Letitia James Demands State and City Fight Spike in Sexual Assault

Public Advocate Letitia James  (Photo" Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Public Advocate Letitia James (Photo” Andrew Burton/Getty Images) (Photo: Andrew Burton for Getty Images)

Public Advocate Letitia James is calling for Albany and City Hall to commit almost $7 million in an effort to combat a recent uptick in rapes and sexual assaults.

In a series of proposals unveiled yesterday to the Observer, Ms. James requested the state set aside $5.8 million in the state budget for rape prevention and sexual assault victim services, and for the city to invest an additional $900,000 in forensic centers in the Bronx and Brooklyn. The plan comes as sexual assault rates in New York City have risen, Ms. James’ office said, with CompStat figures showing a 9.6 percent increase in such crimes in the week ending February 22. Sexual assaults have been rising over the last five years, her office said, with studies indicating as many as 50,000 rapes occur in the city each year—though just 1,500 are reported.

“The rise in sex crimes in our city is unacceptable,” said Ms. James, recalling the brutal rape of a 12-year-old girl in the Bronx last month. “We must dedicate every resource we can to prevention and response, which is why I am calling for increased funding for rape crisis centers, restoration of funds for rape prevention programs, funding to create SAFE Centers of Excellence in the Bronx and Brooklyn, and increased vigilance from every New Yorker to report sexual assault in their communities.”

Under her proposal, the state would more than double the amount it spends on rape prevention to $3 million. Albany’s present outlay of almost $1.5 million toward such programs is scheduled to expire on April 1.

Similarly, state funding for victims services is set to drop by 42 percent at the beginning of next month—despite a 65 percent spike in such cases since 2012.

Ms. James noted that sexual assault has a disproportionate impact on minorities—roughly 40 percent of African-American women and 20 percent of Latinas are victims of sexual assault in their lifetimes—and argued the Bronx and Brooklyn are the most in need of new state-certified Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner centers to care for and examine victims.

The proposal drew plaudits from advocates.

“The Alliance supports the Public Advocate’s efforts to end sexual assault in New York City. We are particularly delighted to see the Public Advocate’s focus on expanding resources for all survivors of sexual assault,” said Mary Haviland, Executive Director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault. “Sexual assault has been a hidden and unjust situation for many years that must be addressed.”

Ms. James also has a bill before the Council aimed at combating sexual assault on college campuses.