CLEVELAND — According to the latest crime report from the Cleveland Police Department, rape cases citywide have climbed by more than 25% thus far in 2021 compared to last year, and the total number of reported rape cases has exceeded the total for all of 2019.
Rape survivor and victim advocate Alisa Alfaro told News 5 the growing trend in Cleveland rape cases has left her with mixed feelings. Alfaro believes one reason for the rising numbers is that more victims are likely to come forward, but at the same time she's saddened by the alarming growth in cases and wonders how many cases are still going unreported.
“I knew my rapist, 75% of us know our rapist," Alfaro said. "Mine happened to be my married neighbor and dog walker.”
"It says a lot that victims are starting to come forward, for so long we were shamed and we weren’t able to come forward. But once we report it are we reporting it to trained officers, do they understand the trauma response. It is the most under-reported crime, 75% of us don’t report.”
Sondra Miller, President of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center told News 5 the ongoing pandemic has played a role in the current spike in reported city rape cases.
“I think the pandemic has been a breeding ground for perpetrators of sexual violence," Miller said. "I am very concerned at the trends. That more women and especially children reporting they have experienced sexual abuse.”
“The total number of people calling us and walking through our doors is up double digits increases over last year, and we served more people last year than any other year in our history.”
“The most concerning part to me is the biggest increases we are seeing are children who are reporting sexual abuse, we have seen more than a 60% increase this year over 2020."
Miller said one way to slow down the alarming trend is for people to come forward and report suspicious activity to the police or her agency more often.
“For more bystanders to step forward, and when they see unhealthy things happening, when they see grooming behavior happening with kids, when they see horrible jokes or things happening that are just not okay, we have to get comfortable with speaking up," Miller said.
“We have to get comfortable with speaking up and letting perpetrators know this is not going to happen when we’re around and when we’re on watch.”
Meanwhile, Alfaro believes slowing the number of rape cases must involve more involvement from schools and parents in teaching teens the meaning of sexual consent.
“When are we really going to start really pushing what consent is, Alfaro said. “Without doubt, it’s ingrained in each and every one of us, both from a male and a female perspective. Training at home or at school very early on is important. If we can have sexual education to prevent pregnancy, we can also have sexual education to prevent rape."
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is urging rape victims to come forward and seek agency resources and support by calling its Crisis and Support Hotline, call or text 216-619-6192 or 440-423-2020. The agency website is also packed with a wide range of prevention, education, support, and resources.