October 23, 2005 — The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization, believes that the FBI's report of an increase in reported rapes may actually be good news. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, released this week, rapes reported to police increased 0.8 percent, to 94,635, in 2004. Since 2000, FBI totals show rapes reported to police up nearly 5 percent.
It is important to note that the FBI report measures only rapes that are reported to police, not the total number of rapes. Since 2000, the overall number of sexual assaults — including those reported to police and those not — dropped by 22 percent, according to the US Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, the nation's most detailed crime measure. Meanwhile, the percentage of sexual assaults that are reported to police has risen dramatically, to 42 percent in the last four years, up from 31 percent in the prior four years.
"Rape victims who receive counseling are more likely to report their assault to police," said Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of RAINN, citing academic studies. "This upward trend in the FBI statistics matches the trend of increased calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline," which is operated by RAINN.
In September, the national hotline helped 13,983 people, the highest demand since the hotline's inception in 1994, while thousands more victims called their local rape crisis centers directly. Average monthly calls to the national hotline have increased more than 87 percent since 2000. Callers to the National Sexual Assault Hotline are routed to one of 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country, where they receive free, confidential services 24/7.
In the last decade, the US has experienced an unprecedented decline in the number of sex crimes; the total is down by 58 percent since 1993. Experts attribute the decline to improvements in the criminal justice system and improved public attitudes and awareness. "Crime policies in recent years have led to more criminals being locked up and longer sentences. The result is fewer potential rapists on the streets, and fewer sexual assaults," said Berkowitz.
"We have also seen an increased awareness among young women, who are four times more likely than any other group to be the victims of rape and sexual assault," he continued. "They are more aware of the risks and better equipped to protect themselves, in part due to the education efforts of groups like RAINN and its local partners."
Meanwhile, education has led to a better public understanding of the issue. The norm used to be that victims faced skeptical questions about what they were wearing and how they acted after reporting a rape to police. Now, more and more, rape is treated as the violent crime it is, with the emphasis on the actions of the rapist, not the victim. This helps create an environment where victims are more likely to report sexual assaults, thereby increasing law enforcement’s ability to prosecute and convict rapists.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization, operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE, in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual assault, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice. For more information about RAINN, please visit www.rainn.org.