San Jose lawmakers study sexual assault data amid spike in rapes
Former San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia is pictured in this file photo.

    In a heavy-hearted conversation on sexual assault Tuesday, the City Council unanimously approved the findings of two reports from the San Jose Police Department on the spike in rapes and child molestation across the city, where at least half of the reported victims are children under the age of 14.

    Councilmembers Johnny Khamis, Dev Davis, Raul Peralez and Sergio Jimenez were absent for the vote.

    In the last eight months, the police department documented more than 1,400 cases of rape and child molestation this year, spanning from January until September, 732 of which were children under the age of 14. In both cases, 45 percent of rape victims and 64 percent of child victims were of Latino or Mexican descent, while 70.5 percent of the adults arrested or cited for the crimes were also of Latino or Mexican descent.

    Researchers, including Dr. Mike Smith, professor and chair of the department of criminology and criminal justice from the University of Texas at San Antonio, presented their findings to lawmakers Tuesday on the increase in sexual assault cases in the last ten years, citing an uptick in reported crimes after the definition of rape was broadened in 2015.

    Smith provided the police department with a critical statistical analysis to better understand the city’s sexual assaults patterns over the last decade.

    Khamis wanted law enforcement officials to study the correlation between Prop 47 and the uptick in sexual assault cases. In 2014, California voters approved Prop 47, which redefined several nonviolent crimes as misdemeanors.

    His request, however, was denied and argued against by some of his colleagues, prompting him to storm out of the meeting in protest.

    “I think you are actually providing evidence that there’s a correlation between the rise in sexual assaults and Prop 47,” said Khamis before angrily leaving. “Prop. 47 released a whole mess of drug offenders from prisons. If we’re not going to look at the effects of statewide laws that have affected criminality, domestic violence, abuse and rape, I think it’s like closing your eyes to one huge potential problem.”

    Smith said studying the correlation is “certainly worth looking at,” but was not included in the report due to the lack of empirical evidence.

    Law enforcement officials expect rape and molestation cases to continue increasing in the next three years, though Smith said the number of sexual assaults continue to fluctuate each year and the numbers don’t point to any specific trend.

    “We’re not seeing an increase or decrease linearly over time, there’s just some year-to-year fluctuations,” Smith said. “What we’re trying to do here is look for patterns. Is there some pattern that we can see evident in the data that might suggest a mechanism for the police department or the community to use as a leverage point to try to address the problem?”

    The number of reported rapes in San Jose has nearly tripled within the last ten years according to FBI data, spiking from 220 in 2008 to 615 in 2018. In the past eight months, a total of 571 rape cases have been reported thus far. Smith reported that nearly 58 percent of all rapes were committed by a known person to the victim.

    “There hasn’t been a lot of change in terms of the relationship between the the suspect or the offender and the victim over time,” Smith said.

    Data in recent years shows a sharp increase in sexual assault cases after the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting’s revised definition of sexual assault took effect in 2015.

    Smith also said the likeliness that victims are more willing to report their crimes to police — along with a boost from social movements such as #MeToo which encourage women to go public about their aggressors — could be possible indicators for why San Jose is seeing a surge in sexual assault cases.

    Angelie Montesa, a SJPD crime and intelligence analyst for the sexual assaults unit, on Tuesday shared how law enforcement is mitigating the rise in sexual assault cases. She said it’s important that police officers are trained through intensive trauma-informed programs when investigating sexual assault cases.

    She called for the creation of an “ethnic-based” social agency group as a resource to communities of color where high incidence of sexual assault is prevalent, additional staffing for the special victims unit and resources for programs to investigate human trafficking.

    Earlier this year, a handful of women lawmakers in Silicon Valley, including Supervisor Cindy Chavez, Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Pam Foley, Dev Davis, Sylvia Arenas and Maya Esparza, denounced the sharp rise in rapes and called on lawmakers to publicly address the troubling trend.

    “The effects and the impact of sexual abuse and domestic violence on a family and on a community is a lifetime and it’s intergenerational,” Carrasco, a former social worker, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “You must break that cycle, otherwise it continues.”

    A heartfelt set of public speakers, including a man who started a foundation after his daughter was murdered, spoke in support of increasing the police department’s resources for sexual assault and domestic violence cases. He said more resources need to be invested at the “family level” to prevent sexual assault and violence within the family unit.

    “Why do people commit these crimes? They learn it in their communities, they learn it in their families,” said Rick Beatty, who founded the Alessandra Foundation after his daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2015. “The young man that murdered my daughter had a father who… molested his daughter, which was the murderer’s sister. So that’s the kind of family that he grew up in.”

    Vice Mayor Chappie Jones acknowledged the difficulty and pain many throughout the community have felt as victims of sexual assault.

    “We have to always remember that behind every statistic, a human being has been affected by sexual assault,” Jones said. “Their lives will never be the same, so we always have to keep that in mind when we think about all the numbers and statistics that we see.”

    Still, Montesa stressed that the department’s ability to combat the uptick in sexual assault depends on resources, funding and staffing. Police Chief Eddie Garcia acknowledged his department is stretched thin on its staff.

    The police department will return to the City Council in March 2020 with an update on the spending plan for the $690,000 reserved for law enforcement training and support services for sexual assault cases.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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