Reported incidents of rape and sexual assault have risen in the South Bay over the past year, and experts think the increase is at least partially related to victims’ growing willingness to tell police about the crimes.
That’s one of the findings in the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s latest annual overview of crimes in the region. The report, which looks at data from 2018, also found that more Gilroy residents are charged with a crime than in almost every other ZIP code in the county, and both violent and juvenile offenses are on the rise.
In 2018, 1,982 Gilroy residents were charged by the DA’s office with one or more crimes, according to the report. The only neighborhood that produced more criminal defendants was downtown San Jose, where 2,052 residents were charged in 2018.
The study noted a correlation between the prevalence of crime in certain ZIP codes and socioeconomic factors in those neighborhoods, such as poverty. “Looking more closely at our defendant ZIP codes, we find that defendants most commonly reside in poorer, more dangerous and less healthy neighborhoods,” the DA’s analysis states.
Victims More Likely to Report
The DA’s annual assessment also found that while reports of sexual assaults are on the rise in Santa Clara County, authorities are encouraged that victims are seemingly more likely to alert authorities about their assailant or rapist than they have in the past.
“These statistics are an invaluable tool in our efforts to prevent sexual assault and other violent crimes,” DA Jeff Rosen says. “We are ever hopeful that more survivors will come forward to let their powerful voices be heard and help us protect our community.”
In 2018, the DA’s office filed charges for 279 sexual assault cases. These include charges of assault with intent to commit sexual act, rape, statutory rape, pimping, pandering, aggravated sexual assault, child sexual assault and other related crimes. In 2017, the number of such filings was 268. In 2016, sexual assault charge filings was up to 284.
The San Jose Police Department alone fielded 615 reports of rape in 2018, according to the DA. That number has been steadily increasing since 2011; in 2017, there were 571 rapes reported in San Jose.
Part of the increase may owed to federal authorities updating the definition of rape in 2014 to broaden the types of cases counted. That redefining of the crime might explain some of the recent years’ increase, but experts agree that victims are also more likely to come forward with allegations than ever before.
Alarmingly, the clearance rate for sexual assault cases handled by SJPD has dropped by half from 12.5 percent in 2017-18 to just 6.7 percent this year.
Erica Elliott, a sexual assault and prevention program manager of Community Solutions, says rape and sexual assault used to be a “taboo topic that people were hidden from.”
More recently, she explains, the public discussion of sexual assault in almost all forms of media has become commonplace, bolstered by the “#MeToo” movement and other efforts to support victims.
Federal authorities have enacted more laws in recent years supporting victims, further encouraging survivors to talk about their incidents, according to Elliott.
“Having those conversations helps people,” she says. “When I grew up, I was taught it was a stranger in a scary van. But realistically, 90 percent of sexual assaults happen by people we know and trust. It can happen to anybody. People’s response to ... victims has become generally a lot more positive, where I used to hear a lot more victim blaming.”
Elliott further notes that advocates and law enforcement have increasingly looked into the “intersectionality” of sexual assault with other crimes, adding to authorities’ ability to record and prosecute such incidents. For example, Elliott says, “many domestic violence survivors have also experienced sexual assault.”
Other Crime Findings
Below are some other notable findings in the DA’s annual report.
• Juvenile crime rose by about 25 percent in Santa Clara County, with 798 minors charged with a crime in 2018, compared to 592 in 2017.
• Juvenile crimes showing the biggest increase from 2017 to 2018 are robbery (238 charges in 2018 for a 98 percent increase) and carjacking (79 charges in 2018 for a 182 percent increase).
• The DA’s office prosecutes Latino and black residents at a higher rate than these groups are represented in the county overall. Asian and Pacific Islander residents are prosecuted at a rate lower than their percentage of the overall county’s population.
• Charges for violent felonies (robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, felony assault) totaled 847 in 2018, compared to 805 in 2017. In 2016, the DA’s office filed 709 charges for violent felonies. The report says the increase in violent crime is “driven primarily by a marked increase in reported rapes and robberies.”
By the Numbers
7,046: Felony cases filed in 2018 (up from 6,715 in 2017)
29,902: Misdemeanor cases filed in 2018 (up from 29,462 in 2017)
279: Sexual assault charges filed in 2018
268: Sexual assault charges filed in 2017