Cleveland Heights Under-Reports Sexual Assaults

A recent investigation by The Plain Dealer into almost 90 police reports made in Cleveland Heights reveals that officials have incorrectly categorized and chronically misinformed the public of the number of sex crimes reported in the city.

The Plain Dealer reports that, “at least a third of reported sex offenses, including many involving children, have been classified by the police department as non-crimes with labels such as ‘miscellaneous’ or ‘departmental information.’”

The investigation began after police reported that a total of 26 sexual assaults were reported in the city over a three year period. Reporters questioned the statistics and eventually, the city produced 88 cases that had been reported in the years between 2008 and 2010. Many of the cases has been classified as unfounded, closed without changes or not labeled as rape or sexual offenses.

The Plain Dealer also found that the city under-reported the number of “forcible rapes” to the FBI as well. Though the FBI’s definition is currently more narrow than the state law’s definition of sexual assault, almost two dozen cases should have been counted. Only three were reported from 2008 to 2010.

Despite having an new policy on how evidence, including evidence from rape kits, is collected, stored and tested, the department doesn’t have a written policy on how sexual assault cases should be investigated. Another recent article in The Plain Dealer also describes how most departments in Cuyahoga County, where the cities of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights are located, do not have specific policies detailing how to handle sexual assaults.

“It is the responsibility of police to define and classify these crimes properly, and to report the numbers accurately,” Cleveland Rape Crisis Center President & CEO Megan O’Bryan said. “Victims will continue to be silenced if their reports are not taken seriously, investigated thoroughly, and correctly reflected in crime statistics,” O’Bryan said. “We regularly hear stories, in the media and within the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, of sex crime reports not being taken seriously, victims not wanting to ‘cooperate’ with police investigations, and investigations gone awry due to lack of understanding of sexual assault, guidelines and policies,” O’Bryan said. “A stand-alone sexual assault policy is a step on a really steep ladder to changing this climate for rape victims, but a step in the right direction.”

Read more of our coverage of Ohio’s response to sexual assault here on the Backlog Blog.

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