Hope is CATCHing

  • Published
  • By Rebecca Ward
  • A1Z

It may be too early to judge the effectiveness of a new Department of Defense program known as “CATCH,” but several sexual assault response coordinators are already convinced of its merits. “CATCH” is short for Catch a Serial Offender, which rolled out last August for the Air Force and other military branches. Victims who have filed a restricted report can enter detailed information about an assault into a DoD database without risking the confidentiality of their restricted report.

“The victim’s identity is completely confidential,” said Marta Sivert, violent crimes program manager at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

“The program was initiated to assist victims who are reporting restricted to provide information regarding their incident or assailant anonymously to assist in identifying perpetrators, those who are committing multiple offenses,” she said.

Laurie Scudder, a SARC at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, says she believes the program is a success overall for simply allowing victims who file a restricted report the option of identifying offenders.

“During my time with the SAPR Program, almost 13yrs, there have been a number of restricted reports I’ve received with the same offender. This database provides an opportunity to identify these offenders in a way where the victim is still being given a certain level of protection with a restricted report,” Scudder said.

Although the CATCH database has not yet led to the apprehension of a repeat offender, Michael Starkey, the SARC at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, is equally enthused with the program. He said so far they have a 100% participation rate from victims who are filing restricted reports.

“It’s just another positive addition that keeps us moving forward with the mission. The way we look at it right now, only time will tell if it’s a positive move towards justice. But we’re already seeing victims feeling empowered by this process. So that in itself is a win already,” Starkey said.

Starkey’s colleague Teresa Perrin, a victim advocate, said she’s seeing participation from victims who filed restricted reports even before CATCH was available.

“As we go out, and we brief in different forums, they are coming in and saying, “hey I already have a restricted report, can I participate in this CATCH program?”” Perrin said. “So, I would say the enthusiasm is pretty high and that people are hopeful this will make a difference.”

Once a victim files a restricted report, they may, if they choose, receive a username and password to input information into the DoD’s database. SARCs cannot encourage participation in the CATCH program, but they do make the information available to victims filing a restricted report.

“Then they can put information in at their pace, and determine what they think needs to be shared regarding the offender,” said Starkey.

“And then, if there’s a match, then of course we hear from headquarters that there’s a match on a particular case. We’re the only ones who know who it’s assigned to. We’ll reach out to that victim then, and let them know there was a match, and ask them if they would be interested in going unrestricted at that time with that new information.”

Details provided by victims are compared with other entries in the CATCH database and with other law enforcement records. A victim will only be confidentially notified of a potential match if the details of their entry are similar to those of another case. The victim can then decide to participate in the investigative process by converting their restricted report to unrestricted, or decline to participate further. Even after declining a first match, the victim has the choice to be contacted again if there are additional future matches. The program might not be right for everyone, so victims are afforded an opportunity to discuss their decisions with their special victims counsel.

The program is completely voluntary, but Starkey feels it helps victims feel empowered by the process.

“They go through, they see the process, they see what we said was accurate and anytime we can strengthen their trust in the entire SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) process, we’re moving them forward as they transition to survivor,” Starkey said.

A note from a victim to Gail Reed-Attoh, program manager and installation SARC at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, is a testament to the potential the CATCH program has for helping victims move forward in that transition.

The victim wrote, “The CATCH program made me feel a sense of hopefulness, it gave me an alternative option to my case and it is truly a wonderful program. I want others to know that this is a resource that could ultimately help and it definitely helped me.”

Reed-Attoh said the victim “eventually converted her report to unrestricted,” even though she was not contacted with a match.

The CATCH Program is a law enforcement program aimed at helping the DoD identify serial offenders. For more information, visit the DoD website: https://www.sapr.mil/catch.