Politics

Why are reported rapes up 21 percent in Los Angeles?

Reported rapes in Los Angeles increased 20 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to crime statistics from the LAPD.
Reported rapes in Los Angeles increased 20 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to crime statistics from the LAPD.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

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Los Angeles saw a 21 percent increase in reported rapes last year, but LAPD officials said they don't exactly know why. They presume it's an increase in reports, rather than an increase in incidents - fueled in part by student activism on university campuses.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said one type of report that increased significantly was "acquaintance rapes" where drinking was involved. They jumped from 115 in 2013 to 170 in 2014. 

"We need to send a better message to our young people. The ways to keep yourself safe, the need to report, the need to work within your school, the need to contact the police -- these are the things that will affect this crime category," Beck said.

Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, said she doesn't think rape is occurring more often.

"It's really important that we look at these crime statistics with the understanding that there's been a lot of publicity about rape in the last few months and over the last year, a lot of highly publicized cases," Abarbanel said. 

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of universities under investigation for mishandling sexual assaults on campus, including USC and Occidental College.

Rolling Stone made waves with a story about a violent rape at the University of Virginia - though parts of the story were later rolled back.

At Columbia University, a student carried around a mattress in protest after school officials found her alleged rapist not responsible for the crime.

"It's so clear on college campuses that victims are becoming advocates for themselves and stepping forward and that wasn't true 20 years ago. College students were silenced," Abarbanel said. "I think part of what we're seeing in the crime statistics could be a good thing, which would be an increase in victims' comfort and feeling of safety coming forward and reporting."

In 2013, 764 rapes were reported in Los Angeles. Last year, there were 924 reports. Numbers haven't been that high since 2008 and 2009.

Back then, the LAPD was struggling to test evidence kits from sexual assaults. Ultimately, the backlog of DNA kits grew to almost 7,000. 

The police department cleared that backlog in 2011.

Representatives for the LAPD said Tuesday they didn't know whether the testing is up to date. But  a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said evidence is being tested within 90 days.

The Mayor's Office, LAPD and victims' rights groups continue to meet on a quarterly basis to review the status of evidence kits.