A new Defense Department program called Catch a Serial Offender, or "CATCH," aims to make it more difficult for perpetrators of sexual assault to evade identification and capture by law enforcement.
While the new tool isn't good news for offenders, it's expected to allow victims making a restricted report of sexual assault — a reporting mechanism that allows a victim to remain confidential — to help investigators do a better job of finding wrongdoers and bring them to justice.
"Victims of sexual assault deserve our best support and resources," said Dr. Nate Galbreath, acting director of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. "We're excited for the launch of CATCH, which will empower victims to disclose information about their assailant or assault in a safe and confidential way."
Sexual aggressors don't always limit themselves to just one victim, said Galbreath, a forensic psychologist who has assessed and treated a variety of offenders. What's more typical, he said, is that they tend to commit multiple assaults over time.
"Research suggests that some suspects commit multiple incidents before being reported or caught. With the launch of the CATCH Program, the department has a new tool to identify these suspects," Galbreath said.
DOD's new CATCH Program allows victims of sexual assault who've opted to file a restricted report to anonymously put the details of the assault into an online repository. Details can include such things as the name of the perpetrator, rank, height, tattoos or other distinguishing factors. Both recent victims and those from years past can participate in the program, Galbreath said.
"What's great about this new program is that both currently serving and veteran service members who made a restricted report can participate," he said. "We hope that those who have since left the service will consider contacting a sexual assault response coordinator and opt into CATCH."
The CATCH Program database is accessible worldwide. As a new entry into CATCH is created in one location, the details regarding the perpetrator can be compared to the details of other unrestricted reports of sexual assault that have happened elsewhere at other times.
Victims of sexual assault remain anonymous when they volunteer to add information into the CATCH Program. After details of an alleged assault are entered into the system, it's criminal investigators at the headquarters of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations — not agents at local installations — who analyze suspect information that has been entered. These investigators will never know the name of the victim.
If those agents find a "match," which means that one victim's submission describing a suspect matches the submission of another victim's suspect — then those investigators will notify Sexual Assault Prevention and Response personnel of their findings.
Once that notification is made, a CATCH Program representative or a sexual assault response coordinator will contact the victims to let them know. Victims can then use the new information to decide whether they want to convert their restricted report to an unrestricted report, which will allow a criminal investigation into the assault allegations to go forward.
If victims choose not to convert their restricted report to an unrestricted report, they continue to be anonymous — their names are never revealed. CATCH submissions remain in the system for up to 10 years.
"We are constantly looking for new ways to empower victims to participate in the military justice process through our Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs," said Elizabeth Van Winkle, executive director of DOD's Office of Force Resiliency. "We encourage greater reporting to connect victims with the care they need and as a way to hold offenders appropriately accountable."
For more information on the CATCH program, go to https://www.sapr.mil/catch.