9 Investigates

9 Investigates: Sexual assault numbers spike in Orange, Osceola counties

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The number of reported sexual assaults in Orange and Osceola Counties rose this summer, 9 Investigates uncovered.

Advocates said June’s numbers were the highest they’ve ever seen, with a total of 37 sexual assaults reported to the Victim Service Center of Central Florida.

Total reported assaults for the fiscal year have already surpassed last year, with more than a month to go.

Advocates said there may not actually be an increase in crime, but instead, an increase in reporting victims due to reassurance from a new law.

The law requires sexual assault kits to be tested within 120 days of submittal to a state lab, and thousands of backlogged rape kits will also have to be tested.

“We had the largest number of cases of acute sexual assault cases that we've ever seen in the history of the organization,” VSC executive director Lui Damiani said.  “The crime statistics don't show that there's additional rapists on the loose, but what we do see is more people are talking about it encouraging folks to come forward.”

In addition to the changes to the law, $10.7 million was made available in July to test thousands of backlogged kits.  So far, 220 kits from Orlando’s lab have been sent off to a private facility for testing.

Similar untested kits in other states have uncovered serial offenders who would have otherwise never been caught.

“It’s giving people the assurance they need to report these cases,” Damiani said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials said their goal is to turn around the rest of the state’s backlogged kits within three years.

The agency also plans to release quarterly reports starting in October to update the number of kits that have been tested, and how many are still waiting on a shelf.