By ERIN ROLL
Although Montclair saw a slight decrease in sexual assaults in 2018 — from 13 in 2017 to 10 in 2018 — officials said a larger number are involving high school-age students.
And as of September, Montclair Police has received eight reports of sexual assault for 2019.
Deputy Chief Wil Young said 2017 saw the highest number of juvenile reported cases with eight of the 10 cases involving high school students. Of the eight sexual assault cases in 2019, three involved juveniles. In 2018, of the 10 reports, six involved juveniles. In 2016, there were four sexual assault reports with three involving juveniles. In 2015, there were three reports with two involving juveniles.
Many of the juvenile incidents allegedly took place at parties or other social settings, he said.
Young conceded, that the number of cases involving juveniles was unusually high especially in 2017.
Whether sexual assaults rose in 2017 or the reporting of those crimes increased due to the #metoo movement, is hard to determine. But more people are reporting sexual abuse, said Elizabeth Jeglic, an associate professor of psychology at John Jay College in New York, with her field of study being sexual abuse and sexual violence prevention.
Nationwide, data from the FBI indicated a 20 percent increase in reports of rape and sexual assault between 2013 and 2017.
“With the #MeToo movement and the Kavanaugh case, those who were abused feel more supported,” Jeglic said.
In 2013, the FBI also revised its definition of rape. The previous definition of rape involved carnal knowledge of a woman without her consent, either by force or deception. The definition of rape now involves any form of sexual penetration without the victim’s consent.
But Jeglic said, rape is still the most underreported crime — 63 percent of those who experience sexual abuse do not report it to the police.
And for many victims, it can take years before they feel comfortable enough to report the abuse to authorities, Jeglic said. For instance not all of the sexual assault incidents in Montclair actually occurred in 2017, Young said. At least four of them occurred in 2016. Since they were reported in 2017, they are included in the crime report for that year.
It is not unusual for a sexual assault victim to wait for a period of time before filing a police report, due to the traumatic nature of the incident. The incident may be brought up during a counseling session, and the victim will go to the police at the urging of the therapist, Young said.
For Montclair, the increase from four to 13 cases represents a 225 percent increase in reports over a one-year period. However, the actual numbers are “small numbers,” cautions Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor at John Jay’s Law and Police Science Department, and a former crime analyst supervisor with the New York Police Department.
“The real question, which we can never really answer well, is did the number of rape cases actually go up or are more people reporting their rapes, or some combination of the two,” Herrmann said.
In 2018, he said, New York experienced a 22.3 percent increase in reported rapes, while Newark saw an 18 percent increase.
Victims could be encouraged to come forward after hearing other victims stories of having a positive experience with law enforcement when reporting the crime.
In Montclair’s case of half of the cases involving teenagers, that is not a common occurrence, Herrmann said.
New Jersey now requires education on sexual abuse, sexual assault and consent as part of the school curriculum, so it is likely that high school students are now more aware of what constitutes abuse and how to report it, Jeglic said.
In many sexual assault cases where the victim is a juvenile, Jeglic said, the offender is usually a juvenile as well. In addition, Herrmann said, in sexual assault cases involving teens, the victim and the offender usually know each other.
In Montclair, to combat abuse among teens, school resource officers are in regular contact with the student assistance counselors, who provide outreach services and information to students on healthy relationships, dating situations, and how to stay safe during parties and other social events.
“We have to have mechanisms in place to provide education in terms of prevention, and then provide support for those who have experienced abuse and facilitate reporting. About 13 percent of all abuse happens at schools so schools should examine where abuse occurs and install cameras additional security measures,” Jeglic said.
Among Essex County towns that are close in size to Montclair, Belleville had only one reported sexual assault in 2018, while Orange had 10.
In 2017, Orange had nine reported sexual assaults, down from 11 in 2016. Belleville had two reports of rape in 2017, down from three in 2016.