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Higher Number of Sexual Assaults, Forcible Rape Cases Reported in Isla Vista

2016 Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department crime reports show countywide increase but jump traced to rise in I.V. reporting

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department’s Isla Vista Foot Patrol, whose station is at 6504 Trigo Road, is on the front lines against sexual assault in the student-heavy community adjacent to UC Santa Barbara. In addition to investigating incidents, the law-enforcement agency works with community groups and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center on awareness, prevention and survivor support. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department’s Isla Vista Foot Patrol, whose station is at 6504 Trigo Road, is on the front lines against sexual assault in the student-heavy community adjacent to UC Santa Barbara. In addition to investigating incidents, the law-enforcement agency works with community groups and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center on awareness, prevention and survivor support. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Authorities are seeing an increase in reported forcible rape cases in Isla Vista, according to 2016 crime reports recently released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Overall, sheriff’s deputies investigated 56 forcible rape reports in the county last year, a jump from 40 in 2015. The Sheriff’s Department attributes the increase to the 23 forcible rape reports in Isla Vista in 2016 compared to 13 such reports in 2015.

There were 48 sexual assaults in Isla Vista reported to the Isla Vista Foot Patrol in 2016, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

“The reason for the increase in reported rapes and sexual assaults could be the result of more awareness regarding these crimes, and victims feeling comfortable coming forward to report the incident,” Hoover wrote in an email to Noozhawk.

“The Sheriff’s Office does everything we can to identify the perpetrator and bring them to justice.”

The Sheriff’s Department released its 2016 Part I and Part II Uniform Crime Reporting numbers last month. Under the UCR program, Part I crimes include homicide, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

Part II crimes include assaults; sex offenses, except for forcible rape, prostitution and commercialized vice; embezzlement; forgery and counterfeiting; fraud; vandalism; weapons possession; drug abuse violations; and driving under the influence, among others.

The Santa Barbara County compilations revealed that the number of property and violent crimes increased slightly last year from 2015 data.

Hoover noted that, according to the Bureau of Justice, women ages 18 to 24 are the most likely victims of sexual assault.

“This statistic is especially concerning and important to us regarding Isla Vista since the population is largely made up of that exact demographic,” she said.

Isla Vista is home to about 23,000 people, many of them students at neighboring UC Santa Barbara or at Santa Barbara City College.

Hoover said the department does not have numbers on how many of the reported sexual assault victims are college students, or whether they are male or female.

Under California law, rape is defined as “nonconsensual sexual intercourse accomplished by means of threats, force or fraud, or with a victim who is unconscious or incapable of consenting.”

The legal definition of sexual assault is “unwanted touching of another person’s intimate parts.”

Of the reported sexual assault cases in Isla Vista, 74 percent were reported to have occurred on the weekend between 9 p.m. Friday and 11 p.m. Sunday, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Forty percent of the suspects were acquainted with the victim, either as a friend or as having mutual friends, Hoover said.

Alcohol was reportedly involved in more than half of the reported sexual assaults last year in Isla Vista.

Hoover said the Sheriff's Department “encourages students to know their limits and look out for each other, especially if they see someone who seems like they are intoxicated.”

The department takes a team approach to investigating when a sexual assault is reported, she said.

Deputies work with crisis counselors, rape crisis advocates and medical professionals to address the survivor’s needs.

“A sexual assault can be traumatic for a victim and can impact the rest of their lives,” Hoover said. “Confidentiality is of the utmost importance, and we don’t want anyone to feel ashamed or intimidated by reporting the sexual assault.”

Hoover said authorities are investigating three reported rapes this year.

Sheriff’s personnel are working with the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center and the IV Safe Committee to promote sexual assault awareness and risk reduction efforts, she said.

The IV Safe Committee, started in 2014 by District Attorney Joyce Dudley after an unusual series of violent crimes in the community, includes individuals and agencies committed to public safety there.

The Isla Vista Foot Patrol — made up of sheriff’s deputies and UCSB police officers — is also working with community groups and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center.

Sexual assault prevention includes educational efforts that attempt to intervene in the behaviors of potential perpetrators before a sexual assault occurs.

Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center executive director Elsa Granados said the nonprofit organization has a strong collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s not just about awareness, but about people in the community taking action,” she said. “Everyone has a role to play in ending sexual violence. We all have something at stake when it comes to reducing the incidents of sexual assault.”

As a bystander, directly confronting a person who is engaging in threatening behavior is an important role, Granados said.

The Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center offers a 24-hour hotline at 805.564.3696. Individuals also can email a counselor at [email protected] or visit the facility, which is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 433 E. Canon Perdido in Santa Barbara.

Emails are read in confidence, but the organization recommends that people in need of crisis support contact a counselor via the phone hotline.

UCSB Resources

UCSB’s Campus Advocacy, Resources & Education provide confidential support and advocacy to students, faculty and staff affected by sexual assault, stalking, and dating and domestic violence.

“Sexual assault remains the most under-reported crime and often survivors may not feel comfortable accessing law enforcement for various reasons,” Lauren Gunther, CARE assistant director of prevention education, told Noozhawk.

“An increase in reporting to law enforcement likely demonstrates a decrease in the social stigma and barriers survivors face after an experience of sexual assault.”

Gunther said all incoming UCSB students receive mandatory education on issues relating to sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, stalking, consent, bystander intervention and how to access on-campus resources and confidential advocacy services.

She said CARE works collaboratively with the campus community and UCSB departments to educate the public about the important role individuals have in ending interpersonal violence at UCSB.

“It is highly believed in the victim advocacy profession, when survivors feel supported by advocates and law enforcement, and when they are able to make informed decisions regarding their rights and reporting options, they are more likely to engage in formal reporting systems,” Gunther said.

CARE offers ongoing programs addressing interpersonal violence and prevention education.

“Increased prevention efforts can also contribute to reducing the stigma associated with sexual assault and increase trauma-informed responses to disclosures of sexual assault,” Gunther said. “Both of these can create a culture in which survivors feel validated and able to report their assault.”

Isla Vista Community Services District board member Ethan Bertrand said safety in the Isla Vista community needs to be a priority every day, not just during the notorious annual Halloween and Deltopia street parties.

“We are working toward making everyday life in Isla Vista safer,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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