Overall, crime in our cities appears to be declining. But a closer look at the annual statistics tells a more complicated story. NJTV News Correspondent Brenda Flanagan has a closer look at the latest uniform crime report.
Flanagan: It’s all about numbers, but keep in mind these numbers represent people who are crime victims. Every year, we get a Uniform Crime Report that crunches the numbers and shows us trends. For the latest year — 2015 — the numbers show overall crime in New Jersey was down 5 percent from the year before. And violent crime was down 1 percent — essentially flat. So let’s look at the murder rate: almost 370 people killed in 2015 — that’s up 4 percent from the year before. But rape shows an astounding 43 percent increase — more than 1,300 reported in 2015 — up from about 950. What happened? Is rape really up 43 percent in New Jersey? Short answer is no. Patricia Teffenhart — who’s executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault — explains it depends on how you define rape.
Teffenhart: I do think part of the reason why there’s a significant increase being reported is due to federal definition changes and New Jersey has just gotten around — over the last couple of years — to incorporating some of those expanded definitions so that we can fully capture the impact or the prevalence of rape and sexual violence in our communities.
Flanagan: The old, so-called “legacy” definition of rape was very simple: “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” The FBI’s new, revised definition is far more inclusive: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Teffenhart says that’s closer to the truth.
Teffenhart: The previous definition was too limited to actually capture the real scope of the issue, so it’s good that New Jersey is now coming in line with the federal guidelines that were changed in, I think, 2013.
Flanagan: So let’s revisit those numbers and compare the revised rape statistics for New Jersey: about 1,360 in 2015 compared to 1,270 the year before. That’s up 6.9 percent. In 2013, about 1,200 rapes were reported under the revised definition — up 7.2 percent from the prior year. It’s a smaller increase, but it’s still an increase.
Teffenhart: I don’t believe we’re even close to hitting the true numbers as far as impact in New Jersey. Just as a point of reference, New Jersey’s rape crisis centers in 2016 provided counseling services to over 10,000 individuals. That’s so far away from the number of reported crimes.
Flanagan: Teffenhart says the data backs up the need for robust funding for rape crisis centers. She notes the Attorney General’s Office is working with her coalition on other issues, including preservation of evidence — rape kits. They used to be held for only 90 days. Now they’re kept for five years and victims can request they be held even longer, in hopes of solving the crime. There is no statute of limitations for rape in New Jersey.