Tuesday, December 27, 2005

40 rapes reported In Hurricane Katrina, Rita aftermath


Despite widespread efforts to downplay reports of an outbreak of heinous crimes in the chaos after the storm, there's new information about what really happened. WDSU Newschannel 6 Reporter Alec Gifford has uncovered 40 reported cases of rape.

One high-profile victim has gone public to urge others to come forward

"Hi. My name is Charmaine Neville. I was in New Orleans at a school after Hurricane Katrina and I was raped. I know many more women were raped and are afraid to talk about it," Neville said in a public service announcement.

Neville, a New Orleans singer, also gives out a phone number in the PSA which goes directly to the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault. That organization disputes the official count of only four reported rapes.

Tracy Rubenstein is a member of the New Orleans Rape Crisis Center.

Alec Gifford: Do you believe there were just four rapes in New Orleans after Katrina?

Rubenstein: No, I don't.

So far, there are 40 separate incidents related to Hurricane Katrina and Rita.

"We're expecting in the next year or coming months to have more survivors come forward. As they feel ready to get help," said Lt. David Benelli, who heads up the NOPD's Sex Crimes Unit.

Alec Gifford: What do you say to people who may feel the police are simply trying to downplay this?

Benelli: Oh, absolutely not! We definitely will investigate any case of sexual assault, regardless of when it occurred.

Mayor Ray Nagin initially dismissed the reports of widespread rapes, blaming it on a media frenzy after the storm. But when he latest testified before a congressional committee in Washington, he seemed less certain.

"The rapes, I can't imagine someone being raped and wanting to come into this media frenzy and expose themselves to that. I hope that at some point in time these ladies will come forward," Nagin testified.

If you?ve been sexually assaulted and want to report it, you can call the New Orleans Rape Crisis Center, 24-hours-a-day, at 1-800-656-HOPE.

The number is toll-free and the names of the victims will not be made public.

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