By Christopher D. Kirkpatrick
excerpts from the article:
(NORTH CAROLINA, USA) Reported rape is up 16 percent in Mecklenburg County this year, fueled by the popularity of Internet dating and online classifieds offering sexual services, Charlotte police and experts say.
“In the past, (rapists) would have to hunt and stalk,” said Sgt. Darrell Price, who's in charge of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's sexual assault unit. “Now, all you have to do is (get on the Internet), and she's waiting for you at a hotel room.”
Officials also say a higher percentage of victims each year are coming forward to report rape. Nationally, the number of rapes reported to police has increased by 30 percent since 1993, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Greater media coverage, including attention from Oprah Winfrey, is lessening the shame and social stigma of being a victim, says Brandy Redmile Stephens, victim services director for Charlotte's United Family Services. The nonprofit has been seeing more victims lately, but she couldn't say how many more.
“It's getting easier for them to understand that it's not something they should keep a secret,” she said. “They're more informed.”
In North Carolina, a new state law that passed this year allows victims to provide medical evidence anonymously and free before deciding if they want to call police. To be effective, medical evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours of an assault.
In the past, victims without medical insurance might have paid $800 or more for an ambulance, emergency room and for a doctor or nurse to collect the evidence, Stephens estimated. The state-run N.C. Rape Victims Assistance Program now reimburses a medical staff up to $1,000.
Medical professionals also used to require the victim to report the rape to police before they would collect evidence. So victims who had financial concerns or were too traumatized missed their chance to provide forensic evidence and regretted it later, Price said. Now, they can decide later if they want to file a police report and still preserve evidence, he said.
“It gives the victim much more power,” he said.
Outreach is helping
Rape is the only major crime category up this year, according to statistics.
Through July, there were 26 more rapes reported to police (185) than last year, when CMPD investigated 159 rapes during the same period. That goes against a two-year trend that saw fewer reported rapes in Mecklenburg.
Price said he believes the Internet is playing a role in the rising numbers. But he also explains the increase as a result of stepped-up outreach programs by the department during the past year and a half.
No Cyber-Case Registry
No central authority or group is counting how many sex crimes are Internet-related, said Parry Aftab, an Internet privacy lawyer and executive director of New York-based wiredsafety.org, an Internet safety group.
But she said it's clearly going up, and the dangers are real – even for women dating online through 'reputable' cyber-dating sites.
“The crimes are notoriously underreported,” said Aftab, who is regularly consulted by government and media outlets on the subject.
Her group advocates changing police forms and FBI crime reporting requirements to include a cyber category to better track it: “Right now, it just shows as a general sexual assault.”
Locally, experts say more date rapes and sexual assaults are growing out of Internet chat room introductions and from dates arranged through popular cyber-dating sites.
But Charlotte-Mecklenburg police also are reporting a surge in crimes against women who blatantly advertise adult sexual services on the Internet, Price said.
Some are prostitutes advertising through sites such as Craigslist, which offers free Internet classified ads. They try to hook up with clients in Charlotte hotel rooms, but end up getting robbed or raped, police reported. Others are arrested for prostitution in police stings.
Since September, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say 13 robberies and five sexual assaults have resulted from ads placed by women advertising sex services. And police also arrested at least 24 prostitutes and johns in a June sting operation.
Concerned about the increase, Price said he sent an e-mail to Craigslist last week asking the online posting company to warn women advertising personal services that Charlotte had become too dangerous for them.
Craigslist has drawn fire in recent months for its adult services ads. S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster threatened to file criminal charges earlier this year against Craigslist executives. Craigslist and its CEO Jim Buckmaster fired back with a lawsuit, which is pending. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has also focused attention on MySpace and Facebook over sexual predators...
Craigslist did not respond to the Observer's request for comment about the Charlotte incidents or Price's request for the company to post a warning.
Authorities say the company has helped with criminal investigations, including helping track down a suspect police say raped a Kannapolis woman at her husband's request in late May 2009.
Price said he doesn't know how Charlotte might compare to other big cities but said the number of victims in “such a short period of time” is a concern for the department.
“It was a simple request. … It's just a matter of time before one of them gets murdered,” he said.
One in six women and one in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime.
College-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
Sexual Assault Numbers
For more information visit www.rainn.org. The group also runs a national sexual assault hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
- In 2007, there were 248,300 sexual assault victims.
- Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.
- Approximately 73 percent of rape victims know their assailants.
- Only 6 percent of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.
When meeting someone for the first time, remember to:
For more information about personal safety online, check out these resources: http://getsafeonline.org, http://wiredsafety.org
- Insist on a public meeting place.
- Tell a friend or family member where you're going.
- Take your cell phone.
- Consider having a friend accompany you.
- Trust your instincts.