Of 448 California cities in 2006, Santa Cruz is ranked number four.
You are probably wondering what for. Do we have the fourth-best surf? The fourth-highest number of vegetarians? The fourth-largest drug problem?
Santa Cruz, behind only Chico, Redding and Oakland, had the fourth-highest rate of forcible rape. This is according to the U.S. Department of Justice Report on Forcible Rape, which also compares the rate of reported rapes in Santa Cruz to those of other UC college towns. As shown in the report, Santa Cruz’s rate is twice that of Santa Barbara and Davis, three times that of Berkeley and a staggering eight times greater than Irvine’s.
Does this surprise anyone? In our time as students here, we have learned that the location, time and circumstance of sexual assault are not neatly avoidable or predictable. Local rapes happening within weeks of each other have made us weary of such typically wonderful places as West Cliff and downtown.
Over last week’s spring break, the workplace was added to that list. A young woman was robbed and raped at knifepoint while preparing to open the Kind Grind, an East Side café, for business early one morning.
Although workplace attacks are not unprecedented in Santa Cruz, this crime has garnered unprecedented amounts of attention from both the community and the police.
The Santa Cruz Police Department has handled this case with impressive dedication, thoroughness and speed. Members of the community, especially in the café’s Harbor neighborhood, have rallied in outrage, helped comb the area and even begun blogs about it. A large reward, compiled from the pockets of these concerned locals and police, now awaits whomever can identify or turn in the attacker.
The response to this rape has shown sincere concern for the victim and has demonstrated a neighborly unity that suggests a true desire to ensure the safety of the community. Everyone from police spokespersons to Harbor community members claim to be acting partially out of shock; in reports on the incident, these people are quoted as saying how rare and surprising a rape is in our area.
What about that number-four spot our charming little town has? For a place that boasts strong community and peaceful vibes, these statistics paint quite a different picture.
It would seem that these facts, along with many others presented by the city’s Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, would have become common knowledge when published in 2006.
If the findings in the 2006 Report on Rape had been treated more seriously, then perhaps the chillingly high numbers would have changed the way the police department handled rape cases or the means for prevention that exist within the community. Imagine the progress that could have manifested over the past two years.
Looking back, the report can seem like a prediction for a dark pattern that haunts the town. It exposed Santa Cruz as having a disproportionately high rate of rape by strangers and a disturbingly low level of closure on rape cases.
According to the Department of Justice’s Uniform Crime Report, the average clearance rate (essentially meaning when the attacker is charged or arrested) in similarly sized cities was 37 percent.
In Santa Cruz? Thirteen percent.
With such staggering numbers, why have reported rapes continued to go uninvestigated? One can only theorize.
Because we can assume that the officials are not truly indolent or ignorant, we can also assume they have silenced the rates for other reasons. Although publicizing the truth would serve to protect the community, just imagine the effect it would have on tourism.
In the midst of sweeping the report under the rug, the SCPD has neglected the fact that behind every report and statistic is a very real person living in the shadow of a very real, traumatic experience. Each victim deserves the attention and dedication of the current investigation. So why now, with this case, have the appropriate measures and infuriation appeared?
Perhaps it was the overwhelming community uproar, or because such violence was a poor beginning to Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April. Or perhaps it was, in part, a result of recent public criticism of the SCPD.
Ten days before the Kind Grind rape, UC Santa Cruz’s rape prevention educator Gillian Greensite wrote an editorial in the Santa Cruz Sentinel about the negligence of the rape rates.
“My aim is to keep raising this issue until it is taken seriously, with necessary changes made, so that those who choose to report a rape to the SCPD will have their cases investigated thoroughly. … Until these changes happen, reporting a rape to the SCPD often adds insult to injury,” read the article.
Whether as a result of this piece or not, change did occur. The police have done an admirable job with this case, and hopefully their efforts will prove fruitful. However, their disregard of the 2006 report shows considerable carelessness toward prior rape cases, and their low clearance rate has proved their noncommitment. The true test will be how rape reports are handled from now on.
Similarly, the community has responded with beautiful unity to this particular case. Let’s hope this attitude carries on, and not just in instances of specific rapes.
If we wish to see visible change in rape statistics, the community — city and police included — must rally behind the issue itself.
This attack has put the issue of rape on the table, and now it is time to deal with it; we must truly work toward reforming the underlying gender relations and domestic issues that engender sexual violence in the first place. To make change we cannot count on simply seeking vengeance on an individual rapist, but on the roots of rape themselves.