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rape kit evidence forensicAn evidence bag from a sexual assault case. AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

  • Reports of rape are on the rise in New York City.
  • In November 2017, 111 rape cases were investigated in the city — a 15% increase from last year.
  • Social scientists say the uptick could be a sign that the stigma around sexual assault is shifting from victims to harassers, as more women come forward.

Famous movie moguls, restaurateurs, Silicon Valley executives, and sitting Congressmen have all faced allegations of sexual misconduct over the past several months. 

Men and women have come forward to accuse at least 36 powerful men of inappropriate and sometimes abusive behavior, including groping, forced kissing, and rape.

A striking new report from the New York Police Department reveals that the movement to speak out about sexual misconduct has created a shift beyond the circles of influential elites.

NYPD data from November 2017 reveals a sharp uptick in the number of rapes documented this year: incident rates jumped 15% from November 2016 to November 2017. The change is evident in the two maps below, which are generated based on reports filed to police.

Here’s what rape reports looked like across the city in November 2016 — darker shading in a precinct indicates more rapes reported.

nov 2016 rape reports nypdCity of New York

Here’s that same map in November 2017. Notice the darker shading across large swaths of Queens (bottom right), midtown Manhattan, and the Bronx, up top: 

nov_2017 rape reports nypd arrowedCity of New York

Dermot Shea, NYPD’s chief of crime control strategies, said November is the third consecutive month of rising rape reports this year. While reports are down 2% overall in 2017, 111 cases were investigated in November 2017 — up from 96 cases in November 2016, Shea told the New York Daily News

The rise probably does not mean that more rapes were committed — it’s long been known that a small portion of such crimes get reported, so the increase is likely due to more people coming forward.

Police officers in New York are also learning more effective ways to investigate rapes that get reported. Instead of asking direct interrogation questions, like what a suspect’s eye color or race was, officers are being trained to ask victims more open-ended questions. They might lead by asking a victim to describe her experiences, or guide her through sensory questions, like what she might’ve felt or smelled when she was attacked. Such techniques have proven more successful for interviewing trauma survivors, as the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Social scientists think the reporting trends could be a sign that cultural norms are shifting.

Allan Horowitz, a sociology professor at Rutgers who studies mental health, told Business Insider that in the past, women were reluctant to file complaints about sexual harassment because victims were often regarded as the “deviants” — not their attackers. 

“More women are publicly speaking about their harassment experiences, which both makes other victims more likely to come forward, and stigmatizes male harassers,” Horowitz said in an email.

But others are still cautious about making conclusions based on the months-long trend.

Mary Louise Adams, who studies gender and sexuality at Queen’s University in Canada, told Business Insider that the increase from “abysmally low” reporting rates is an improvement. Women might feel that they have a “slightly better chance of being listened to and believed,” she wrote in an email. But Adams pointed out that the shift is only incremental: women who report misconduct are still subject to harassment, ridicule and, attempted shaming. 

“When women start to feel like they are taken seriously and that they feel as empowered to report sexual assault as they might be to report other acts of non-sexual violence, then we can start talking about normal,” she said. 

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