The number of homeless women in downtown Los Angeles who reported being raped has risen in each of the last 3 years, and few of those cases have led to arrests, according to LAPD crime report data.
Officers in the Central Area, which includes Skid Row, recorded rape cases that listed 59 women experiencing homelessness as victims in 2019. There were 39 reports in 2018 and 20 in 2017, and officials said the investigations are among the most difficult they pursue.
"It doesn't matter to us if someone's homeless, or dealing with mental illness or drug addiction, they all get investigated as much as we possibly can," said LAPD Central Captain Scott Harrelson.
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While reports of violence within the homeless population have increased in the last few years the City's overall "part one" crime rate, which includes the most serious types of sexual violence, has dropped by about 7 percent.
Police officials cautioned that a portion of the statistical increase is probably the result of much better data collection and analysis, which began mid-2018, and more accurately attributed these incidents to members of the homeless population.
The same pool of data on sexual attacks on the homeless shows officers have made arrests in 6 rape cases since 2017 in downtown LA, but officials said the number of arrests is actually much higher because suspects are often booked on other criminal code sections and those arrests are counted separately.
"Next to murders, sexual assaults are the most serious crimes we investigate," Capt. Harrelson said. "But some of these hit roadblocks," referring to the difficulties of finding a witness or victim who's living on the streets, or getting reliable statements from a person who might have been attacked during a mental health episode or while they were under the influence.
"I'm haunted by this, women being left on our streets" said Union Rescue Mission CEO Rev. Andy Bales.
"They cannot escape the danger of rape. It's a common occurrence for women on our streets and we need to do everything possible to get them off the street." The Union Rescue Mission has about 350 beds for single women and more than 50 for mothers with children, but Bales said it's not enough.
"I believe there needs to be a police presence 24-7, even one or two officers each block to protect the women on the streets," he said. "We're not doing nearly enough to protect our ladies."
The LAPD said that overall crime within the homeless population had jumped by more than 50% in 2018, though officials again cautioned that a portion of the increase was a result of changes in data collection. The LAPD reported to the Police Commission that the number of rapes attributed to suspects described as homeless increased by 78 percent in 2018 as compared with 2017.
Cases involving homeless victims represented the majority of the rape reports in the Central Area. There were only 4 non-homeless rapes reported in 2017 and 2018 and 3 in 2019.