Among the study’s findings on rapes and sexual assaults:

—Authorities regard the reporting of rape and sexual assaults to police as an important deterrent. But the reporting trend has been uneven. Reporting occurred in 29 percent of rapes and sexual assaults in 1995, went up to a high of 56 percent in 2003 and then declined to 35 percent in 2010.

The statistics bureau was able to calculate the percentage of these crimes reported to police because its victimization studies are based on interviews with citizens about both reported and unreported crimes. That data can then be compared to police reports of crimes.

—Out of the 283,200 annual average rapes or sexual assaults in the period from 2005 to 2010, only about 12 percent resulted in an arrest. That was for both incidents reported to police and those that were not reported.

“The 12 percent figure should puncture the public’s illusion that rape victims can achieve justice through reporting to law enforcement,” said Koss.  Koss said many people think that this low percentage of arrests stems from false reports — alleging an incident that did not happen.  It isn’t a result of that, said Koss. She said the actual rate of false reports ranges from 2 percent to 4 percent.

One commonly held notion about sexual violence proved to be accurate. In 3 out of 4 incidents of sexual violence, the offender was a family member, intimate partner, friend or acquaintance, the survey found.

The report focuses on sexual violence that includes completed, attempted and threatened rape or sexual assault. The study was compiled from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects information on nonfatal crimes from a nationally representative sample of people age 12 or older.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Eric Holder and members of the House and Senate from both parties joined Obama for the signing ceremony. Biden, who wrote and sponsored the original law in 1994, credited survivors who brought attention to the issue by speaking out despite the pain of reliving the attacks they endured.

“It brings it all back like a very bad nightmare,” Biden said.

It was just days after the weddings that the assaults started, recalled Diane Millich, a Native American and advocate who introduced Biden. She said her ex-husband would mock her defenselessness by calling tribal police and sheriffs, who refused to act until he showed up with a gun.

“All the times I called the police and nothing was done only made my ex-husband believe he was above the law and untouchable,” she said.

Linda Fairstein, the former chief sex crimes prosecutor for New York County, said domestic violence remains a huge problem in many Native American and ethnic communities, where women have been less able to seek recourse.

“This gives access to tens of thousands of victims who have just been denied access to the criminal justice system,” Fairstein said in an interview.

Although the Violence Against Women Act has been credited with helping reduce domestic violence incidents by two-thirds since its inception, advocates were careful not to suggest that the problem has become any less urgent. Some questioned the accuracy of the new Justice Department data and whether the decline really represented fewer women reporting attacks.

“Having worked in the field, I don’t think things are that much better for women,” Fairstein said. “That’s why these protections are so important.”


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