Detroit sees 23% increase in reported sex assaults, but police call numbers misleading

DPD says last year's lockdowns impacted reporting
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Posted at 12:35 PM, Aug 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 12:35:14-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Amidst a nine percent increase in category one violent crime in Detroit, the city is also experiencing—at least on paper—a more than 20% jump in sexual assaults.

Detroit police insist the pandemic paints a misleading picture, while advocates of sexual assault survivors in our area say they’ve seen reports rise dating back to 2019.

So far this year, Detroit has seen 486 reported cases of sexual assault, up from 386 at this point last year—or a a jump of 23%.

At a meeting of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners last week, Interim Chief James White called the increase “very concerning,” but cautioned that last year’s lockdowns helped paint a misleading picture.

“What we found is that it appears that, from the same time last year, we were isolated. Many people were restricted to home and not interacting and engaging as much,” White said. “The opportunity to report the offenses was not there, and we’re seeing a lot of reports through doctor visits and hospitalizations.”

It’s true that the pandemic led many to avoid hospitals and doctor’s offices, where a majority of sexual assaults are first reported.

According to DPD data, the department saw 574 reported sex assaults at this point in 2018 and 570 in 2019, about 15% higher than the 486 reported as of today.

But advocates for assault survivors tell us they’ve seeing an increase in reported assaults, even with 2020 out of the picture.

“Our numbers are definitely up this time compared to last year, and even a little bit the year before that,” said Kimberly Hurst, Executive Director of the Avalon Healing Center.

The center has served survivors of sexual abuse not just in Detroit but throughout Wayne County for the last 17 years. Because reports to Avalon are confidential, they only alert police when a survivor chooses to.

“We’re still dealing with a lot of what have really become pandemic norms, and that still does mean people are potentially at home with their perpetrators, not able to be working, dealing with mental health (issues),” Hurst said. “So perpetrators are looking for vulnerable populations in order to perpetrate the sexual violence.”

A Detroit police spokesman said one rape is “one too many” and believes that sexual violence over the last several years continues to trend down.

Still, Hurst cautions that regardless of what the numbers may show, they’ll never tell the full story when it comes to sexual violence.

“Two thirds (of sexual assault) regardless still go unreported,” she said. “So to be thinking of it in the context of yes, not only are we seeing an increase in reporting, but historically most people don’t report anyway.”