D.C.’s violent crime down in 2010, but rapes increased by 25 percent

By Theola Labbé-DeBose

Violent crime in the District is down, echoing national trends, but rapes in the city increased by almost 25 percent in 2010, according to federal statistics released Monday.

According to the FBI’s annual report “Crime in the United States,” there were 187 rapes in the District in 2010, compared with 150 in 2009, a 25 percent increase. Nationally over the same period, rapes decreased by 5 percent, from 89,241 to 84,767.

The local figures represent 2010 statistics that D.C. police reported to the FBI. Federal officials annually compile statistics sent by local law enforcement agencies that participate in the agency’s voluntary Uniform Crime Reporting program.

Maryland had 71 more rapes in 2010 than the year before, a 6 percent increase statewide that put the total for that year at 1,227. In Virginia, the number of rapes decreased by 40, or 3 percent, bringing the total to 1,532.

The offense is officially termed “forcible rape” by the FBI, and it is defined in the report as forced sexual intercourse and any attempts to force sexual intercourse on a woman.

In the District, rape remains stubbornly resistant to efforts to combat it. D.C. police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said Monday that the 2010 rape figures were on par with past years.

“Although we have seen an increase in forcible rapes between 2009 and 2010, the number of reported forcible rapes in 2010 is consistent with figures reported in 2006, 2007 and 2008,” Crump said.

Crump said that in many cases, the perpetrator and the victim know each other, and the relationship includes past violence. “We continue to conduct outreach to empower victims and encourage them to report offenses. We also conduct outreach at local colleges and universities,” Crump said.

But Denise Snyder, executive director of the DC Rape Crisis Center, said she was surprised by the numbers.

“That’s bad news,” said Snyder, who attributed the increase to two possible factors: increases in the number of women attacked and increased reporting after attacks.

Snyder said that the city has coordinated an improved response to rape. Washington Hospital Center has specially trained nurses who are always on call to examine rape victims and collect evidence; in the past, a victim might wait hours until an emergency room doctor was free. The rape crisis center is one of several participants in monthly meetings with D.C. police, the U.S. attorney’s office and other parties to talk about trends in rape cases, how they are handled and what areas need improvement.

“The communication is working better now than at any other time,” said Snyder, who has led the Rape Crisis Center for 25 years.

Still, because of the intimate nature of the crime, the reluctance of victims to report it and the continued stigma against rapists and victims, the issue is less openly discussed than crimes such as robberies, burglaries and murders.

“One of the struggles of law enforcement is that homicide gets top billing in terms of publicity and resources. . . . Sexual assault is often not given the resources that are needed in law enforcement,” Snyder said.

Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, raised the issue of increased sexual violence at the beginning of the year. He said Monday that police officials kept quiet about the spike last year because of the mayoral election. Officials should have told the public months ago about the increase in rapes, he added.

Crump called any suggestion of political motives “ridiculous,” adding that D.C. police “encourage the public to report crimes, and we publicly report crimes that are reported to us.”

Overall, violent crime nationwide is down 6 percent, and it decreased in the District by 1 percent. Property crime also decreased nationwide by 3 percent; in the District, it rose 1 percent.

“Where is the long-term or even mid-term strategy to address the fact that we can’t even keep up with the national trends?” Baumann said.

Crump said the department is aware of the recent increase in burglaries. “Among other tactics that we cannot specify, we have increased patrols in neighborhoods,” Crump said.

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