BALTIMORE (WJZ) Dozens of rapes and sex assaults that police initially dismissed are valid. An overhaul in the department now aims to accurately report and handle these violent crimes.
Mike Hellgren reports on the outcry that lead to reform and what it means for public safety.
Reports of rape jumped almost 50 percent in November–compared to last year—after big changes in the way those reports are handled. WJZ has new insight from the mayor and a key advocate for victims.
An exhaustive investigation of rape cases in Baltimore City uncovered that many that police initially dismissed are valid. A task force reviewed 135 rapes and sex assaults—71 were reclassified from unfounded to founded.
A victim advocate from Turn Around, a non-profit that helps victims of sexual assault, played a key role in that review.
“Regardless of the outcome of the case, we want victims to feel they have some sense of justice in the way that they were treated,” said Gail Reid, director of victim services for Turn Around.
Police found big problems in the way sex crimes were reported, prompting big changes in how they’re investigated. Now, all such cases must go through a revamped sex assault unit. Cases can’t be dismissed on the scene and can’t be dismissed only because the victim recants.
“We’re very open for critique of the process, and we’ve made tough decisions to change the process to make sure that we don’t find ourselves in the position again where people feel that they are unable or not welcome to report incidents of sexual assault,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
With the overhaul in place, reports of rape shot up 48 percent last month compared to last year.
“The increase in reported rapes is a good thing,” Reid said. “That’s not an increase in rapes in the city, but an increase in victims coming forward.”
Congress held high-level hearings about the under-reporting of rape—a problem nationwide—but the numbers were especially alarming in Baltimore City. They’ve also added more women to the sex assault unit and better training for police.
“One of the mandates from the mayor was ‘lay yourself bare and transparent to this,’ and we’ve done that,” said Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld.
And police hope through their overhaul victims will no longer suffer in silence.
The drop in unfounded rape cases is 84 percent since July when these reforms first began.
A hotline has also been established for victims. They can call Turn Around at 443-279-0379.