Report Documents Low Arrest Rates For Sex Crimes In Chicago

Defund police demonstration in downtown Chicago
Protestors gather on August 18, 2020, for a car caravan march that ended at City Hall in downtown Chicago. The protest was to denounce police violence against minorities and included calls to defund police. A new report highlighting low arrest rates for sex crimes in Chicago also raises questions about the role of police. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ News
Defund police demonstration in downtown Chicago
Protestors gather on August 18, 2020, for a car caravan march that ended at City Hall in downtown Chicago. The protest was to denounce police violence against minorities and included calls to defund police. A new report highlighting low arrest rates for sex crimes in Chicago also raises questions about the role of police. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ News

Report Documents Low Arrest Rates For Sex Crimes In Chicago

Over the past decade, only one in every eight sex crimes reported to the Chicago Police have resulted in an arrest, according to a new report released Thursday that links the heightened awareness of gender-based violence sparked by the #MeToo movement with calls to defund police made prominent by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In “Too Little, Too Late?: The CPD’s Response to Sex Crimes 2010-2019,” the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE) analyzed police report and arrest data from a public data portal. With the focus on adult survivors, the four criminal offenses examined were criminal sexual abuse, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, criminal sexual assault and aggravated criminal sexual assault.

The report included annual figures for reports and arrests for each of those four categories of sex crimes from 2010 through 2019. In all, there have been 18,888 sex crimes reported and 2,409 arrests, according to the figures listed in the report. That’s an overall arrest rate of 12.75%.

The report also noted that each year since 2014, the arrest rates for sex crimes have trailed those for the combined arrest rates of three other violent offenses: first degree murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery.

The CAASE report didn’t include numbers for other cities. However, while there are variations in how police departments classify sex crimes, an FBI report citing 2018 data shows that 29.9% of rape cases among the nation’s 10 largest cities were cleared by arrest or exceptional means.

Activists around the country continue to call for the defunding of police departments in response to police killings of Black people. As that campaign gains steam, one of the common critiques is a question around what happens to rapists and sexual assaulters without police. For CAASE, the dismal arrest numbers offer proof that in Chicago there’s a misunderstanding of how these crimes are addressed.

“All this talk about policing is a really important conversation for our community to be having but was incredibly difficult that our community [advocates for survivors of sexual harm] was being used in this way. And we thought it was important to focus on policing to take a deeper look,” said Madeleine Behr, policy manager for CAASE.

Behr said there’s overlap between #MeToo and Black Lives Matter: “the movements are not disparate.” CAASE has long held the view that social and institutional systems don’t serve survivors of sexual violation, with girls and women of color and LGBTQ people disproportionately harmed.

“CAASE offers this report to educate people about how CPD handles sexual crimes and as a caution against thinking that policing has ever been, or could ever be, a sufficient response to the problems of gender-based violence. Simply put, sexual harm cannot be solved through policing,” the report says.

Behr said political leadership needs to better factor in criminal sexual assault with its violent prevention strategies.

“We hope that the police superintendent, mayor, all 50 aldermen take a good look at this report and reckon with the fact that the vast majority of survivors going to the police department are not seeing an adequate response,” Behr said.

Society’s understanding of rape is a stranger coming out of the bushes while people with power and privilege are not often held accountable, but they happen daily, Behr said.

Investing in community services, prevention initiatives for youth around consent and restorative justice processes are among the recommendations the report offers.

In a statement, CPD didn’t dispute CAASE and noted its important findings.

“And we share the opinion put forth in the report that sex crimes are not something that police can solve alone. We need the help of the communities we serve to raise awareness around sexual assault and provide additional support to Chicago’s survivors,” the statement said.

CPD notes that this week it was awarded a $1 million grant from the federal government to improve its response to gender-based violence. A spokesman said CPD will hire a project coordinator to work with advocates to develop policies and training.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.