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Rapes largely underreported

Rapes largely underreported

June 23rd, 2013 in News

In Cole County, three rapes were reported in 2012. In Jefferson City, it was 14. At Lincoln University, it was one.

But those figures, from the Jefferson City Police Department and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, show only a portion of a greater issue of rape and sexual assault in the area.

A report released late last week by the World Health Organization found 35 percent of women around the world have been raped or physically abused.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported to the police nationally between 1992 and 2000.

Kevin Kempker, crime prevention officer with the Jefferson City Police Department, said though those types of statistics are never completely accurate, he knows a majority of those types of crimes go unreported.

"Any numbers you come up with are subjective," Kempker said. "You really can't rely on statistics ... (but) there are a lot of cases that I'm certain we don't hear about whatsoever."

While only three rapes and no attempted rapes were reported in Cole County in 2012, the Rape and Abuse Crisis Service, or RACS, reported that one-third of their 146 hotline calls from sexual assault victims were in Cole County in that same year. Of the 234 total victims who received individual counseling from RACS in 2012, 92 were from Cole County and 42 of those victims were identified as sexual assault victims.

"These larger percentages seem to be indicative of the numbers of victims not reporting their crime to law enforcement," said Jim Clardy, executive director of RACS. "More victims are being served than are reporting."

Pam Otto, volunteer and outreach coordinator at RACS, said victims choose not to report a rape or sexual assault for a variety of reasons. Often victims are afraid of reprisals from their attackers, especially when it was someone they know.

Kempker said it's tougher for victims to report a rape or sexual assault when the attacker is an intimate partner, a husband or a boyfriend.

Sometimes, it's a fear of how people in their life will react, whether they will be treated differently, or if they would ever be able to date again, Otto said.

"If they're going to be believed is a really big one," Otto said.

Sometimes the person who raped them is someone they care about, she said, and they don't want to get the attacker in trouble. And very often, the victims simply are blaming themselves for what happened.

"I've never been to the hospital with a rape victim who did not blame herself," Otto said. "To me, that's the most tragic part."

Kempker agreed, saying many victims who choose not to report believe they played a role in what happened.

"They feel some sense of humiliation," Kempker said. "And they were partly to blame or at fault, which they shouldn't."

Another issue is for those who do choose to prosecute and go through the court process, they often find themselves re-victimized, Otto said.

"Rape victims are re-victimized by the system; it's the way our system was set up," Otto said. "The defense attorney is going to deliberately question everything about her and make her look bad and make her feel worse about herself. A lot of times, rape victims just don't feel strong enough to go through that."

Otto said when a victim seeks services from RACS and chooses not to report, she or he receives full support from the staff.

"We totally support them in whatever choice they make," she said. "We don't try to convince them one way or the other."

Kempker said it's a tough issue to handle when a victim does not want to move forward with reporting or prosecuting. There's only so much the police can do in those cases, he said. Every case is pursued to the fullest extent possible, but without a cooperating victim or witness, it's difficult to successfully close a case, he said.

"We try to handle it as delicately as we can," Kempker said. "It's unfortunate, though, sometimes they're not willing, victims or witnesses to those offenses, and we have to do the best we can with the little information that we have."

Otto said though a victim receives full support from RACS in any decision they make, the staff knows the best thing for everyone is for the attacker to be prosecuted.

"We know, just like law enforcement knows, this person who raped them is going to do this again to someone else, if not to the same person again," Otto said. "It's in everyone's best interest to get this person prosecuted and punished for what they've done. But not every victim is in a place in their lives where they're able to assist with that."

Otto said most rapes occur by someone who knows the victim. And it's important for women to know that not all rapes occur through violence or threats.

"Coercion is not the same thing as consent," Otto said. "If I don't feel safe saying no, yes doesn't mean anything."

Rape, sexual assault

in the military

In early April, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill met with officials with the Missouri National Guard to discuss sexual assaults in the military. She attended a roundtable discussion at the Ike Skelton Training Center to hear about the policies and procedures they have in place to address the issue.

McCaskill has introduced legislation to make reforms to the Uniform Code of Military Justice to prohibit commanders from vacating or nullifying a jury verdict and require written justification from a commander for any decision to commute or lessen a sentence after a guilty verdict in court martials.

Maj. Kimberlee Cluck, who acts as the sexual assault response coordinator for the Missouri National Guard, said any changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice would not affect the Guard, as they do not fall under the jurisdiction of that code. Each state has its own statutes to govern that states' Guard, she said.

Cluck said though the issue of rapes and sexual assaults in the military has become a widely discussed and reported issue, it's no different than the issue in the civilian world.

"At one time, it was thought or purported to be more in the military," Cluck said. "Recent studies have shown that it's pretty much the same in the military as it is in the civilian population as a whole."

Cluck said a fiscal year 2012 estimate, done through anonymous surveys, found 53 percent to 54 percent of sexual assaults in the military were against men, who largely are less inclined to file a report.

"Men have the additional stigma of "are they going to think I'm gay.' And the men are vastly underreporting more than the women," Cluck said. "There's a lot of stigma with coming forward."

Cluck said the Guard has been aggressively addressing the issue of sexual assaults through training and services focused on treating victims.

"It will not be tolerated," Cluck said.

Cluck said she could not comment on the number of rapes or sexual assaults reported in the Missouri National Guard.