ASHLAND, Ore. -- Police say they are getting more sexual assault reports than ever, thanks to a program called "You Have Options."
Police Chief Tighe O'Meara said the department started the program in 2013 when it was founded by former Detective Carrie Hull. It was created as a way to make men and women more comfortable in reporting the crime.
"The purpose of the program is to remove obstacles in reporting sexual assaults as much as possible," O'Meara said.
He said only about 10 percent of sexual assaults in Oregon are reported to police.
"The end goal is to hold serial offenders responsible because what we know is that if somebody is a sexual assault suspect, they're not stopping, they are doing it again and again," O'Meara said.
The victim-centered approach gives an array of options to men and women who have experienced sexual assault. Survivors can do an information-only report. They are able to ask that their situation just be documented for the time being, and if that person decides to go forward with an investigation in the future, they can.
"We let the victim have as much control as is legally and reasonably possible," O'Meara said.
Since implementing the program five years ago, Ashland police have seen an increase in the number of reports.
Before the program, police would get about 24 reports a year. Here is a break-down of how that number has increased since.
- 2014 - 55 sexual assault reports
- 2015 - 53 sexual assault reports
- 2016 - 52 sexual assault reports
- 2017 - 58 sexual assault reports
O'Meara said the increase may seem like a bad thing, but it is exactly what police had hoped for.
"The sex assaults are happening, it's just a question of whether or not people are reporting them to us so it's best to drive those numbers up. That means more people are reporting because they feel more comfortable coming and talking to police about it," O'Meara said.
Susan Moen, Executive Director of Jackson County Sexual Abuse Response Team, said it's very difficult to report sexual assault, and it is even harder if a victim does not know what the process will look like.
"They can come in and say I want to give you this information about what happened, I'm not ready yet to go through a full legal process but I'd like to hear about what would happen if I chose that," Moen said.
Moen also said the program is a great way to catch serial offenders.
"I have many survivors who come to me and say 'I don't want to report this for me, but if you hear they've done this to someone else then I will come forward," Moen.
O'Meara said the department has been able to catch several serial offenders since implementing the program.