Officials debate cause of a 150% increase in reported rapes in the neighborhood. This article was first published in the Chelsea News on Nov. 17, 2015.
Crime statistics in Chelsea show a 150 percent rise in reports of rape in the neighborhood, but it’s unclear whether attacks are increasing or if the spike is attributable to more victims coming forward to report the crime.
The NYPD’s 10th Precinct, in a recent weekly statistical analysis, revealed that there have been 10 reported cases of rape in Chelsea through Nov. 1, compared to four reported cases this time last year. Last year there were seven reported cases of rape in total in the 10th Precinct, which covers 14th Street to 43rd Street west of 7th Avenue in the southern half of the precinct and west of 9th Avenue in the northern half.
But without input from the police, who did not return multiple requests for more information, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the rise in reported cases of rape in the neighborhood.
Amy Edelstein, the Staten Island director of community programs for Safe Horizon, an organization that provides crisis recovery services for victims of violence, including sexual assault and rape victims, attributes the spike to a positive change in the reporting process for rape victims.
“It doesn’t seem to be that sexual assault is happening at a greater number,” said Edelstein. “There are lots of factors that can cause those numbers to go up.”
Those factors include an improved response protocol from the NYPD in which members of the department’s special victims squad, who are trained to work with sexual assault and rape victims, are on call 24 hours a day to respond to reports of sex crimes.
Mary Haviland, the executive director of the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault, isn’t sure what to make of the increased reports of sexual assault in Chelsea.
“It’s so hard to tell whether it’s reporting or attacks [that are increasing],” she said. “We’ve been pushing reporting for the last few years and there’s been a lot of coverage of sexual assault and I think it’s less shameful and I hope a little less dangerous to come forward, in terms of your reputation or the possibility of being re-traumatized.”
Haviland said she checked with officials at the Lenox Hill Healthplex, on 7th Avenue and West 13th Street, and was told they’ve seen an increase in rape victims during the month of November.
“They have noticed an uptick in [rape] cases. They usually get one a month or so and in the last few weeks they got four,” said Haviland.
The Lenox Hill Healthplex, which provides services for sexual assault victims through their rape crisis center, could not be reached directly for comment by press time.
Haviland said she’s in regular contact with the head of the NYPD’s special victims division, “and he’s of the opinion that a lot of this is an increase in reporting rather than an increase in incidents. And the [NYPD] is making a significant effort to try to increase the reporting and to make sure they’re charging people accurately.”
The NYPD on Monday announced the arrest of a serial sexual predator operating on the Lower East Side, who allegedly attacked three women in a single day, including the attempted rape of one of the women.
That area of Manhattan seems to be at the epicenter of an even larger spike in reported cases of rape. The 5th Precinct, which covers the neighborhoods of Two Bridges, Chinatown and Little Italy, reported a 200 percent spike in reported cases of rape over the same time last year. According to 5th Precinct statistics there have been nine reported cases compared to three the same time last year.
The man arrested Monday for the sexual assault spree police say occurred on Nov. 12 attacked women on Broome Street and James Street, though none of the crimes police say he committed would be included in the crime statistics report ending Nov. 1.
And the fifth and tenth precincts are hardly alone in showing a rise in reported cases of rape. Three out of the four precincts adjacent to the 10th Precinct in Chelsea are all showing moderate to sharp increases in such reports, anywhere from 30 percent in the Midtown South Precinct, covering the Garment District and Koreatown, to 56 percent in the Midtown North Precinct, which covers the Theater District and the West Side.
With 17 reported rapes through Nov. 1 of this year, the 13th Precinct, which covers Union Square, Gramercy Park and Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, is showing a 55 percent increase over the same time period last year, in which 11 were reported. There were a total of 12 reported rapes in the 13th Precinct last year.
Councilmember Corey Johnson, who represents Chelsea, said it’s important for victims of sexual violence to seek help, and pointed to Safe Horizon’s hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE as well as the Center for Anti-Violence Education, which can be reached at 718-788-1775.
“Rape is a most heinous crime and we must use every tool at our disposal to combat it,” said Johnson. “Our strategies must include education, outreach, empowerment, law enforcement and support services for survivors.”
Edelstein of Safe Horizon said there are several reasons why victims of sexual violence don’t come forward.
“They fear not being believed,” she said. “They may have had a negative experience disclosing the situation to people they know or police in the past.”
Edelstein said victims can also have a fear of being retaliated upon, as the vast majority of rape victims know their attacker, or a fear of being re-traumatized by law enforcement during the reporting process. However, the reporting process, from the hospital or trauma center to law enforcement, has improved along with attitudes towards victims of sexual assault.
“I’d say there’s been a shift in attitudes,” she said, noting especially an increased awareness and acceptance that intimate partner violence exists. “People are becoming more tolerant of hearing about that.”
“But we’re not anywhere near where we should be,” she added. “I think we still see some of the same challenges as to why people aren’t reporting.”