The Texas Department of Public Safety recently released its annual report for crime in Texas for 2017.[i] There are several troubling results for Houston but the number that jumps off the page is that rape was up by 13% in 2017, increasing from 1,210 to 1,366 rapes. That is nearly four rapes each day somewhere in the City. This is a continuation of a troubling trend that began after 2013. That year the number of rapes bottomed out at 618 cases. But since then, rapes have increased by 121%.
HPD solved only 39% of the rape cases in 2017. That is fairly consistent with its long-term historic and the national average. However, in the years 2010-2013, HPD solved around 50% of the rape cases on average and the City saw an historic drop in the number of reported rape case. Since then the clearance rate has been drifting lower.[ii]
Coincidence does not prove causation, but the coincidence of the decline in the clearance rate and the increase in the number of rapes certainly supports the common-sense notion that if we catch more rapists, the number of rapes will go down, and vice-versa.
Rape data is always problematic because of victims’ reluctance to report the crime. It is possible that in the age of the #MeToo movement some of the increase is the result of more rapes being reported. Also, the FBI changed the definition of rape in 2013, which resulted in somewhat higher counts nationwide. [iii]
Regardless, the trend is unacceptable. Even more troubling is that a victim only has a 4 in 10 chance of receiving justice in our City if that victim makes the difficult decision to come forward. It is time for the City to devote the resources necessary to intensely investigate every rape case. And I am not interested in any whining from the City that it does not have the money. With sales taxes up $32 million in just the first four months of this year, trust me, the City could find the resources if investigating rape was a priority. After all, what is more important than protecting our fellow citizens from this horrendous crime?
[i] Don’t ask me why it takes DPS ten months to get out this data or for that matter why HPD does not post its Monthly Crime Trend Comparison Report on-line. It is currently only available by filing an open records request.
[ii] The precipitous drop in 2014 is probably related some degree to the FBI’s change in the definition of rape implemented in 2013. See Endnote No. 3 below.
[iii] In 2013, the FBI UCR Program began collecting rape data under a revised definition within the Summary Reporting System. Previously, offense data for forcible rape were collected under the legacy UCR definition: the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will. Beginning with the 2013 data year, the term “forcible” was removed from the offense title, and the definition was changed. The revised UCR definition of rape is: penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. Attempts or assaults to commit rape are also included in the statistics presented here; however, statutory rape and incest are excluded.