As crime drops overall, sexual assault has become the latest focus for the New York Police Department, says the Village Voice. Whether that police effort is bearing fruit depends on where one lives and how much stock one puts in the official numbers. Rape for Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been akin to what murder was for Rudy Giuliani. Stubbornly resisting the free fall that characterized the other six “index” crimes and spiking during Bloomberg’s first months as mayor, rape received special attention from City Hall. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly named a citywide commander for the Special Victims Units throughout the five boroughs. The mayor OK’d a pilot program of Sexual Assault Response Teams (SARTs) in Bronx hospitals and is now expanding it citywide.
From 2004 to 2005 the citywide rape numbers fell 5.4 percent. The Voice says that the real-world significance of the rape numbers is doubtful. “Rape is probably the most underreported crime there is,” says Nancy Schwartzman, founder of Safestreets, who is making a film about her experiences as a victim. “So when you see a number, you know that there’s a story behind every number, and God knows how many aren’t being reported.” Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan says most of the reported rapes he’s seeing are statutory in nature. There’s no force involved; instead, the issue is that “even though they believe they’re consenting, the law doesn’t permit someone of a certain age to consent,” Donovan says. National estimates of the proportion of rapes that are reported range from 16 to about 30 percent. The reasons for victims’ silence are obvious: the stigma attached to the crime, the fear of being blamed, or the fact that the attacker is someone you know, as is the case in the vast majority of rapes. So when the number of reported rapes fluctuates, it’s possible that what’s changing is the tendency of people to report attacks, not the tendency of criminals to commit them.