During Police Chief Jeremy Bowers’ quarterly crime report to the City Council on Tuesday, he discussed an Instagram account on which more than 100 reports of sexual assaults and related incidents have been posted.
The city’s official crime stats show that rape reports can be counted on one hand. Bowers said he knows sexual assault and related crimes are underreported, often drastically so. And there are many reasons for that.
“I want to encourage survivors of sexual assault to come forward and report it to us,” Bowers said Tuesday night. “I want to assure those who do come forward they’ll be treated with dignity, respect, and professionalism.”
Bowers told the council he’s read almost all of the posts on the Piedmont Protectors Instagram account, created this summer by anonymous teenaged administrators.
Bowers acknowledged it’s hard for survivors to talk to police, especially given the questions that generally need to be asked. And as a former detective who used to investigate sexual crimes, Bowers said “it’s an arduous task, and a difficult one” to be asking the questions.
To that end, Bowers said, his department is now creating a video describing what happens when someone reports a rape or sexual assualt to the police, and how such reports are investigated. Bowers also said his department has ongoing contact with Piedmont Unified School District officials about this subject.
He also cited organizations, including Oakland-based Bay Area Women Against Rape, who have staff advocates who can help survivors prepare for interviews by police.
Council members said they were grateful to be having this conversation.
“When you read about these issues, what’s happening in our schools, amongst our kids, there’s a lot of pain going on,” Vice Mayor Teddy Gray King said, “and it’s our responsibility to figure out how we can address it.”
Calling this subject “near and dear to me,” Councilwoman Jen Cavenaugh referred to the city Recreation Department’s Healthy Relationships program as a useful and praised resource, and a planned Sept. 14 parents’ information session with Natasha Singh, who works with the Healthy Relationships program. Chelle Putzer, Piedmont’s recreation director, said the online program last took place in April, and that it should perhaps be scheduled again.
“It’s complicated, and we need to keep talking about these things,” said Bowers, adding that he believes the conversations should start at home.
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