Hawthorne Rape Rates On The Rise
Crime rates in Hawthorne have remained relatively stagnant over the past decade except in one category: forcible rape.
The number of rapes reported each year in the beach town has hovered around 25 since 2003. It dipped to 18 in 2008, then nearly doubled the following year when 34 were reported. In 2010, there were 33 documented instances of rape in Hawthorne, according to the Hawthorne Police Department.
Earlier this month, the department created a new Sexual Assault and Juvenile Investigations Bureau as part of a full redistribution of assignments and bureaus. Known as the Special Victims Unit, the division will comprise two designated investigators who cover only sexual assaults, and three who focus on juvenile matters.
“When they think about forcible rape, most people think about a stranger jumping out of the bushes, grabbing a woman and forcing an act of sex upon her,” said Sgt. Robbie Williams, who will be heading the new unit. In fact, that is rarely the case, he said.
Excluding one episode last year – in which a serial offender raped three Hawthorne residents – the majority of sexual assaults reported in Hawthorne are committed by men known to the their victims. As such rape can be very difficult not only to track but to prevent, since victims are often reluctant to implicate a boyfriend or even an acquaintance.
In a town with a population of under 90,000, 33 rapes may not seem like a lot. At least two officers at the Hawthorne Police Department cite property theft as the crime they deal with most regularly. Hawthorne does not even have its own rape crisis facility—victims are usually sent to the Rape Treatment Center at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
Yet 33 rapes ranks higher than the state and national rates.
In 2009, the average for California, per 100,000 people, was 23.6. Nationally, the average was 28.7, according to FBI figures. Though rape is not considered a major problem in Hawthorne, these numbers suggest it merits a closer look.
“A lot of rapes go unreported,” said Sgt. Chris Cognac of the Hawthorne Police Dept.
But reporting is nonetheless on the upswing and at thus at least partly responsible for the recent numerical jump, he said. More women are speaking up, Cognac explained, because education on the topic is better and there are more outlets available to victims.
But state and national rates for forcible rape have steadily fallen in both California and the total U.S. since 2004, FBI figures showed.
As for education on the subject in Hawthorne, there has been little.
“It’s always something we keep in mind,” said Gabriela Lopez, Youth Coordinator at the Hawthorne Teen Center.
However, there has never been any formal discussion about rape and how to prevent or handle it.
The Teen Center, which hosts about 40 kids each day, holds monthly “Girl Talk” meetings where girls can address any personal concerns and questions in a friendly and safe group setting. But sexual assault has never come up at a “Girl Talk” gathering, Lopez said.
The same is true for the community-at-large. Though Williams said he is a big believer in holding free workshops to teach the public how to protect themselves, he can’t recall any being held on the topic of rape.
In Hawthorne it hasn’t been a priority, Williams admitted.
“As a matter of fact, it was one of my goals for last year to introduce the topic, and other things just took the forefront,” he said.
On the immediate agenda is a trip to the East Coast with his sexual assault investigators to attend a workshop about Internet safety. Williams, who runs Citizens of Hawthorne Action Team (C.H.A.T.; to get citizens involved in their own crime prevention and protection), says he will bring the information back to the Hawthorne community by holding a series of seminars for parents and teenagers about how to avoid becoming an Internet predator’s victim.
In the meantime, no one in Hawthorne seems to have a concrete idea as to why the number of rapes has increased.
Williams said he wishes for more in-depth statistics, whereby analysts could easily find patterns in time of day, methods of operation, criminal history and variable factors such as substance abuse.
Still, he said he’s unconcerned that the rise in reported rapes might paint an unattractive picture of the successes of the police department.
“Hawthorne has never been number driven, unfortunately,” he said. “We always kind of went with the most political hot topics, and there was very little rhyme or reason other than the emotions of the public at that time.”
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