More people reported sexual assaults this year after the Ashland Police Department launched a campaign in January to encourage victims to come forward.
From January through April 2012, Ashland police received 11 reports of sexual assaults. That increased to 16 in the same period this year, according to police statistics.
"In this particular area, having a higher number of reports is a good thing. A higher percentage of people are telling us about sexual assaults," Police Chief Terry Holderness said.
Police have estimated in the past that only 15 to 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported.
Under the department's "You Have Options" campaign, victims don't have to decide right away whether they want to press charges.
They can go to Rogue Valley hospitals for free medical care, where trained personnel can collect evidence. Emergency contraception is made available, and victims can be referred to support and advocacy services.
The campaign includes a website with sexual assault reporting information. Posters also have been put up around town, especially in restrooms.
While society often blames victims of sexual assaults, 90 percent of assaults are by repeat offenders and the average offender has committed 5.8 assaults before being identified, according to Ashland police.
When launching the campaign, police had said they hoped it would help them identify repeat offenders.
"We are seeing identification of repeat offenders," Holderness said. "Some are not in a position to be prosecuted yet. We wait until the victims are ready. We have had repeat offenders identified and indicted."
Before it officially launched the campaign in January to encourage sexual assault reporting, APD had already had some success in encouraging reporting by changing some of its practices and reaching out to partners in Ashland and the rest of Jackson County.
Reported sexual assaults went from 25 in 2009 to more than 40 in 2012.
The increase in reporting, coupled with a change in the FBI's definition of rape, helped push Ashland's violent crime statistics higher for 2012.
For 2011, Ashland reported one homicide, seven rapes, seven robberies and 11 aggravated assaults — for a total of 26 violent crimes.
For 2012, Ashland reported no homicides, 12 rapes, six robberies and 17 aggravated assaults — for a total of 35 violent crimes.
The previous definition of rape, first established in 1927, covered only forcible penetration of a vagina with a penis, according to the FBI.
The new FBI definition of rape is penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or penetration of another person's mouth by a sex organ, without the consent of the victim.
In announcing the change in January 2012, Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, "This long-awaited change to the definition of rape is a victory for women and men across the country whose suffering has gone unaccounted for over 80 years."
For more information on APD's campaign to encourage reporting of sexual assaults, visit www.ReportingOptions.org or call 541-482-5211.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.