Rape reports to police in Maine jumped by 17 percent

Stock image | Pixabay
Stock image | Pixabay
Crime in Maine dropped overall by 8 percent last year, according to statistics released Thursday by the Maine Department of Public Safety.
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Crime in Maine dropped overall by 8 percent last year, despite a 17 percent increase in reported rapes, according to a report by the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Statistics released Thursday indicate that 2017 represents the sixth consecutive year that reported crime has decreased in Maine. Since 2011, crime overall has dropped in the state by 46.8 percent.

Of the crime categories that showed an increase in reports, the most significant was rape. In 2016, 383 rapes were reported statewide in Maine, while last year that number rose to 448, for an increase of 17 percent. It is the third straight year that such reported sexual assaults have increased in Maine. The number of reported rapes increased by 2.7 percent from 2015 to 2016, from 373 to 383, and by 4.7 percent the year before that, from 356 to 373.

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Cara Courchesne, communications director for Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said Thursday that the group is “encouraged” by the increase in reports being filed with police, though she said they represent just the “tip of the iceberg” compared to the number of sexual assaults that go unreported in Maine and elsewhere.

“From our perspective, the 17 percent [increase] is somewhat related to the MeToo movement and survivors being willing to talk about their experiences,” Courchesne said.

As many as 14,000 Mainers are estimated to be sexually assaulted each year, Courchesne said.

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There is increased dialogue about sexual assault in general, she said, but many sexual assault survivors who have discussed their experiences have not filed reports with police. Police reports often do not result in convictions, she said, and just the process of pursuing charges can be harrowing for sexual assault victims.

Allegations at times can become heavily politicized as well, as they were in the recent confirmation hearings for new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she added, which also has a chilling effect on sexual assault survivors coming forward. Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were in high school.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Courchesne said.

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According to public safety officials, other types of crime that had an increase in reported incidents last year include simple assault, motor vehicle thefts and homicides. Simple assaults and motor vehicle thefts each increased by 2.2 percent from 2016 to 2017. The number of investigated homicides in Maine increased by 3, from 18 in 2016 to 21 last year.

Stephen McCausland, spokesman for Maine Department of Public Safety, said that around four or five homicides in Maine each year are drug-related. This does not include Maine residents who die from drug overdoses, he added, which happens on average once a day.

Specific statistics on drug offenses were not included in the information released Thursday, but Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Morris said illegal drug use still factors heavily into other criminal activities.

“Six years of decreasing crime stats in Maine is unprecedented however drugs are still connected to much of the state’s crime,” he said.

Reports of domestic violence, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, theft and arson all decreased last year. Morris attributed the six-year decline in overall crime in Maine to a “team effort” by law enforcement, prosecutors, the courts and advocacy groups.

Overall, 21,803 crimes were reported in Maine in 2017. This represents a crime rate of 16 offenses per 1,000 people in the state, which is nearly half the 2017 national rate of 28 offenses per 1,000 people.

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

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