when they can't remember everything from start to end," said Luna.

Luna is thankful officers are receiving more training.

"To hear the rape jokes by an officer it didn't sit well and it was disheartening. We were proud of APD for addressing that and taking those steps to education," said Luna.

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