Rape Is Way Up in Dallas, Only Partly Because the FBI Made Police Keep Better Count

The first three months of 2014 have been exceptionally peaceful ones in Dallas. Robberies have dropped by 15 percent compared with the same period last year. Aggravated assaults are down 12 percent, murders a whopping 30 percent. There are still nine months to go, but the city is on pace for the second year in a row to have its safest year since 1966.

There's one exception, and it's a big one: Sexual assaults have jumped an alarming 37 percent over last year, from 82 to 112.

Not to worry, Dallas Police Chief David Brown told the City Council's Public Safety Committee this morning. This is "not a true depiction of what's happening with sexual assault. It's more of a reporting, [an] accounting increase."

That much is true. Last year, the FBI implemented a new policy changing what incidents police departments are required to report as rape. Before, it was defined rather archaically as "The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will."

As the FBI noted in a May 2013 FAQ, "Many agencies interpreted this definition as excluding a long list of sex offenses that are criminal in most jurisdictions, such as offenses involving oral or anal penetration, penetration with objects, and rapes of males."

The new definition -- "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." -- requires departments to present a more accurate accounting of sexual assault in their crime reports.

Brown didn't delve into the new or old definition of rape, but reassured council member that the change has no impact on how victims are treated or rapists are prosecuted. If the FBI were still using the old definition, Brown said, the number of sexual assaults in Dallas would be flat.

It's not clear that's actually the case.

"The numbers are still up," says Bobbie Villareal, executive director of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.

At Presbyterian Hospital, where the organization is based, the number of women seeking treatment for sexual assault is up roughly 20 percent in the first three months of 2014 compared with the same period last year. The number of rapes being committed by strangers has increased, as has the number committed by those known to the victim. The number of rapists with multiple victims has also increased. There's been an increase across all categories of sexual assault, Villareal says, and not just at Presby. Parkland and the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council have reported similar trends.

It's hard to tell how much of this is an increase in reporting and how much is an increase in the number of incidents, but it is "not good news," Villareal says. It's certainly not the non-event Brown described to council.

What is good news is that the sexual assaults statistics compiled by Dallas PD and departments across the country now offer a much more accurate reflection of what's actually going on.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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