Authorities shed light on record number of Columbia rape reports

The Columbia Police Department is seeing an upward trend in reported rapes more than anywhere else in mid-Missouri. (File).

The Columbia Police Department is seeing an upward trend in reported rapes more than anywhere else in mid-Missouri.

According to data provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, there were 109 total reported rapes in Columbia in 2016, an all-time high for the city. The amount is more than the 2016 reported rapes recorded for Callaway, Camden, Cole, Cooper, Moniteau, Osage, Pettis and Randolph counties combined.

"This happens a lot more frequently than it's reported," Bryana Larimer said. "There's a very good likelihood you'll seen numbers increase, I'll say media is quick to point out rapes must be occurring more, but I would hesitant to make that speculation because it may be a case of more reports."

In 2013, the FBI broadened the definition of rape, which expanded report numbers.

Police also said that more awareness, education and victim resources resulted in more reports.

Larimer said the Columbia Police Department has four detectives dedicated to investigating sex crimes.

Larimer said the department is in the process of implementing the 'You Have Options' program, also known as Y-HOP. Larimer said the program involves several different elements officers will focus on when taking sexual assault reports. There are currently six agencies across the country that have the program.

"With this program, you're putting entire length of investigation, how much information is reported, putting all that back in the victims hands," she said. "Before, we used to try and gather as much info to try to make an arrest, but what we've learned is that may not be a comforting pace for someone who has just been victimized." Larimer said the department is projected to have fully implemented YHOP by spring of 2018.

Local defense attorney Stephen Wyse said despite the climb in reported rapes, he said his office isn't seeing a significant increase in clients needing representation in rape cases. Wyse said police are doing a much better job investigating rape than they used to.

"The interviewing that women who were reporting being sexually assaulted was often accusatory by the police, over the past 15 years there have been significant improvements," said Wyse.

"Let's focus a little bit here that not every accusation is meritorious," he said. "Sometimes hurt feelings the morning after have resulted in accusations."

According to data provided by the Boone County Circuit Clerk, out of all the reported rapes in 2016, 21 percent of them resulted in filed charges.

Wyse said he's had very few cases go to trial.

"One of the great things about Missouri is we are able to do depositions," he said. "Most [rapes cases] are resolved with deposition discovery which establishes there is no basis or it shows that going to trial would not be in the best interest of both parties."

Wyse also noted changes in the law may help inflate the numbers. One big factor, he says, is in 2014. Missouri removed its statute of limitations for attempted rape with force.

"Statute of limitations was so important in making sure we weren't wrongly convicted," he said. "That's gone now, how can you defend yourself from an accusation from 20 years ago?"

Boone County prosecutors confirm that so far in 2017, they have had three rape trials, all of which resulted in convictions.

University of Missouri rapes accounted for a small fractions of Boone County's reported rape total in 2016-- less than 5 percent.

Those few college campus sexual assaults are handled much differently at universities across mid-Missouri.

Each university has a Title IX office in which students, faculty, employees, volunteers and visitors can report instances of sexual assault. Each reported case may not necessarily make it to police and can be handled and addressed in-house.

For more information, Title IX annual reports can be viewed on most college websites.

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