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Sex Assaults Underreported, Undercounted

Megan Lynch @MLynchOnAir
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File photo of police tape. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

File photo of police tape. (credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

CBS St. Louis (con't)

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) – National experts don’t think we’re getting an accurate picture of sexual assaults in federal crime reports.  It may come down to asking to the right questions and providing victims the right support.

The National Research Council (NRC) has determined sexual assaults are vastly underreported and poorly counted.   The group says the national survey used to collect some data needs new wording.

Cindy Mallott, Crisis Intervention Supervisor for the St. Louis YWCA Regional Sexual Assault Center offers an example.  “How are we asking the question when we’re trying to get statistics from the general public on rape and sexual assault in the community?  Not saying ‘have you been the victim of a rape?’, but maybe asking ‘has someone forced you to have sex when you didn’t want to?'”

When it comes to underreporting, Mallott says many victims remain hesitant to come forward, fearing they’ll be blamed instead of their attacker. The NRC estimates as much as 80-percent of sexual assaults in the United States go unreported to police.  It could be that many victims lack the support they need to feel confident coming forward.

Mallott says local agencies were seeing much lower numbers a decade ago.  

“We would look at the number of sexual assault victims that we had seen come into the hospital and pretty consistently throughout each year you would see a certain portion of them, around 30-percent who would choose not to talk to law enforcement.” Mallot says since then the Y’s Regional Sexual Assault Center has collaborated with St. Louis City Police as well as worked with Saint Louis University and area hospitals to specially train ER nurses. 

If a victim seeks help from one, they’re connected with them all.  Mallott says now 90-percent of victims who seek help in St. Louis hospitals end up reporting their assault to police.

Copyright KMOX Radio

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