Behind Downtown's rising rape count

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October 3, 2005 // UPDATED 1:58 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

The context behind 2005's increase; watch what you drink and where you put it down

Through Sept. 27, Downtown has had 59 reported rapes this year -- 11 more than last year, a 23 percent increase.

Minneapolis Police spokesman Officer Ron Reier said there is "not just one reason" for the year-to-date increase in rape, defined as nonconsensual sex involving penetration. Police have not seen more date or "drug-induced" rapes this year, he said.

Reier noted that the numbers compiled just a week before Sept. 27 showed a 29 percent Downtown rape increase; the falloff to 23 percent seven days later might suggest the number will be still lower by year's end. "Some things are cyclical," he noted.

When judging Downtown's danger, those who aid victims of sexual violence are quick to add their own context.

The word "rape" often conjures images of a stranger lurking in dark places, waiting to randomly attack unsuspecting women. Such an act occurred this June when a woman was brutally kidnapped, stabbed and raped in a parking lot near St. Anthony Main.

However, Jude Foster, program director at the locally based Sexual Violence Center, said the victim knows the rapist in 84-92 percent of cases nationwide.

While no local breakdown is yet available, Foster says such familiarity means, "you're safer walking down the street Downtown than you are in your home."

She added, "It's not just the scary man hiding in the bushes or in the parking ramps. It's the nice guy down the street, or the guy at the bar who bought you a drink."

It might even be your partner, Foster says.

Compared to the streets, you're less safe in a bar. Three out of four rapes nationwide involve drugs or -- most often -- alcohol, which Foster called "the oldest date-rape drug."

Foster assists rape victims at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC,) at 701 Park Ave. S. "More often than not, the victim is intoxicated," she said. She also sees a lot of "drug-facilitated" rapes -- a felony crime in which the perpetrator slips "a date rape drug" into a drink.

While Downtown has a concentration of bars -- especially in the Warehouse District -- police crime maps show rape reports are not concentrated there, but scattered around the area. Nine of Downtown's 57 reported rapes were near bars concentrated in the Warehouse District -- eight along Hennepin Avenue between 4th and 7th streets. Others are scattered around Downtown neighborhoods, including eight in Loring Park and seven in Elliot Park.

However, another statistic points to the data's limitations: only 12-16 percent of rapes are reported, according to probability statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Foster warned against stigmatizing or qualifying "kinds" of rape. "When someone murders their partner, we don't call it 'date murder,'" she said.

Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, interviewed on an Aug. 8 airing of Minneapolis Police Department Public Information Officer Ron Reier's "MPD Cops" TV show, puts the individual before the numbers.

"When it happens to you, it doesn't matter what the statistics are," Klobuchar said.

Real numbers

In 2004, Downtown's 1st Precinct (excluding Cedar-Riverside) had 14 percent of the city's 413 reported rapes. This year, Downtown's 59 reported rapes through Sept. 27 compare to 48 by the same time last year.

However, Downtown rape numbers come with a caveat: not every rape tallied to Downtown actually occurred there, say police.

Crime reports reflect where a rape was reported, not necessarily where it happened. A rape committed elsewhere might be counted in Downtown's total because it started with drinking in the Warehouse District, Reier said.

In cases involving a "rape" drug, the victim might not know where it occurred. Instead, they could report the last place they remember being, said Minneapolis Police Lt. Greg Reinhardt of MPD's CODEFOR unit, which tracks crime statistics.

Last call, close call

This past June, Correy Shearman celebrated her friend's birthday on a Saturday night in the VIP room at Tonic of Downtown, 323 1st Ave. N. Shearman, a bar manager at the Seville Club, 15 Glenwood Ave. N., said she had three weak drinks in two hours. Ten minutes before closing, the bar was nearly empty -- a few women dancing and "a couple of guys watching," Shearman said.

She and her friend set their drinks on a speaker and hit the dance floor one last time. It's the last thing either of them remembers.

Neither Shearman nor her friend was assaulted, she said. They were with a group of people who carried them back to the Seville because neither could walk. There, Shearman said she became "violently ill, which never happens."

Friends told her she tried to stand up but collapsed. She had only a vague recollection of the incident in the morning. She just knew she'd been drugged.

Shearman did not report the incident to the police. "I wasn't harmed, besides the incident itself," she said. "I had friends that took care of me."

Still, she blames herself for enabling the incident. "I don't want to go out if that's going to happen," she said. "It's my stupid fault. I know better than to put my drink down."

Foster said some rapes go unreported because women feel such shame or blame. Victims think, "I got drunk; it's my fault," she said.

Foster puts blame squarely on the perpetrator. "You may have met somebody, had a good conversation, made a connection," she said. "Maybe the victim thought they were going to have a consensual sexual experience, but it changed once they got home; maybe they were so intoxicated that the perpetrator took advantage."

Although rapes -- or at least those reported -- may not be concentrated in the bar district, Foster said a lot of the incidents she sees Downtown involve "acquaintance" rape and "date-rape" drugs such as rohypnol, ketamine and GBH.

First Precinct Inspector Robert Allen said the relation of rape to alcohol has been a topic of conversation at monthly meetings with bar owners and police. Bars can be fined for overserving, which can make a victim vulnerable to sexual predators.

Still, drinkers need to monitor themselves and their friends, Sexual Violence Center Executive Director Gail Emerson said. Don't over-imbibe or leave drinks unattended.

City and county smoking bans may even contribute to the problem, Emerson added. A bargoer who can't bring her drink outside to smoke either "gulps it down" -- problematic in its own intoxicating right -- or leaves the cocktail unattended, which is more dangerous, she said.

Report and get help

Women are not the only rape victims. The crime also happens in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community, where victims are less likely to report, said Foster. Date-rape drugs are a big problem in some GLBT bars, she said.

Some victims are afraid they'll get in trouble because they've used illegal drugs themselves.

"We're there to investigate a sexual assault, not the victim's illegal behavior," said Sgt. Nancy Dunlap, a sex crimes investigator.

Authorities also urge victims to go to the hospital. Victims can do so without filing a police report, Emerson said. Dunlap noted that victims' names are kept off criminal complaints and out of the media.

In cases involving "date-rape drugs", Klobuchar urged victims to go to the hospital immediately. "Don't take a shower; don't take your clothes off," she said.

Foster noted that "date-rape drugs" go through the system very quickly -- within 36-72 hours.

Dunlap said it's up to the potential perpetrator to prevent rape, and spelled out what life is like for convicted rapists.

"If you are arrested for a sex crime, this is going to stay with you for the rest of your life," Dunlap said. "You will have to register with the state of Minnesota as a sex offender. You can't hide it from your job, where you live, your family."

Victims of rape or those looking for more information can call the 24-hour crisis lines at the Sexual Violence Center at

871-5111 or the Rape and Sexual Abuse Center at 825-4357.