SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Police warn that a 24-year-old girl is more likely to be raped within Springfield city limits than any other person. It's a point highlighted by police in the annual Uniform Crime Report, a compilation of the past year about crime within the city limits.
After rapes declined in the Queen City from 2010 to 2011, the number of reports shot-up over 28 percent in 2012.
"In most cases, the average victim is a 24-year-old female. Typically, the victim knew her attacker or loosely knew her attacker," said Springfield Police Major Kirk Manlove. "Intoxication is a big factor with them being attacked, either by the part of the offender or the part of the victim or both."
Manlove elaborated many victims find themselves in social situations with their attackers and often run in similar circles.
"Typically, what we'll find is the victim has been at an event where they come into contact with the attacker and the next thing they know, the victim is waking up being attacked by the attacker at a place she's not aware of," said Manlove. "They become very vulnerable when they are intoxicated and they find themselves attacked. And that's what we are seeing."
The five-year average of rape cases reported inside the city limits is 116 cases. Last year, police investigated 141 cases, 25 percent above the five-year average.
Paula Tindell, victim advocate and volunteer coordinator with the Victim Center, saw an increase in people needing services. Over the course of last year, the number of victims needing help for sex assaults rose 13 percent.
"No one deserves to be a crime victim. If we didn't give consent, that's the crux of it there. You just can't be intimate with someone unless they have consent," Tindell said passionately.
The Victim Center first opened its doors in 1976 as a rape crisis center. Throughout the years, it's transformed into a comprehensive agency that serves victims of violent and sexual crime in Springfield and southwest Missouri.
"People are preying on people they know," said Tindell. "It's a sad scary thing to be preyed upon in that way. But it's never our fault when we are a crime victim."
Police and other agencies point to alcohol as one of the big factors in many sex assault cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list drinking as a risk factor for sexual assault, especially among young women in college settings.
According to CDC statistics, each year, about 1 in 20 college women are victims of sexual assault. Research suggests an increase in the risk of rape when both the attacker and victim used alcohol prior to the attack.
"We're not getting people snatched off the street. That's where I'm going with this. Nor are we having backdoors kicked in and females raped in the middle of the night. That is not what we are seeing," said Manlove. "We are seeing either an event or a set of circumstances that are bringing the victim and the attacker together. In most cases, they do know each other."
Although alcohol is a strong risk factor, Tindell said it shouldn't be used as an excuse.
"If somebody has been drinking and they commit a crime, that's still no excuse that doesn't get them off the hook. If someone has been drinking and they are victimized, it still doesn't mean that we are less of a crime victim. It's easier to prey on us when we have been drinking or disabled in any way," Tindell said.
"I think that a victim will always load that sense of guilt on their shoulders. And that's just another thing that they will throw up there, 'oh I've been drinking' or 'he really didn't mean to do that because he was drinking.' That frankly doesn't fly," said Tindell.
The use of the date rape drug or an attacker using a sleeping aid or other medication to drug the victim has also increased.
"As a crime victim, you are not as aware of course as your surroundings. Talk about terrifying. I think it would be terrifying enough to be a crime victim. A sexual assault, let alone to have been drugged," Tindell said.
Police "cleared" or brought charges or made an arrest in about 40 percent of rape cases in 2011. The department improved that rate to over 46 percent in 2012. Manlove pointed to the known relationship as reason for the arrest record.
"We are often pointed in the right direction," he said. "Make no mistake, the attacker, if we find them and we investigate who they are, they are going to be prosecuted."
However, some victims refuse to testify or bring charges against their attackers. Officers plan to work with community groups, such as the Victim Center, to help change the stigma associated with rape.
"Last year, we provided over 23,000 hours of service to victims. Our center has 24-hour crisis intervention, seven days a week, to help victims," said Tindell. "We help with the entire criminal process and provide counseling, free of charge. People are resilient. They can get through these things. They just need to reach out and know that we are here."
Police warn rape cases will keep rising in Springfield, but it's mostly because of a change in definition. This year, the Department of Justice changed what the word "rape" for the Uniform Crime Report to include men.
The new definition of rape is: "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 the consent of the victim."
Tindell said the Victim Center treats people of all ages, no matter the gender.
"No one deserves to be a crime victim," said Tindell. "Not ever. Not for any reason."