PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – While violent crime in Rhode Island has declined to its lowest level since 2014, the number of reported rapes has soared 31% during that time period, according to newly released FBI statistics.
The federal agency released annual crime statistics on Sept. 30, showing the number of reported rapes in Rhode Island increased to 481 compared to 366 five years earlier.
The 31% growth outpaced the 18% increase in rapes reported nationwide during the same time period, according to a Target 12 analysis of FBI statistics.
Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office called the increase a “matter of great concern” that “merits a closer look.”
“Among the questions we need to ask is whether reporting by victims itself is on the rise and is somehow contributing to these statistics,” said Neronha spokesperson Kristy dosReis. “While any increase in sexual assaults warrants additional law enforcement focus, it is worth noting that more robust reporting would be a positive development, since we know that historically sexual assaults have been under reported.”
Day One, a nonprofit advocacy group, told Target 12 the growth represents a shift in how people are talking about crimes involving sexual assault.
“We don’t believe that there have necessarily been more sexual assaults occurring, but rather victims are now feeling like they can come forward and report the crime,” said Day One spokesperson John Canole. “We have made great strides in the past few years, where people are actually talking about sexual assault.”
R.I. State Police Maj. Timothy Sanzi echoed the sentiment, saying people are feeling more comfortable about coming forward to report such crimes.
“It takes a lot of bravery to come forward,” Sanzi said. “The education of the public over the last couple years from victim advocate groups, law enforcement, social media and other movements have resulted in more complaints.”
The growing number of reported rapes bucks an overall trend of falling violent crime in Rhode Island and across the country.
The FBI, which collected data from 16,000 law enforcement agencies, reported violent crime in the United States fell 3.3% between 2017 and 2018. Property crime, meanwhile, decreased 6% during the same time period.
In Rhode Island, violent crimes – including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – fell 6% to 2,317 between 2017 and 2018.
Property crime – including burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft – fell 5% to 17,561.
Rape was the only violent crime to increase in 2018. Motor vehicle theft, which grew 3% to 1,531, was the only property crime to increase during the same time period, according to the FBI. All property crimes are lower than what was reported in 2014.
Overall, Sanzi said he’s pleased to see crime on the decline in Rhode Island.
“That’s our mission,” he said.