Accentuate the positive: That's how our city's leaders prefer to do things.
Example: Mayor Jerry Sanders and Police Chief William Lansdowne held a news conference last Thursday to report an 8-percent drop in total crimes last year over the year before, including declines in homicides, robberies, assaults and vehicle thefts. The pair hailed the good data, with Sanders telling reporters that San Diego's crime rate is at its lowest since LBJ was in office.
Less trumpeted was a disturbing outlier in the otherwise rosy stats: Reported sexual assaults skyrocketed in 2008, from 296 in 2007 to 376. The 27-percent jump represents a little more than a rape a day in the city.
Though devoting the lion's share of the conference to the brighter side of the picture (Sanders called it the third consecutive year crime has decreased in San Diego), Lansdowne did note the rise in rapes. Attributing the increase largely to new school programs urging victims of acquaintance rape and rape involving alcohol to report the crimes, the chief said more grant money would be made available for rape prevention.
But while women's advocacy groups agree with Lansdowne's assertion that date rape victims are increasingly willing to report the crimes, the chief may have missed another possible factor in the increase: Violence against women tends to rise when the economy sours.
The phenomenon, documented in studies by the National Institute of Justice and cited last month by the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (which saw a 21-percent rise in domestic-violence calls from 2007 to 2008), didn't escape the attention of Janedra Sykes, director of advocacy services for San Diego's Center for Community Solutions.
“There's thinking that economic stressors could be playing a role”—in the increase of reported rapes locally—“and we're preparing for that internally,” says Sykes, whose center assists victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“We're seeking volunteers to staff our hotlines, emergency response, doing outreach and education, and for our prevention-education department.”
While Sykes says she herself has seen no hard evidence of a connection between economic stress and violence against women, crime data from the San Diego Police Department lends support to the belief. Rape reports in the city were at an historic high during the deep recession years of 1980 (565 cases) and 1981 (559).
Sykes adds that if the city is willing to free up more grant money for sexual-assault prevention, her organization is willing to take it.
“I would like to have more staff to be able to deal with the volume of clients we have,” she says. “We get clients from law enforcement, but that's only one avenue. We also get calls from our hotline from women who have never reported [to police] that they were raped.”