Reported rapes in Balto. increase Police data show 1998 to reverse 1997 decline

August 04, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A rapid increase in the number of rapes reported in Baltimore this year threatens to wipe out a dramatic drop in 1997 -- when such attacks declined significantly for the first time in six years, according to Baltimore police records.

While they are not completely clear on the reasons, police suspect numbers are up because more women are coming forward to take advantage of a nearly 2-year-old police program designed to help and treat victims. It does not necessarily mean there is more violence against women, police say.

"I think the women are getting to the point when they know they don't have to take it anymore," said Detective Margaret Kelley, one of 15 city investigators who handle rape cases.

Baltimore police said 297 rapes were reported in the first six months of 1998. During the same period last year, 227 women reported being raped -- 30 percent fewer. In all of 1997, 480 women reported being victims, said Lt. Frederick Taber, who heads the unit investigating sex offenses and child abuse.

Anne Arundel and Howard counties both posted a slight increase in reported rapes in the first quarter of 1998, while Baltimore County reported a decrease in sex crimes this year. During the first three months of this year, nine rapes were reported in Howard and 24 in Anne Arundel, compared to 33 in Howard and 77 in Anne Arundel all of last year. In Baltimore County, 94 "serious sex crimes" were reported in first half of 1998, compared with 111 in the first half of 1997.

Carole Kimmell, a nurse who runs the 24-hour Mercy Medical Center program for the city's rape victims, could not explain the "staggering increase" in victims treated this year but said most victims are young, African-American women from the Western and Eastern police districts. "Rape has been around since biblical times, but more people are identifying that a crime has been committed against them," she said.

Kimmell noted another alarming trend: Rapes reported in Baltimore are generally more violent. "Forty-five percent of our [Baltimore] victims have more physical [trauma] injuries than the national average."

Even with expanded public awareness, she said, about 100 of the 400 women treated for sexual assaults at Mercy this year refused to report their cases to police.

That is consistent with expert views that rape is the nation's most underreported crime.

"The FBI still estimates that only about a third of all rapes are reported," said Karen Hartz, executive director of the Maryland Coalition against Sexual Assault, based in Anne Arundel County. "We're making a concerted effort to find victims so they don't have to suffer alone or in silence."

Meanwhile, Baltimore police, have overhauled the way they deal with rape cases, making sure detectives initiate the investigation, just as they do in homicide cases.

"Our detectives are first responders," said Maj. Kathleen Patek. "Victims need to touch base immediately with a detective and not do it through follow-up."

Through what she called a "one-stop" comprehensive forensic and medical program at Mercy instituted in late 1996, Patek said, "We put the [rape] victim through less stress and get the evidence we need."

Since the program was put in place, "the investigative process [for rape] is a whole lot better," said Taber.

Under the old system, he said, uniformed patrol officers responded to rape calls and a handful of detectives worked on clearing them on a "follow-up" basis.

Now, the unit has expanded from a few to 15 plainclothes detectives and two sergeants, who respond to every call and crime scene around the clock, he said. Six of the detectives are women, Taber said.

The 1997 number -- when the total went down to 480 from 643 reported rapes in 1996 -- reflects improved investigation of rapes, he said. The peak in recent years was 754 in 1992. Patek said the number of rape cases in which arrests resulted last year was 64 percent, similar to the homicide percentage.

As detective work has made a difference, so has general awareness of marital and acquaintance rape, police said. "Before, females thought they couldn't be raped by their husband or ex-boyfriend," said Taber.

In fact, Taber said, this year's cases show a higher rate of "acquaintance rape," in which the victim and attacker know each other. Last year, about 45 percent of victims knew their attackers, he said, compared with about 53 percent this year.

Compared to cities of similar sizes last year, Baltimore's 480 reported rapes ranked somewhere in the middle. Cleveland reported 638 rapes last year, while Boston reported 350 in the national Uniform Crime Report.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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