BERKELEY -- Police here logged a 95 percent increase in reported rapes in 2012, a spike in cases that has police, victim advocates and educators wondering what happened.
The reports of rape, excluding all other kinds of sexual assault, rose from 20 in 2011 to 39 in 2012, according to a police department crime report presented at a City Council meeting Tuesday evening. Last year's numbers were the highest recorded in five years.
"That's a really huge increase," said Marcia Blackstock, executive director of Oakland-based Bay Area Women Against Rape. "Our standard feeling is there certainly is a possibility that rapes are up because violent crime is up. The more people feel out of control and powerless, the more they respond violently, but that's not an excuse."
The numbers of violent crimes in Berkeley were mixed in 2012, however. Homicides were up from one in 2011 to five in 2012 and rape was up, but robberies and aggravated assaults were down very slightly.
Blackstock, whose organization counsels victims in crisis and has counselors who accompany victims during examinations at hospitals, said another reason the numbers are up could be that victims are more trusting that they won't be blamed if they report an attack.
"In our experience, when police departments prove themselves to the community, and the department is sensitive to sexual assault issues and not blaming victims, reporting goes up," Blackstock said.
Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who attended the crime report presentation Tuesday, said the number of rape victims probably is much higher than the official number because victims don't always come forward for a variety of reasons.
"I don't think it's that easy to report a rape," Wengraf said. "There's a lot of stigma associated with it. I know it's complicated because it's one thing to report it and another to follow up and want to get an arrest. I think it's pretty alarming in a city like Berkeley to have that number up there. I think it needs to come back on people's radar."
Berkeley police Capt. Andrew Greenwood said the reports of rape in 2012 originated from neighborhoods primarily around the UC Berkeley campus, where approximately 35,000 students live. About half of the cases involve drugs or alcohol, he said, and in almost all cases the victim and suspect know each other. "Stranger rapes" are extremely rare, he said.
"It's impossible to know if this year is an indication of a trend or an outlier year," Greenwood said. "Time will tell and we are monitoring it very closely."
Both Greenwood and police Chief Michael Meehan said the city is interested in working more closely with UC Berkeley officials on prevention and reporting education. UC Berkeley police investigated two rapes in 2011 and two in 2012 on university properties, said spokesman Eric Tejada.
The 2012 numbers of victims reporting rapes were not just up over the year before, they are the highest numbers recorded in five years. From 2008 through 2011 the numbers fluctuated from 20 in 2011 to 27 in 2009, then went up 95 percent in 2012.
A new mandatory training program started in 2011 for all incoming students at UC Berkeley that employs what is called "bystander intervention" for sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence could be a factor in Berkeley's increase in reports, said Allan Creighton, who manages the EmpowerU program at University Health Services at UC Berkeley.
Creighton said about 7,000 students have received the hour-and-a-half presentation since it started.
"The idea is to look at real-life situations that have happened at Cal and other campuses and to intervene when they see it happen," Creighton said. "There are a lot of barriers to reporting (sexual assault), which means only 5 percent of people will tell UC staff but up to two-thirds will tell best friends."
Creighton said the training urges those friends, who have been told of an assault, that they have a responsibility to report or get the victim to report.
"That has meant for UC campuses that there has been a rise in people reporting," Creighton said. "We try to demystify reporting as much as possible and give them the names of people who are very easy to report to. Students become more familiar with what it means to report and who to report to."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.
To find out more, go to UC Berkeley's health services at www.uhs.berkeley.edu/students/medical/sexualassaultresources.shtml