LBPD cites changing social climate, victim advocacy as reasons for increase in reported rape cases

Estefania+Rebellon+%28center%29+along+with+other+activists+and+survivors%2C+march+at+the+the+second+annual+%23MeToo+Survivors+March+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+10%2C+2018+at+Hollywood+and+Highland.

Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune

Estefania Rebellon (center) along with other activists and survivors, march at the the second annual #MeToo Survivors March on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 at Hollywood and Highland.

Historically, rape and sexual assault has been an underreported crime nationally. According to data from the Department of Justice, approximately 80% of rape cases go unreported.

The Long Beach Police Department’s (LBPD) end-of-year statistics showed a rise in reported rape cases at the local and national level.

LBPD Lieutenant Gregory Schirmer told the Signal Tribune during an interview Tuesday, Jan. 21 that efforts between community groups and law enforcement to empower rape and sexual assault victims to come forward has caused a spike in the number of rape cases that actually get reported.

“The environment now, with advocacy groups, us and other law-enforcement agencies going out and working with these groups to try and empower victims to come forward, we do end up seeing increases within, and so the environment has made it easier for victims to report these offenses without the stigma that was perceived in the past,” he said. “So, that’s a good thing.”

To keep this trend going, the police department is continuing to work with advocacy groups such as the YWCA and other agencies to continue to support rape victims.

Schirmer said the department is planning to open up discussions about sexual assault during Denim Day in April–– a day when people are encouraged to wear denim clothing to raise awareness about the crime.

“We work with our school district, as well as the university and colleges here locally, to try and advocate and make sure that victims come forward and report sexual assault,” Schirmer said.

Reporting rape or sexual assault cases can go one of two ways depending on the crime, according to police.

If the crime occurred within 24 hours, a call is made to the department’s Sexual Assault Response (SAR) Team. The victim is then transferred to a local hospital where a forensic nurse will perform a SAR exam. Schirmer said that although victims have the right to decline the exam, it can provide officers with forensic evidence to persecute a suspect and an opportunity to offer the survivor with victim services.

In another example, Schirmer said a patrol officer would respond to a call concerning rape or sexual assault and would conduct a preliminary investigation. The case would then be passed on to a detective within the department’s Sex Crime Detail.

When asked how many cases actually convert into prosecutions, LBPD officials stated that the data is not collected and could not be made readily available. The LBPD’s end-of-year statistics also stated that a majority of reported incidents involved “known” suspects, and that factors contributing to the national increase in rape-related crimes are drugs, alcohol and delayed reporting of the crimes.

On the national scale, the #MeToo movement, which saw Hollywood celebrities speak out against Harvey Weinstein and the hearing of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has also acted as a catalyst for victims to report rape cases, and the affects are seen locally.

“I think those are larger incidents that help people understand,” Schirmer said.

The DOJ report stated that there are many reasons causing victims not to report rape or sexual assault to authorities. Victims often fear retaliation from either society or the perpetrator, causing 20% of cases to go unheard. Eight percent think reporting what happened isn’t important and 13% of victims said they doubted the police would help.

In response to those statistics, Schirmer said that although a negative stigma may still be perceived throughout society, the police can help victims seek the help they need.

“As far as whether police can do something, we absolutely can,” Schirmer said. “We advocate people coming forward to give us the information so we can investigate it and […] prosecute the people that are perpetrating these crimes.”

Victims of rape and sexual assault can contact the LBPD via 911 or by calling the police-dispatch line at (562) 435-6711.

More information can be found on the LBPD website.