The number of sexual assaults reported to the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office last year shot up almost 70 percent, from 33 cases to 56.
Last year’s 56 reported sexual assaults is double the number reported to the sheriff’s office in 2015. The number rose slightly to 33 in 2016 before jumping to the 2017 mark.
The previous high in the past four years was in 2014, when the sheriff’s office received 47 sexual assault reports.
The numbers for 2014 through 2016 are included in last year’s sheriff’s annual report. Capt. Robert Hall, who oversees the detective bureau, provided the 2017 figure during an interview last month. The 2017 annual report usually comes out in early May.
The numbers do not include sexual assaults reported to other law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, sexual assault advocates have said not all assaults are reported. The increase from 2016 to 2017 does not necessarily mean more sexual assaults happened in 2017, Hall said.
“There’s a huge increase there,” he said. “And maybe that’s through public education and work that people do in the schools and the universities and all that other stuff.
“(It’s) not that the crimes never occurred before,” he added.
School resource officers and counselors, as well as public awareness campaigns, have increased awareness about sexual assault, Hall said.
Despite the increase in reports, Hall said his office’s tactics do not necessarily change.
Specifically regarding child sexual assaults, detectives are trained on the Wisconsin model of interviewing, he said. The office keeps up to date with state Department of Justice updates in interviewing techniques.
All the while, the Tree House Child and Family Center, also known as the Walworth County Child Advocacy Center, is across the street from the sheriff’s office, Hall said.
For some sex crimes, which are often “traumatic,” Hall said one thing that has changed is the time frame in which victims are interviewed.
“Their mind is going 1 million mph,” he said. “They’re trying to process. They’re trying to put everything together.”
When it is clear the victims are not in immediate danger, Hall said it is beneficial to let them get two or three sleep cycles to “decompress” from the incident if it had happened immediately before initial disclosure. In this time, they can recollect facts and receive treatment before an extensive interview.
Police are still able, however, to conduct “minimal facts” interviews more immediately, Hall added.
Branching out to the rest of Wisconsin, the amount of sex offenses reported in the state has been increasing since 2013. There were 5,187 sex offenses reported in 2016 compared to 4,615 in 2013, according to state Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reporting data provided to The Gazette. Data for 2017 was not yet available.
Sex offenses as defined by the department and what the sheriff’s office categorizes as “sexual assault” might not be the exact same.
The department data for Walworth County does not show a consistent trend since 2010; it has fluctuated each year.
April is sexual assault awareness month. Hall said victims should not be afraid to report sexual assaults.
“There’s information out there to let them know that it’s not a stigma,” he said. “That it’s something they should come forward and report.”