Sexual assault and other violent crimes against women are on the rise in the Flagstaff region, according to police and a victim advocacy group that records statistics for violent crimes against woman.
Flagstaff Police and an independent organization, Northern Arizona Care and Services after Assault (NACASA) noted increases in violent crimes against women this year to date.
These crimes include sexual assault, domestic violence and sexual assault during a domestic violence incident. An increase in medical examiners and more women reporting violent crimes are two possible explanations for the increase.
Arizona law defines sexual assault as non-consensual sexual intercourse or oral intercourse, meaning that groping or fondling a person is not sexual assault, but is still sexual misconduct.
NACASA has conducted 141 medical and forensic exams this year on women who say they have been sexually assaulted or attacked. The organization recorded 92 sexual assaults, 37 domestic violence incidents and 14 sexual assaults resulting from domestic violence.
The assaults recorded by NACASA occurred in Flagstaff, Page, Holbrook, Show Low and Springerville.
The number of violent crimes against women are slightly higher than 2016, when 135 incidents were recorded. However, this year’s numbers are already higher than the entirety of 2016.
NACASA Program director Jennifer Runge said an increase before the end of the year is a concern.
“We are already over our total numbers from last year so I am worried about the rest of the year,” Runge said. “We usually see an increase in assaults during the holidays so these numbers will increase.”
Native American woman have been the most affected by the increase with 44 percent of all violent crimes being perpetrated against them. Caucasian are the second biggest demographic with 35 percent reporting a violent crime to NACASA.
Northern Arizona University students are also disproportionately affected with 34 percent of all victims claiming they went to NAU.
Runge said NACASA began asking victims if they were NAU students last year.
NAU Police recorded 40 instances of rape and three reports of fondling in 2016. Current numbers were not immediately available.
Sexual assaults this year have occurred in the victim’s home 26 percent of the time and 43 percent of sexual assaults were allegedly committed by a friend or acquaintance, according to NACASA.
The 14 sexual assaults during domestic violence incidents were especially concerning to Runge, due to the fact they all have involved the victim being choked during an unwanted encounter.
“We are seeing more sexual assaults with a strangulation component,” Runge said. “That component combined with domestic violence is something we are concerned about because we have not seen it before.”
Runge said the increase in recorded assaults could be sign that more women are reporting violent crimes against them.
“It could be that more people feel comfortable coming to us or law enforcement,” Runge said. “It could also be that having more volunteers to do medical and forensic exams have allowed more women to report assaults.”
NACASA has dramatically increased the number of volunteer-nurses qualified to give medical and forensic exams. The organization has 17 volunteers-examiners in five locations across the county this year, which is 12 more than last year, according to records from the organization.
A different standard
Flagstaff Police have also noted an increase in sexual assaults this year but their numbers differ drastically from NACASA’s.
Police have reported 35 sexual assaults in Flagstaff this year, a 43 percent increase from last year. Five of those reports stem from incidents that occurred in 2016.
Those numbers are small compared to the 108 incidents reported to NACASA.
Flagstaff Police Spokesman Sgt. Cory Runge, who is the spouse of Jennifer Runge, said the numbers are different because police are required to meet the legal definition of sexual assault in order to label the incident as such.
“We define sexual assault the way Arizona Revised Statute defines sexual assault, so if we don’t have enough evidence to substantiate that a crime occurred we can’t call it a sexual assault,” Cory Runge said. “NACASA starts by saying that the event did occur and sends testing kits to law enforcement.”
Jennifer Runge echoed that sentiment by stating that NACASA gives forensic exams to anyone who says they were assaulted and allow law enforcement to find the facts of the case.
Sexual assault test kits are sent to the Arizona Department of Public Safety Crime lab where they are tested if they give a report to police. Flagstaff Police hold onto test kits for women who do not want to submit a police report. Those kits are not tested until a report is filed.