OAKLAND — Violent sex crimes are on the rise at BART, with a near doubling of rapes reported just in the first six months of this year, compared to all of last year, the agency reported.
There were seven rapes reported on BART property from January through the end of June, compared to four in 2016, three in 2015 and two in 2014, according to BART police. At the same time, there has been a notable increase in the number of reported sexual assaults, with 28 in the first six months of the year. That’s the same number of sexual assaults reported during all of 2016, which was already up 75 percent from 2015, when only 16 sexual assault cases were reported.
The bump coincides with a 41 percent increase in violent crimes, including a 49 percent increase in robberies, for the first five months of the year compared with the same time period last year. At the same time, property crimes are also up 14 percent.
BART’s new police chief, Carlos Rojas, called the increase in sexual violence “a concern,” but cautioned against drawing any conclusions from the numbers alone.
“You have to keep it within context,” Rojas said. “Really, what you start looking at is, ‘Is there a certain individual that’s going around sexually assaulting people, and do we have a serial rapist, or is there a certain activity or environment that is contributing to somebody being placed in a vulnerable position?’”
That was not the case in the seven reports of rape so far this year, he said.
While much of the public focus in recent months has been on robberies involving groups of teenagers, the agency has stayed relatively mum about the rise in far more serious crimes. The agency released limited information to the public about the rapes and sexual batteries when they occurred, which Rojas said was probably appropriate at the time. He was officially sworn in as the chief on May 25.
BART also declined a request by this newspaper to provide copies of the rape reports prepared by investigating officers, but Rojas described each case in a phone interview. The victims were both male and female, some of whom knew the assailant, and others who did not, he said. Some of the crimes occurred on BART train cars, while others took place in parking lots or station stairwells. Officers made arrests in all but two cases.
However, it’s unclear how many of the sexual battery cases involved men or women, or whether they took place on a train or in a station, parking lot or other BART property because BART police also did not provide copies of those reports. Instead BART shared a list of reported instances with their time, date and the police beat in which the crimes occurred. This newspaper requested those records along with documentation of the rape reports, pursuant to public records laws, and is awaiting BART’s response.
Sarai Crain, the executive director of Bay Area Women Against Rape, warned against assuming that increased reports of rape equate to an increase in criminal activity. Traditionally, sex crimes are under-reported, she said, and there hasn’t been any increase in the number of people seeking services through her organization, one of the primary crisis intervention centers for Alameda County residents.
“We typically understand it as more people are reporting and not necessarily that there is an increase in instances,” she said. “We believe that people are feeling more empowered to report (these cases).”
Patrons consistently said they want to know about cases of sexual batteries and rape, especially when the suspect is arrested. Castro Valley resident Susana Reyes had a close call on BART herself, she said, where a man touched her inappropriately while she was on a train. She called him out, and he apologized, but now she said she doesn’t ride the trains at night.
Reyes said she’d feel better knowing the police were successful in putting alleged rapists or sexual batterers behind bars.
“It would make people feel safer, especially if they actually do report (it) and they say, ‘Oh, we caught whoever did it,’” she said.