San Francisco has experienced a rise in rapes in some neighborhoods known for their nightlife, and the trend is on track to continue this year.
Twenty people have reported being raped this year in an area that saw such reports jump by 29 percent last year, which San Francisco police officials are partially blaming on The City’s nightlife.
But nighttime entertainment industry officials call these type of blanket assumptions unfair, and area supervisors claim they have not heard of any such issues.
Out of 223 rapes reported across The City this year, 20 occurred in the area covered by Northern Station, which stretches from the Marina to Hayes Valley and includes Polk Gulch and the Fillmore — neighborhoods cluttered with bars, restaurants and clubs.
“You have more nightlife in the Northern [District],” San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott told the Police Commission last week, linking many rape reports to nightlife in the area.
Northern Station Capt. John Jaimerena echoed Scott’s assessment at the meeting, though neither cited cases linking rapes to nightlife or gave specific locations of the reported rapes.
“What we’re seeing is, you know, a lot of stuff happening at nightclubs, people drinking,” Jaimerena said in response to a question from Police Commissioner Sonia Melara about the rise in rape cases.
Industry insiders, however, say there’s no link between The City’s nightlife and the spike in reported rapes.
“Why would they think it’s coming from the clubs?” said Entertainment Commissioner Steven Lee. “That’s ridiculous.”
In 2008, there was an influx of rapes thought to be linked to date-rape, but that was followed by a push to address them, noted Lee, who used to run the Glass Cat on Fourth Street South of Market. He added that club owners take such crimes seriously and communicate with police and patrons about it.
For instance, some club security ensures anyone coming out of a club is asked if they know the person they are leaving with.
TOUGH TO PROSECUTE
Capt. Jaimerena said most of the rapes in the Northern District involved people who know one another other, which he based in part on the fact that victims were able to provide a named suspect. In many of these cases, said Jaimerena, the suspects were acquaintances, co-workers or people who met online or through dating apps.
San Francisco District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Max Szabo said rape cases can be difficult to prosecute, as they often require proof that consent was not given.
Additionally, prosecutors can only charge cases brought to them by police.
In the first six months of 2016, the SFPD presented six incidents to the DA’s Office, half of which resulted in charges. Only 11 incidents were presented in the entire year.
This year, four incidents have been presented, and three resulted in charges.
The rise in reported rapes in the Northern District — from 31 incidents in 2015 to 40 in 2016 — comes after several years of fluctuation. In 2013, there were 39 reported rapes. In 2014, there were 43.
The number of arrests related to reported rapes made this year in the Northern District was not immediately available. But the number of reported rapes citywide has doubled since a new definition of rape was established in 2013.
The new definition, which comes from the FBI, defines rape as “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 the consent of the victim.”
The City’s overall reports of rape are static when compared to this time last year. By the end of June 2016, there had been 224 reported rapes. This year, there have been 223. In total there were 429 reported rapes in 2016 and 148 arrests.
Police statistics, however, are still imperfect.
Sarai Crain, executive director of the Bay Area Women Against Rape, said that any rape statistics only scratch the surface because most rapes are not reported.
“I doubt there’s any correlation between reports and actual rapes … rape has been historically one of the most underreported crimes in the country,” Crain said.
NIGHTLIFE INDUSTRY RESPONDS
Claims linking clubs and bars to rapes is troubling, according to Ben Bleiman, an Entertainment Commissioner and organizer of the SF Bar Owner Alliance, which has 325 members.
“Overwhelmingly, the owners and the managers of nightclubs and bars and music venues take sexual assault very seriously,” Bleiman said.
Notably, nightlife has changed in recent years, he explained. For one, patrons in San Francisco are far more mobile because of the ride-hail industry.
“They may start in the Mission and then go to North Beach and end up in the Marina,” said Bleiman, who added that such movement makes it hard to say where patrons start their evening activities.
The nightlife industry has also transformed its image, according to Bleiman. It went from being seen by some as a nuisance to being understood as an economic and cultural asset. In 2012, for example, bars, nightclubs and the like generated $460 million in spending in The City, according to a 2013 City Controller’s report on the industry.
Nonetheless, Bleiman said that bar and nightclub owners can only control what happens in and near their businesses. “At what point does our responsibly end?” he said.
The industry, in general, wants to work with police and ensure patrons are responsible. For instance, Bleiman said there are security cameras at each of his four bars, which is the case at many other establishments.
Meanwhile, Capt. Jaimerena, said he is stepping up communication with club owners and nightlife locations near the Northern Station in an effort to raise awareness and reduce rapes, so last year’s increase is not repeated.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink