Reported rapes in NJ up 32 percent — but many victims still won’t come forward
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We caught up with a lead expert on the matter to discuss the prevalence of sexual assault in New Jersey and what's being done to help the victims.
The national statistics show that every 107 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. One in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime, while 1 in 71 men have.
But according to Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA), it's not easy to put a number on how many people in the Garden State are or have been victims of this heinous crime. Sexual assault has been recognized statewide and nationally as one of the most underreported crimes.
"Where we can find some level of comfort, and perhaps a really good base point in New Jersey, is that the most recently-released Uniform Crime Report showed a 32 percent increase in reported sexual assault," Teffenhart said.
Still, the stigma attached to the issue is far from gone, she noted. Victims are seeing survivors scrutinized by the media and run through the ringer during their courtroom cases.
"Many of the survivors have a lot to lose by disclosing, and so the stigmas attached to disclosing that you've been sexually assaulted are still very real and very prevalent and one of the major reasons survivors don't come forward," she said.
80 percent of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
And more often than not, reporting an incident of sexual assault may be difficult for the victim because their perpetrator was a non-stranger.
A common misconception, Teffenhart said, is that most of these crimes are committed by someone "jumping out of the bushes." According to Teffenhart, 80 percent of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
"In most instances, sexual assault is occurring between two people who know each other," she said. "In many instances, they might be close acquaintances or trusted friends or family members, and so there's a breach of trust that occurs."
But for those who do speak up, New Jersey is known to have a solid system in place. Along with their own 24-hour crisis hotline, each county in New Jersey has a sexual assault response team, made up of a member of law enforcement, a medical professional and a victim advocate.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, the statewide 24-hour hotline can be reached at 1-800-601-7200.
Teffenhart said NJCASA, in collaboration with the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, is working with State Police to strengthen law enforcement training on these matters. The goal is to reach a higher disclosure rate and shift the numbers of prosecution in favor of the victims.
Taking into account the sexual assault incidents that are reported, Teffenhart said just 2 percent of offenders ever spend a day in jail.