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Sexual assault statistics don’t tell the full scope of the problem

  • gavel Elizabeth Frantz



Monitor staff
Monday, April 17, 2017

One out of every five felony sexual assault charges filed in New Hampshire between 2012 and 2015 resulted in a conviction.

During that same time period, there was a 50 percent drop in the number of aggravated felonious sexual assault and felonious sexual assault charges filed in state courts.

Those numbers are a glimpse into the prosecution of sex assault cases in the state, but represent only part of the picture.

The 5,105 felony charges filed in those few years represent only those cases that made it to a courthouse. Missing are the cases that were never reported to police or prosecuted.

Some data is lost: The state does not have a uniform records database that allows officials to track cases through the criminal justice system, beginning at the time a victim reports to police.

Some data is impossible to track: Sexual assault is the most underreported crime, with national stats showing that only between 16 and 19 percent of rapes involving penetration are reported to police. Of the rapes reported to police, between 2 and 8 percent are proven false.

One of the risks of comparing national statistics to New Hampshire is that not all studies use the same definitions of sexual assault and rape. Studies that use the Federal Bureau of Intelligence’s definition of rape can be compared most accurately, but even so, they ignore a large percentage of the victim population. In 2012, the FBI updated its definition of rape to include not just forcible rape of a female, but any kind of penetration, including oral sex, without the consent of the victim – male or female.

National statistics provided by Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, show that sexual assault and rape has fallen 63 percent since 1993, from a rate of 4.3 assaults per 1,000 people that year, to 1.6 per 1,000 in 2015. But the number of victims since 2005 has largely plateaued at about 30,000 annually.

Out of every 1,000 rapes reported to police, six perpetrators will be incarcerated, according to RAINN’s website. But only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police, meaning about two out of every three go unreported.

Advocates at the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which oversees 13 member crisis centers in the state, say the number of people needing help is far greater than they can serve, and that fluctuations in the number of victims they see annually are largely tied to available resources. The centers served nearly 3,000 primary and secondary victims of sexual violence in 2015.

The last statewide study on sexual assault in New Hampshire was conducted in 2006 by the coalition in partnership with the University of New Hampshire. That study, made possible by grant funding, found that nearly one in four women and one in 20 men in the state have been sexually assaulted. All of those victims combined could fill Fenway Park almost three and a half times.

As part of the study, researchers requested case disposition data on all adult female sexual assaults reported in 2006. Of the 231 law enforcement agencies, 152 responded with data, and of the 10 county attorney’s offices, two responded. A total of 344 adult female sexual assault cases were reported, with only 13 perpetrators known to have plead guilty or been convicted.

In March, the Monitor made a request to the New Hampshire court system for all dispositions handed down in years 2012 through 2015 of charges filed under the sexual assault statute, to include misdemeanor sexual assault, felonious sexual assault and aggravated felonious sexual assault. The dispositions are cataloged by charge and not by case, and can include some overlap as a result of bindovers from the circuit courts to the superior courts.

Here is what the data reveals:

• The conviction rate on charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault has remained largely steady, between 17 and 21 percent, with the greatest percentage reported in 2014.

• From 2012 to 2013, the conviction rate on charges of felonious sexual assault increased from 18 to 25 percent, and has remained just shy of that since.

• Prosecutors have had greater success with misdemeanor sexual assault charges. The conviction rate jumped in years 2014 and 2015 to 33 and 32 percent respectively, from 21 percent in 2013.

With the emergence of more Sexual Assault Resource Teams (SARTs) in New Hampshire’s counties that serve to foster collaboration between concerned agencies, officials say they hope to get a better handle on how to collect statewide statistics to help guide their work in the future.