Sexual assaults on the rise in Santa Clara County

Gilroy residents charged with crime more than most other ZIP codes

Incidents of rape and sexual assault have risen in Santa Clara County over the last year, and experts think the increase is at least partially related to victims’ growing willingness to report the crimes.

That’s one of the findings in the District Attorney’s annual report for 2018, which was compiled by the DA’s Crime Strategies Unit. The report also found that more Gilroy residents are charged with a crime than in almost every other ZIP code in the county, and both violent and juvenile crime are on the rise in Santa Clara County.

In 2018, 1,982 Gilroy residents were charged by the DA’s office with one or more crimes, according to the report. The only neighborhood that produced more criminal defendants was downtown San Jose, where 2,052 residents were charged in 2018.

The report noted a correlation between the five ZIP codes in the county representing the most defendants, and the socioeconomic factors of those neighborhoods. “Looking more closely at our defendant ZIP codes, we find that defendants most commonly reside in poorer, more dangerous and less healthy neighborhoods,” reads the report.

The median household income in Gilroy is about $90,000 (compared to about $107,000 for the county overall), with a 6 percent unemployment rate (5.7 percent in the county) and 8.4 percent of families living below the poverty line (5.6 percent in the county overall), according to the DA’s report.

Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said the number of defendants from his city says more about the quality of the Gilroy Police Department than any actual crime trends.

“I think the report shows that our police officers are proactive, assertive and very busy making arrests, and that’s reflected in the crime report,” Velasco said.

The mayor added that the city council has approved a “pilot program bringing on two additional officers for ‘quality of life’ crimes.”

Victims more likely to report

The DA’s annual report also found that while reports of sexual assaults are on the rise in Santa Clara County, authorities are encouraged that victims are seemingly more likely to report their assailant or rapist than they have in the past.

“These statistics are an invaluable tool in our efforts to prevent sexual assault and other violent crimes,” DA Jeff Rosen said. “We are ever hopeful that more survivors will come forward to let their powerful voices be heard and help us protect our community.”

In 2018, the DA’s office filed charges for 279 sexual assault cases. These include charges of assault with intent to commit sexual act, rape, statutory rape, pimping, pandering, aggravated sexual assault, child sexual assault and other related crimes. In 2017, the number of such filings was 268. In 2016, sexual assault charge filings was up to 284.

In San Jose alone, there were 615 reports of rape in 2018, according to the report. That number has been steadily increasing since 2011, and in 2017 there were 571 rapes reported in San Jose.

The CSU report notes that in 2014, federal authorities updated the definition of rape to broaden the types of cases counted. That redefining of the crime accounts for some of the recent years’ increase, but experts agree that victims are more likely to come forward to authorities than in previous years.

Erica Elliott, sexual assault and prevention program manager of Gilroy-based Community Solutions, said rape and sexual assault used to be a “taboo topic that people were hidden from.”

In recent years, however, the public discussion of sexual assault in almost all forms of media has become commonplace, bolstered by the “#metoo” movement and other efforts to support victims.

Federal authorities have enacted more laws in recent years supporting victims, further encouraging survivors to talk about their incidents, Elliott explained.

“Having those conversations helps people,” Elliott said. “When I grew up, I was taught it was a stranger in a scary van. But realistically, 90 percent of sexual assaults happen by people we know and trust. It can happen to anybody. People’s response to sexual assault victims has become generally a lot more positive, where I used to hear a lot more victim blaming.”

Elliott added, “I think there has been an increase in people’s…understanding, which has made people feel safer to come forward, knowing that [others] won’t ostracize or demean them.”

Community Solutions is a non-profit that provides a variety of services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, Community Solutions served 131 rape and sexual assault victims in South County, Elliott said. In 2017-18, that number rose to 145 victims.

Elliott further noted that advocates and law enforcement have increasingly looked into the “intersectionality” of sexual assault with other crimes, adding to authorities’ ability to record and prosecute such incidents. For example, Elliott said, “Many domestic violence survivors have also experienced sexual assault.”

Other crime findings

Other notable findings in the DA’s CSU annual report for 2018 include:

• Juvenile crime rose by about 25 percent in Santa Clara County, with 798 minors charged with a crime in 2018, compared to 592 in 2017.

• Juvenile crimes showing the biggest increase from 2017 to 2018 are robbery (238 charges in 2018 for a 98 percent increase) and carjacking (79 charges in 2018 for a 182 percent increase).

• The DA’s office prosecutes Hispanic/Latino and black/African-American residents at a higher rate than these groups are represented in the county overall. Asian/Pacific Islander residents are prosecuted at a rate lower than their percentage of the overall county’s population.

• Charges for violent felonies (robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, felony assault) totaled 847 in 2018, compared to 805 in 2017. In 2016, the DA’s office filed 709 charges for violent felonies. The CSU report says the increase in violent crime is “driven primarily by a marked increase in reported rapes and robberies.”

BY THE NUMBERS

7,046: Felony cases filed by Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office in 2018 (up from 6,715 in 2017)

29,902: Misdemeanor cases filed by DA’s office in 2018 (up from 29,462 in 2017)

1,982: Residents of Gilroy charged with a crime in 2018

279: Sexual assault charges filed by DA’s office in 2018

268: Sexual assault charges filed by DA’s office in 2017

MOST COMMON FELONIES

Charges by DA’s office in Santa Clara County, 2018

Unauthorized use of vehicle: 639 charges filed

Second-degree burglary: 357

Possession of methamphetamine to sell: 340

First-degree robbery: 334

Grand theft: 331

From the DA’s Crime in Santa Clara County 2018” report

Leave your comments