The #MeToo impact: FBI's crime report shows a spike in rape offenses, and experts say it may be a good thing
According to the latest report by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, nearly every category of violent crime has reduced considerably between 2017 and 2018, apart from rape offenses, which have seen an increase of 2.7 per cent. Here's why.
For consistently six years in a row, there has been a consistent spike in rape offenses. According to the latest report by the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, nearly every category of violent crime has reduced considerably between 2017 and 2018, apart from rape offenses, which have seen an increase of 2.7 per cent. The report also said that the arrest rate for rape was 7.7 per 100,000 residents. While this is a daunting number at face value, it may not be a terrible thing, say experts.
Multiple statistics have shown that rape is a notoriously underreported serious felony offense. According to data from the Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey from 2010-2017 a meager 230 out of every 1,000 rapes get reported to law enforcement while only 46 of them lead to arrests, according to FBI data. This means that 3 out of every 4 rape offenses go unreported.
There are a number of reasons why people choose not to report rape with 20 per cent fearing retaliation while 8 per cent felt that it wasn't crucial enough to be taken to the authorities. With the social atmosphere changing over the past couple of years with movements like #MeToo it has led to an increased number of women coming out with their sexual violence stories, and the stigma is slowly receding.
Increased reporting removes the stigma
"Increased reports of sexual assault do not necessarily mean that there has been an increase in the annual incidents of sexual assaults, but may indicate that more victims chose to disclose the sexual assault," said Erinn Robinson, spokesperson for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).
Increased reporting of sexual assault is encouraging, she said, as one victim's courage to seek justice would give another the same, resulting in perpetrators of sexual violence being held accountable for their actions.
The FBI report also noted that an estimated 1.2 million violent crimes were committed in 2018, which puts the rate at approximately 369 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. It has fallen by 3.9 percent said the report. According to Department of Justice data, 619 out of every 1,000 robberies and 627 out of every 1,000 felony-level assaults are reported annually. One of the biggest reasons why is that there is no stigma attached to reporting them.
Encouraging conversations about sexual assault helps to remove the long-standing stigma around discussing the issue within communities, said Toni Van Pelt, President of the National Organization for Women. "It also helps to alleviate some of the fears survivors may have of 'being alone' or 'not believed'," she said, "By beginning this conversation, we have adopted a sense of urgency and need to tackle the problem."
Increased visibility of rape offenses
When #MeToo exploded on social media and seeped its way into offline action in mid-2017, it became more than just a viral hashtag. Powerful perpetrators from every industry were dragged out into the public eye with victims speaking out about their experiences. Harvey Weinstein, once a star maker, faced over 80 allegations. Brett Kavanaugh, then on his way to becoming a Supreme Court Justice was accused of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. President Donald Trump was accused by more than 19 women of sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh got his seat, Weinstein is out on bail, and Trump is still in office.
While the impact of the movement on the ground may be debated as just another fad because of its lack of action, there is no denying that the impact is profound. It made sexual violence something that victims could talk about, irrespective of who the perpetrators were.
Documentaries like 'Leaving Neverland' and 'Surviving R. Kelly' only fueled this movement. The stories were visible.
According to Robinson, RAINN's victim services department sees an increase in reports to the National Sexual Assault Hotline when there is high profile media coverage of sexual assault cases.
"Last year there was a record number of calls to the NSAH during the media's coverage of the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, and then spikes in the Hotline calls after the documentaries on Michael Jackson and R Kelly in January," she said.
The media coverage of the incidents show how prevalent sexual assault is in our society and that victims deserve justice, she added. "We know that victims of sexual violence are watching these shows, and it can impact the way society responds to sexual violence and to victims."
What happens next?
The real challenge is prevention and accountability, Van Pelt says. Statistics from the Department of Justice say that out of every 1,000 accused of sexual assault, 995 will walk free. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail than other criminals in the violent offenses category.
"If every girl and woman trusted that they could get sympathetic help from parents, relatives, friends doctors, hospitals, every police station, every campus dean, every workplace HR office, every school teacher or counselor, every minister or priest or coach, the reporting would double or triple," Van Pelt noted saying that the government needs to do more and needs to protect all survivors of sexual violence.
A good place to start is by passing the proposed VAWA Reauthorization Act of 2019, she said. The House of Representatives passed a bill reauthorizing VAWA in April 2019. The bill includes new provisions protecting transgender victims and banning individuals convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms but has been ignored by the Senate.
Another step in the right direction would be the reauthorization of the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Act. When victims seek supportive care in the form of sexual assault forensic examinations through sexual assault kits, which are invasive and tough, they need to be assured that the perpetrator's DNA profile will be entered into CODIS, the FBI's DNA database.
Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Act would continue funding state labs to reduce the sexual assault kit backlog and identify sex offenders. It would help continue testing on unsolved crimes nationwide.
Along with this, there is a need to invest in grants to train more sexual assault nurse examiners and forensic medical practitioners who are so desperately needed in hospitals across the country, Robinson said. "Further, we encourage state governments to establish Sexual Assault Response Teams to investigate sexual assault cases in a trauma-informed manner that connects law enforcement, medical personnel, victim advocates and state prosecutors together as a team to support a victim through the whole process," she said.