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Reported rapes nearly double in Greensboro

by Amy Kingsley

It’s been a busy seven months for Susan Wies. The director of victim services for Family Services of the Piedmont works primarily with Guilford County’s casualties of domestic violence and sexual assault. So she was not surprised when the Greensboro Police Department released statistics on July 21 showing an alarming increase in the number of reported rapes for the first six months of 2008.

Wies and the police officers charged with investigating rape cases have identified a strong connection between domestic violence and sexual assault. So Wies and her agency are partnering with the Junior League of Greensboro to address the root cause of the violence. The two agencies are in the early stages of a collaboration they hope will lead to the creation of a domestic violence unit within the department, a suggestion first submitted by police consultants Carroll Buracker and Associates. “The rape numbers aren’t out of line with an overall increase in domestic violence,” Wies says.

In the first half of 2008, the Greensboro Police Department investigated 52 reported rapes. Only 27 rape victims sought the department’s services in the first half of 2007. By the end of 2007, city residents had reported a total of 79 rapes to the Greensboro Police Department, which is similar to the figures from 2006 and 2005. In 2004, the number of rapes hit a decade-high 109. When the police department released its crime statistics for the first half of 2008, Capt. Janice Rogers, who leads the criminal investigations division, addressed the rape numbers directly. “I personally feel like the increase is all related to awareness,” Rogers said. “There’s a heightened awareness that rapes by spouses or boyfriends are reportable, and more people are doing that than in previous years.” There has been no noticeable increase in stranger rapes, she said. Instead the department is seeing a rising number of attacks committed by husbands, boyfriends and exes. The increase in acquaintance rape and a corresponding rise in domestic violence is taxing the resources available to vulnerable populations, Wies said. “Our shelters have been full or nearly full since February,” Wies said.

Detective Cheryl Cundiff, who leads the Greensboro Police Department’s Special Victims Unit, said her squad has witnessed an increase in domestic violence reports along with the rise in reported rapes. Police department policy requires patrol officers to make a domestic violence report anytime they encounter a partner with an injury. Cundiff credited Wies’s organization for dispelling some of the misconceptions about sexual assaults within relationships. “A lot of the increase is because of the work of Family Services,” Cundiff said. “There used to be a myth that if you’re married, you can’t be raped, or if you’re in a relationship, you can’t be raped. I think people are more aware now that those crimes are still rape and that they can come to us.” Cundiff’s squad has been encountering domestic violence and rape cases with greater frequency, a trend that Wies blamed on the faltering economy. “The downturn in the economy directly correlates to the number of people we see in our crisis centers,” Wies said. “With the economy being bad, that means the kids are hungry, the wife is irritated. Financial pressures just set up abusive behaviors.” And some of those abusive behaviors have escalated beyond sexual assault and rape. Guilford County recorded a single case of domestic homicide in 2007 — the murder of Gibsonville’s MacArthur Thompson by his wife, Donna Patrick Thompson. In 2008, three women have died at the hands of current and former partners. Greensboro police suspect Jonathan Newell murdered ex-girlfriend Regan Bailey in January in her parents’ New Irving Park home. Then they arrested Dewayne Thomas Warren for the murder of his girlfriend Cassandra Parker in April. Less than a month later, Laymon Lavern Connor shot his girlfriend Angela West Holland in High Point before turning the gun on himself. A total of 87 North Carolinians died in domestic attacks last year, according to the NC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In the first six-and-a-half months of 2008, 53 people already perished at the hands of family members or partners. Advocates aren’t the only groups with concerns about domestic violence in Greensboro. The

idea of establishing a separate domestic violence unit within the police department first surfaced in a report submitted by Buracker and Associates in June. Rogers said the department has made reforming its promotion system — another weak spot identified in the report — its first priority, relegating to the back burner any effort to establish a specialized squad. In the meantime, the police department is not only dealing with domestic cases, but also reports submitted by Greensboro prostitutes. Rogers said streetwalkers submitted several of the reports from the first half of the year. Cara Michele Forrest, who participates in a homeless outreach program in Greensboro, said almost all the prostitutes she knows have suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of their clients. Few report the crimes to police, and those that go all the way to trial invite vicious cross-examination, said Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann. “Credibility in a lot of rape cases becomes a big issue because it’s my word against yours,” he said. “If an attorney can prove that you haven’t had a lot of credibility in the past, then it’s going to be hard to win that case.” Both Forrest and Sarah Holland, the director of Leslie’s House, a women’s shelter in High Point, said detectives in both cities investigate prostitutes’ rape claims thoroughly. Leslie’s House has 21 beds reserved for single women without dependents. The facility does not specifically serve prostitutes, but several of its clients engagein sex work to make money, Holland said. “Unfortunately it’s prettycommon,” Holland said, “especially among women without dependentsbecause they can’t rely on the government for income.” WhenLeslie’s House opened eight months ago, it operated from 8 p.m. to 8a.m. Holland moved the check-in time to 6 p.m. to open a safe space inthe evening to its residents, who are particularly vulnerable toviolence because of their marginal status. “I’m veryencouraged that women who work in the oldest profession in the worldknow they can seek assistance from the police when they are assaulted,”Wies said. “Even though they are prostitutes, they do not deserve to beassaulted.” Because rape is a crime of power, Wies also saidshe thinks assaults against streetwalkers might be related to theeconomic downturn. “Maybe these men that are used to receivingsexual services can no longer pay for them,” she said, “so they arejust taking them.” Prostitutes aren’t the only victims struggling tosee justice done in their cases. Last year, Greensboro police officersmade arrests in only 6 percent of reported rapes, which is the lowestarrest percentage among major crimes. Officers made arrests in anaverage of 18.8 percent of rape cases during the past decade, accordingto police department statistics. “I had an advocate go throughan agonizing experience with a rape case that was three years old,”Wies said. “The victim and her attacker were both students, and she didjust what she was supposed to do. But he had some means, and his lawyerjust continued it until all the witnesses moved away. Even if you doeverything right, there’s still room for people to wiggle out of it.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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