When news exploded about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein preying on women, national rape crisis centers were inundated with calls, according to experts.
When now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh faced accusations of sexual assaults, crisis centers were flooded again.
It was no different in Long Beach, according to Sheetal Chib, director of YWCA Greater Los Angeles Sexual Assault Crisis Services. Her team saw spikes in the number of women seeking help during each highly publicized accusation the #MeToo movement helped bring to light, she said.
“If they’re a survivor and they’ve never asked for support before and they see someone on the news talking about their experience, it can be triggering for them and remind them of what they went through,” Chib said. “And sometimes that can be the motivating force for them to reach out.”
The phrase “Me Too” was originally coined in 2006 by sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke, but in late 2017 the movement was reignited by the accusations against Weinstein.
Now, nearly two years since that turning point, the Long Beach Police Department is starting to see an uptick in reports of rapes.
In the first quarter of 2019, the LBPD received 62 reports of sexual assault compared to 44 in the first quarter of 2018. That’s a 40.9% jump.
The three years prior to that remained relatively level: 2017 had 46 reports, and in 2015 and 2016, the department received 50 reports each. These numbers are based on the U.S. Department of Justice’s definition of rape, which includes sodomy, oral copulation and attempted rape.
Long Beach police recently said detectives believe the spike in reports is because of national movements like #MeToo, but they later cautioned they can’t say that definitively.
“Our victims won’t typically come in and say, ‘Hey, because of this national movement, it’s made me feel better about coming forward to you guys,'” Lt. Greg. Schirmer said.
But Schirmer said sexual assault has historically been the most underreported crime in Long Beach and broader society. Because of that, his unit works with advocacy groups to get victims the help they need even if they don’t want to deal with police.
According to Chib, a majority of sexual assault crimes— more than 50%—are not reported. This can be for many reasons, she said, such as internal feelings of shame or guilt. Victims may have been bullied or questioned by others and made to feel invalidated, or they may not trust law enforcement or the judicial system. Also, some victims may doubt whether or not their experience even qualifies as sexual assault, she said.
It’s also common for a victim to come to the decision to report the assault to police later, after going to counseling or therapy, she said. And in those cases, police treat the report no differently than if it happened that same day, Schirmir said.
At Cal State Long Beach, campus police are also seeing an increase in reports of sexual assault to the university’s Title IX office, Det. Chris Brown said.
According to the university’s 2018 Clery Report, reports of “fondling” tripled in 2017 from three reports in 2016 to nine the following year.
That was before the #MeToo movement blew up, but right in the middle of CSULB’s 5-year “Not Alone at the Beach” awareness campaign, which Brown credits with making students aware of their rights and options for reporting sexual misconduct.
“I think young women and men are coming to the realization that this is behavior that they don’t just have to accept,” Brown said.
While most people see a jump in the numbers of sexual assaults in law enforcement statistics as a negative thing or have a misconception that it must be a serial rapist in the community, victims advocates often see it as the opposite, Chib said.
“Our interpretation is that that means more survivors are feeling safe and comfortable to come forward and report,” Chib said.
The YWCA has a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual assault at 1-877-Y-HELPS-U or 1-877-943-5778.
Valerie Osier is a breaking news reporter for the Long Beach Post. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @ValerieOsier
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