Ashland police reach out to rape victims



ASHLAND, Ore. — Police in Ashland say most rapes aren’t reported to authorities, so the department plans a campaign to encourage more victims to come forward.

Chief Terry Holderness said that while Ashland has relatively low rates for aggravated assault, robbery and homicide, it has a relatively high rate of sexual assault. Holderness says that’s frequently the case in college towns.

“Only 15 to 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported,” he said. “Eighty to 85 percent, we never know about. That’s a horrible failure rate.”

The department has created a “You Have Options” campaign that begins Jan. 1 to let victims know the police have adopted a victim-friendly philosophy, the Ashland Daily Tidings reports.

Detective Carrie Hull said traditionally, police work includes asking victims immediately whether they want to press charges.

The Ashland Department doesn’t ask for a quick decision. It does collect and keep evidence, even if the victim doesn’t want to press charges. That way, evidence and the opportunity to identify perpetrators are not lost, Hull said.

“Too often, victims are told what is good for them. We identify options. We never make them choose right away,” she said. “The victim controls how much they participate.”

Community efforts

Among other actions, the department trains bartenders to spot predatory behavior and starts sexual assault awareness training in the middle school years in Ashland.

Holderness said one part of the department’s effort deals with young victims 15 to 17.

When a sexual assault occurs, the situation often involves some level of sexual activity, alcohol or drugs. Frequently, teens are afraid their parents will find out what they were doing, Holderness said.

Police can’t do formal interviews of sexual assault victims who are younger than 18 without a parent, but they can help victims get medical help and connect them with advocacy and sexual assault services groups, Hull said.

“This is our only chance of stopping victimization at that age group,” Hull said. “This gets them in the door.”