According to numbers in the "December 2004-2005 Preliminary Year End Statistics" report released by the Boise Police Department, 5.6 percent more rapes occurred in Boise in 2004 than in 2003. At the same time, overall crime was down 10.1 percent. However, going back just one year, rape statistics from 2002 to 2003 rose sharply by 45.9 percent-the highest rape rate in 10 years. And though from 2002 to 2003 overall crime also rose (at the significantly lesser rate of 17.8 percent), over the past decade, Boise's overall crime rate has been declining while rape statistics have not done the same.
The upward trend of rape crime as reported by the Boise Police Department isn't a straight, sharp upward climb. However, as the rate has continued to rise and fall over the past 10 years, 2003 saw a significant spike in rape crime, and the numbers were even higher in 2004. Though 2002 was a drop year, 2003's numbers made up that loss-climbing higher than in any previous year over the 11-year period reported by the Boise Police Department. The numbers are thrown into high relief when put into the context of crime as a whole in Boise generally declining for the same period. And in fact, in 2003, when rape crime saw such a spike, violent crime as a category was down.
According Boise Police Department Communications Director Lynn Hightower, increases in rape crime are a function of population increase. BPD detectives say, too, that women are increasingly confident in coming forward when they have been victims of rape. The suggestion from local law enforcement is not that there is an upward trend in sexual assault crime, but that more women are reporting it when it happens.
Law enforcement officers today receive better training in how to take rape reports empathetically and sensitively, and trained victim-witness coordinators working for the Boise Police Department routinely go out on calls with detectives. Says Hightower, the police department is working so that victim-witness coordinators can go out with officers as part of the initial response in these calls.
Despite the Boise Police Department's own numbers, the trend in rape crime has not been specially red-flagged by law enforcement. Says Hightower, officers have always had an aggressive attitude toward sexual crimes. However, improvements in technology have made a difference in the effectiveness with which these cases are pursued. Besides law enforcement keeping up with technology trends in order to better investigate crimes, technology itself-such as cell phones-sometimes becomes the evidence.
Beyond the better support network within the police department, Hightower says, law enforcement's partners in combating rape crime are better coordinated. Seven victim-witness coordinators work with Boise Police, three with the Ada County Sheriff's Office and six with the Ada County Prosecutor. These 16 coordinators regularly work together, networking about how best to guide victims through the legal system as rapists are investigated and prosecuted. According to Janet Lawler, a victim-witness coordinator with the Boise Police Department, the role of a victim-witness coordinator is to avoid re-traumatizing sexual assault victims by helping them understand and negotiate each step of the legal process, as well as putting victims in the "driver's seat" on their cases. Lawler says that the victim-witness field is a growing one-a positive step, as these cases often cannot realistically move forward without victim cooperation. Victim-witness coordinators help victims feel in control and more at ease with seeing long and frustrating cases through.
While there is not a precise rapist demographic identified in Boise, detectives say there is an identifiable demographic for rape victims: young women between the ages of 18 and 24. Generally, that age group has more social interaction with people they don't know well; alcohol is often a factor in both rapist and victim. There's a perception that the biggest rape risk comes from strangers in dark parking lots, and although women should certainly always be aware of their surroundings and avoid those situations, the reality is that most sexual assaults are not stranger rapes, but rapes by acquaintances-someone you've met or maybe a date. As Lawler puts it, chances are you've met your rapist.
While sexual assault can and does happen to victims of all ages and in varied situations, Boise detectives say that there are some commonsense precautions that can be taken. First, always be aware of your surroundings. Use the buddy system-watch out for each other when you go out and don't leave your friend somewhere assuming she'll get a ride home. Know your alcohol limits, and never leave drinks unattended at a bar or party. Gamma hydroxybutyrate, commonly known as GHB or the "date rape drug," is a factor in many sexual assaults. Because the drug runs through the body quickly and is undetectable after a matter of hours, and because GHB incapacitates victims and confuses the memory, GHB rapes are hard to track or prove. Women could become victims and not even know it.
The network of support, information and assistance for victims dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault does not end with the police department. The Ada County Prosecutor, besides their victim-witness coordinator program, has a unit devoted solely to prosecuting sex crimes. St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise has a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) under the directorship of Dr. Lee Binnion, where personnel are trained specifically in evidence collection and how to work with law enforcement as well as with rape victims. Boise State's Women's Center has their own sexual assault response team, headed by Women's Center Coordinator Melissa Wintrow, who works as a victim advocate, helping in the aftermath of sexual assault and bringing victims together with resources.
Preventing sexual assault is imperative, but where it can't be prevented, law enforcement and its partners make every effort at structuring the system to treat victims gently and to arm them with information. Says Hightower, "A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in helping victims feel empowered."