Friday, April 2, 2010

Sex crimes down in Blaine County

The Advocates caution there’s no reason for complacency


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Express graphic by Coly McCauley Statistics provided by the Idaho State Police Uniform Crime Report Unit show that the number of sex crimes reported in Blaine County has varied widely over the past 10 years.

For the first time in five years, there are no pending sex crime cases in Blaine County 5th District Court.

The most recent case was settled in March, when 21-year-old Mauro Z. Nunez was sentenced to six years in prison for felony injury to a child. He was originally charged in 2009 with raping a 15-year-old Bellevue girl.

After a seemingly continual flow of sex-crime cases through the county court system, 2009 saw a decline in the number of such cases reported.

Information provided to the Idaho Mountain Express by the Idaho State Police Uniform Crime Reporting Unit shows only 10 sex crimes reported in the county in 2009, considerably less than the 17 reported in 2008 and 18 reported in 2007.

The term "reported" does not mean that a crime was necessarily committed or that a reported incident led to a criminal charge and prosecution. Nonetheless, ISP uses reported crimes in its annual Uniform Crime Report as a way of tracking crime rates and trends.

Sex crimes

The Uniform Crime Reporting system identifies six types of crimes as sex crimes. They are categorized in the reports as forcible rape, statutory rape, forcible sodomy, incest, sexual assault with an object and forcible fondling.

The most common sex crime in Blaine County during the past several years involves men having sex with girls under the age of 16, a crime often charged as rape whether the girl was willing or not. The crime is normally pleaded down to a lesser offense, but judges in Blaine County usually send convicted offenders to prison.

Forcible rape, when a victim is violently attacked, is a less common crime reported and prosecuted in Blaine County, but it does occur. The most recent forcible rape case of notoriety was the one against 36-year-old Jeffrey Marsalis, who was sentenced last summer to life in prison for raping a woman in Sun Valley in 2005.

Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, whose agency serves Blaine County's largest population center and investigates the majority of sex crimes in the county, said public awareness about sex crimes has helped reduce the number of cases.

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"I would attribute the decline in sex-crime cases to awareness programs that The Advocates put on and to the coverage that the Idaho Mountain Express gives to these crimes—offenders are being punished and going to prison," Gunter said. "People are much more aware of what's going on. Due to the awareness, I think that parents are doing a better job educating and protecting their kids."

Fifth District Court Robert J. Elgee acknowledged that the number of sex crimes is down, but attributed the decline to an overall reduction of crime in Blaine County.

"We probably run 47 to 60 felonies a year in the last few years, and my guess is right now that they are not coming in at that rate," Elgee said. "Factors could be anywhere from A to Z."

Sexual Assault Awareness

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, an annual event when national, state and local victim-protection organizations concentrate their efforts on increasing public attention and raising community support for preventing sexual violence.

"Even if the number of reported sex crimes is down, that's no reason for complacency," said Carol Pintler, client services coordinator for The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, based in Hailey. "The vast majority of the sex crimes in Blaine County are not reported. We work with a lot of local women, and what they tell us over time, once they feel comfortable with us, is that they are victims of sexual assault. We've heard a lot of stories of forcible sex, but they don't get reported and probably never will."

According to an FBI study, only 37 percent of rapes committed in the U.S. are reported to police. The U.S. Justice Department estimates the number is even lower, at 26 percent.

Pintler said her experience in dealing with victims of sexual assault suggests that the percentage of reported rapes is even lower than that.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com

Awareness fundraiser

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault will sponsor the second annual Carbonate Hill Climb Race and barbecue on Saturday, April 24. Pre-registration is offered at Backwoods Mountain Sports, The Elephant's Perch and Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters or online at www.theadvocates-aplacetogo.com. For more information, contact Trish Tobias at 788-4191 or trish@theadvocates-aplacetogo.com.




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