Reporting Derek Valcourt
BALTIMORE (WJZ)—Just days after a sexual assault in Charles Village puts students on alert, the city launches a new awareness campaign designed to help draw attention to the sensitive issue.
Derek Valcourt explains it comes as police make major strides in their efforts to reform rape investigation practices.
A year after sharp criticism for how its police department handled rape cases, the city says it’s making progress and now reaching out to victims.
Near the campus of Johns Hopkins University, many students are rattled after learning about the sexual assault of a 20-year-old female student by a stranger in a Lovegrove Street alley early Saturday morning.
“It’s definitely frightening,” said one student.
“It’s really scary,” said another.
Though police say they’ve had no similar attacks in the area, they know all too often rape and sexual assaults do go unreported. That’s part of why the city has launched a new awareness campaign with billboards on MTA buses and public service announcements encouraging sex crime victims to come forward.
“I was molested, sexually assaulted, gun raped, when I was 4 years old,” a new PSA says. “It’s not my shame to carry. It wasn’t my fault. Rape is not your fault. Call and get help today.”
City leaders and victim advocates want to show how seriously they take sex crime cases after an investigation last year by WJZ’s media partner, the Baltimore Sun, found the city was No.1 in the nation when it comes to unfounded rape reports–with a staggering 80 percent drop in rapes over a 19-year period.
Those findings sparked personnel changes within the police department and changes to rape investigation policies and procedures.
“I pledged to do this and we took action because we at the Baltimore Police Department need to do things differently to make sure that all victims of sexual assault have their complaints fully investigated and are treated with dignity and respect,” said Commissioner Fred Bealefeld.
The police changes have made a difference. In 2009, there were 158 rapes reported for the entire year. But by the end of August this year, 236 were reported–already a 50 percent increase. And the number of cases investigators deemed to be unfounded is way down — 92 percent – numbers that victim advocates hope encourage more victims to talk to police.