TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Every major crime index fell in Florida last year with the exception of one: forcible rape. But victim advocates say the increased number of rapes in crime statistics is a good thing.
Meg Baldwin, executive director of Refuge House, said rape is the most underreported crime in Florida and the nation.
“If you take the reported number and multiply it by five, with the understanding that there is a 20 percent reporting rate, then you are probably reaching the right number for what the real incidence of sexual assault is," Baldwin said.
Using Baldwin's estimate that only one in five are reported, the 7,934 rapes reported in Florida in 2017 would mean that just under 40,000 people were raped last year.
The most common reason why victims might not report the attack is the fear of not being believed.
“She was afraid to, like, call the police because she didn’t want anyone to be mad at her,” a friend of a rape victim told Florida State University police.
Because rape is so underreported, when reports go up -- as they have the last five years in a row in Florida -- advocates know they are doing their job.
“When we see it go down, we’re concerned whether we are doing the right kind of outreach to encourage victims to come forward for help. When we see it go up, that can be an indication that the community is doing a good job,” Baldwin said.
Adding increasing confidence for victims is that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has processed a backlog of 8,600 rape kits and is now testing rape kits as they come in.
Fewer than 2,000 old rape kits remain to be tested. FDLE reports it is testing 99.9 percent of new kits within the four months allowed by law and many much quicker.
Operators at 911 centers are also receiving better training and police are being taught to be more sensitive.