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Domestic violence, sexual assault on the rise: OSBI 2019 crime report indicates slight increase in Carter County crime rate

Sierra Rains
The Daily Ardmoreite
A graph from the OSBI's 2019 Crime in Oklahoma Report demonstrating a rise in reports of domestic abuse. More reports of domestic abuse were reported in 2019 than any other year.

While index crimes across the state slightly decreased in 2019, the year also marked the highest number of reports of domestic abuse. Nearly every index crime in Carter County slightly increased in 2019— with some increasing more than others. 

The number of reported rapes in Carter County, for instance, increased from 21 in 2018 to 38 in 2019. These numbers are a part of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s annual  Uniform Crime Report, which compiles data from law enforcement agencies across the state. 

The report, released earlier this week, provides information on index crimes including murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft. Overall, in 2019, law enforcement agencies reported 126,305 index crimes. Index crimes have continued to trend downward for the state, with the exception of murder, which increased by 18.6% compared to 2018. 

In Carter County, which encompasses the Carter County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Ardmore, Dickson, Healdton, Lone Grove and Wilson, the crime rate slightly rose from 31.26 registered crimes per 1,000 residents in 2018 to 32.21 in 2019. 

Reports of motor vehicle theft rose from 97 to 117 in 2019 and reports of felonious assault rose from 149 to 175 in 2019. The only crime that did not increase in Carter County was breaking and entering, with 267 reports — a decrease from the 300 offenses reported in 2018. 

“Overall there has been a slight increase, not a drastic increase,” said Carter County Sheriff Chris Bryant. “A lot of it depends on the economy and a lot of it depends on things that are going on within the county — job rates, people not being employed, personal issues going on at home. There’s a lot of changing events that were going on in 2019.”

Bryant said his office takes all crime reports very seriously and it appears that more people may be vocalizing their concerns when a crime does occur. This may be a contributing factor behind the rise in the number of reported sexual assaults locally, Bryant said. “A lot more people were reporting them and the victims of these crimes are voicing their concerns more.”

The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma, which is based in Ardmore, provides free and confidential services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in Carter, Love, Murray and Johnston Counties. 

Family Shelter Executive Director Kathy Manning said there was a notable increase in domestic abuse crimes on the shelter’s end in 2019. “Last year our numbers increased by almost 125 clients served. Usually we would see around 420 clients a year — that went up to 540 clients. So definitely, domestic violence and sexual assault increased,” Manning said. 

In the OSBI report, domestic abuse includes murder, sex crimes, assault and assault and battery. An average of 24,681 reports of domestic abuse were reported each year from 2010 to 2019, with the highest number of reports in Oklahoma occurring in 2019. 

On a statewide level, assault related to domestic abuse increased by 26.3% in 2019. Reports of rape have increased by 34.2% since 2013, when the FBI updated the definition of rape to “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent from the victim.” 

“I can’t tell you why that might of happened, but hopefully it’s because people understand that there are resources out there available to them and that they don’t have to work through any of this alone,” Manning said. “That’s one of the biggest things — those first responders are so important when contacting victims or making that initial contact.”

State law requires that police conduct a lethality screening with victims in any domestic violence situation, Manning said. If there are indications that the victim could have a higher chance of lethality based on questions officers ask, then police make contact with domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy agencies like the Family Shelter and give the victim an opportunity to speak with an advocate. 

“We’re available 24/7 so they have that opportunity and if they don’t want to speak with us, we still have safety plans with officers so that the officer, in turn, can safety plan with the victim,” Manning said. “It’s the relationship between law enforcement and a domestic violence advocacy agency. They’re so important in working together to help the victim throughout the entire process.” 

Law enforcement also helps victims get to hospitals for exams in the event of a sexual assault and an advocate from agencies like the Family Shelter often assists with a number of legal and medical situations after the initial contact with the victim is made. 

“It really just all depends on how those people are made to feel when they first report,” Manning said, adding that they would be more likely to contact law enforcement or domestic violence advocacy agencies again if the interaction was positive.

According to the OSBI’s 2019 crime report, murders as a result of domestic abuse increased in the state by 36.8% in 2018 and continued to increase by 9.6% in 2019. The victim to offender relationship was identified for 75.5% of victims and domestic murders accounted for 20.1% of murders in 2019. Out of the 20.1% of domestic murders, 24.0% were intimate-partner murders.

Safety planning becomes vital to prevent death in these situations, and the longer domestic violence goes unreported, the higher the chance of lethality, Manning said. The most dangerous time for victims is often when they decide to leave.

While taking shelter at a friend or family's house will help de-escalate the problem for a short period of time, many victims need the assistance of law enforcement or a domestic violence advocate to help them create a long-term plan. 

“We try to do anything and everything we can to make sure those safety plans are in place so that a victim just knows that there are those options, so that they don’t have to just stay,” Manning said. “There are options. That is the most important message to get across is that you do have options. So many people just feel like they don’t, they feel like they’re stuck — and they’re not.”

With the effects of the pandemic, Manning said domestic violence is only increasing. The shelter has continued to see an increase in calls not only for domestic violence, but also for sexual assault. Many victims are currently in isolation with their abusers, making it nearly impossible for some to make phone calls and seek help. 

“It’s hard for them to reach out to us via phone because they’re in the home with their abuser and we’re getting a lot of messages — whether it’s through our website or our Facebook,” Manning said. “They can reach out to us any which way they can to make that initial contact and then we’ll work with them from there.”

Bryant said he is anxious to see the crime reports for 2020 due to everything that the county has experienced during this year with the onset of a global pandemic. Now, more than ever, individuals need to continue reporting suspicious activity when they come across it — whether that’s abuse within a home or a robbery occurring. 

“This is a deal where things are getting reported more and things are getting more vocalized and people understand that we’re here to help and make things work, so that’s how we need to do it,” Bryant said, referring to a common phrase in law enforcement, "If you see something, say something." 

The Family Shelter of Southern Oklahoma offers free services, including counseling and crisis services. The 24 hour Crisis Hotline number is (580) 226-6424. Individuals can also reach out to the agency's Facebook page, or through the Family Shelter website at https://familyshelterofsouthernok.net/.

If reporting a crime, the Carter County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at (580) 223-6014.