TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-- Help is literally around every corner at the Refuge House in Tallahassee.The nonprofit is dedicated to supporting domestic and sexual violence survivors in eight counties.
“We respond to about 6,000 hotline calls a year," Refuge House Director Meg Baldwin said.
New numbers from the state’s top law agency show a trend. Reports of rape increased across Florida last year by more than 6 percent. It caps six years of an increase in reported rapes — with 2018 being the single highest increase during the period.
So why is Refuge House emboldened by the increase of rape reports across Florida? Put simply — they think it means more are coming forward to tell police.
“With underreported crimes, of which sexual assault and domestic violence are both examples— seeing that number go up is actually the number we look for every year," Baldwin said.
Rape has historically been underreported. Survivors sometimes feel ashamed or scared to give up their attacker, who often is someone they know. In 2016, a US Bureau of Justice Statistics survey suggested only 23% of rapes or sex assaults were reported to police. But, the number grew to 40% a year later.
“People are reporting more. Law enforcement is taking it seriously. It doesn’t necessarily mean sexual assault is on the increase," Florida Council Against Sexual Violence Director Jennifer Dritt said.
The new numbers have her optimistic the efforts the group is making— pushing victims rights policy and education— are working. Survivors seem to be speaking more and fearing less.
“I see it as something not necessarily to be concerned about. But, be mindful of," said Dritt.
Florida’s crime report had some other interesting factors to note. Murder was up 4.7% — the Parkland shooting played a role. But the overall crime rate in Florida was down 9%.
The head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement commended officers in a statement about the new crime numbers. The commissioner said the overall drop reflects their “outstanding work.”
Thanks to all of our law enforcement partners throughout our great state for helping to drive Florida's 48th consecutive annual crime rate drop! A 9.0% drop statewide for 2018! #UCR #CrimeRate #SafeFlorida #LawEnforcement #PublicSafetyhttps://t.co/nnKixeIPxB pic.twitter.com/QIsM5Snx1p— FDLE (@fdlepio) June 24, 2019