Striking new NYPD data suggests the movement to expose sexual misconduct isn't confined to famous men

  • Reports of rape are on the rise in New York City.
  • The city investigated 111 rape cases in November – 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, with more women coming forward.

High-profile movie moguls, restaurateurs, Silicon Valley executives, and sitting members of Congress 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 behaviour, including groping, forced kissing, and rape.

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

NYPD data from November reveals a sharp uptick in the number of rapes documented, with incident rates jumping 15% from the same month last year. The change is evident in maps generated based on reports filed to the police.

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

Here’s that same map showing data from last month. Notice the darker shading across large swaths of Queens (bottom right), midtown Manhattan, and the Bronx, up top:

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

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

Police officers in New York are also learning how to more effectively investigate reports of rapes. Instead of asking direct interrogation questions, like what an attacker’s eye colour or race was, officers are being trained to ask victims more open-ended questions. They may lead by asking victims to describe their experience or guide them through sensory questions, like what they felt or smelled while being attacked. Such techniques have proved more successful for interviewing trauma survivors, as the The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

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

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

“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 new 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 was an improvement. Women may 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 was only incremental, with women who report misconduct 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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