News And Politics

Newton Division on pace for major sex crime reduction

June 5, 2012, 11:48 a.m.

Once sex crimes are reported, said Newton Officer Jorge Cervantes, if evidence is logged in time, the criminal justice system is generally good about putting offenders away for a long time. "It's up there with homicide," he said. (Credit: My Southborough/Flickr Creative Commons)

A lot happens within the nine square miles that is LAPD's Newton Division – the 50 to 60 gangs and their graffiti; machete attacks; attempts at stabbing one's own mother.

Then there are the sex crimes.

According to the division's crime analysis unit, Newton saw a total 229 sex crimes in 2011 – 25 rapes and 204 sexual assaults. And those are only the ones that are reported, says Officer Jorge Cervantes, a sex detective at Newton, who said that the concentration of registered sex offenders in Newton is "definitely heavier" than in other divisions.

The National Sex Offender Registry, which maps out where sex offenders live, certainly seems to support that claim:

Screenshot via Family Watchdog/National Sex Offender Registry

The map above, which includes the entirety of Newton, shows offenders against children (red), rapists (yellow), offenders who committed sexual battery (blue) and offenders labeled "other." (green).

The anatomy of a sex crime

Cervantes has been working sex crimes for a year, and attributes a lot of the ones in Newton to parents' naïveté.

"A lot of these [sex offenders], the great majority are the cousin or the uncle in the house," he said. "And it happens right in front of the parents' faces."

Cervantes, himself a father, said the element of fear is what gives sexual abusers the upper hand.

"Sex abusers threaten the kids' parents and the family, and kids shut down," he said. "These people are just predators. The victim is just scared and will do it feeling they're going to get hurt or killed if they don't."

Last year, the majority of suspects in sex crime cases were between the ages of 18-25, something Cervantes attributes largely to unlawful sex with minors. (Of the 229 cases in 2011, 34 involved illegal consensual sex.) For example, he sees a lot of 18-year-olds in relationships with 14-year-olds, and those relationships involve sex.

"It's illegal to have sex with a minor," he said. "Two 16-year-olds having sex are breaking the law. That said, can you imagine how many reports we get?"

The statistics don't really create a profile of a predator, said Cervantes. Most of them are Latino, but that's simply a reflection of the area's heavy Latino demographic. "It's just a who knows, whenever it happens-type of thing," he said. "It's horrible."

Most victims in 2011 were Latino children 17 or under, and most were overtaken by their attacker via brute force. The most common location for sexual assaults was in the home. In 82 of the cases, the victim knew the suspect.

But the effect that has on victims is devastating across the board.

"It just destroys them," said Cervantes. "It's the same story over and over. When it happens young, especially to females, there's the typical drug abuse, then promiscuity. They fall into domestic violence relationships. It ruins their life. These predators just destroy them."

The details of some of the attacks are enough to hammer Cervantes' point home. In 48 of the cases, the suspect was between the age of six and 13; in 14 of the cases, the suspect was five years old or younger. Forty-six of the cases involved actual intercourse, and 14 were documented as involving intimidation of the victim.

These abusers' crimes are relatively easy to commit, said the detective, since these people are often in a position of trust. But DNA has made it easier to nail offenders – the hard part, oftentimes, is getting victims to report it.

Biological evidence decays quickly, said Cervantes, but if it gets logged, then the criminal justice system is generally good about putting these offenders away for a long time. "It's up there with homicide," he said.

"Parents have to be involved," he said. "Have your kids' fingerprints, pictures, dental records, in case something happens to them. It comes down to the home. We get there at the end and a lot of people want us to fix it, but in reality, a lot of this is at home."

There's not really a demographic that's more vulnerable, he added. "Don't be alone, don't be out late, be aware of your surroundings. Run, scream, fight.

"Trust your parents," Cervantes continued. "The police officers are going to do the right thing. We're going to work our hardest to keep you safe and to stop that person. Parents just need to open up a line of communication with their kids and talk to them."

Sex crimes in Newton

At this time last year, Newton Division had already seen 110 sex crimes. One year later, Newton Division has logged exactly half that, meaning they're poised to mark a huge reduction in sex crimes at the end of 2012.

"Sex crimes have gone down a lot," Cervantes said. "It's a high priority, and we're fully-staffed."

But that doesn't mean that the decline in numbers makes the cases that have happened this year any less horrendous for the detective. A glance at the data shows that the same trends are holding true: Most have taken place in the home; most were achieved through brute force; most of the victims are 17 or younger.

"I can tell you as a father it would destroy me," said Cervantes. He's been working sex crimes for about a year; before, he did domestic violence and homicides. He's been on the force a little more than a decade.

"I have cases where an adult rapes his sister when she's asleep and gets her pregnant so she gets an abortion," he says. "And I've got to test the fetus for DNA. So one day I'm doing that, then the next day it's an unlawful sex case. It's a lot."

One thing's certain: His job doesn't stop at the end of the day in the way patrol work does.

"These cases are going on forever," he said. "Whether it be work or being a father, it's always on."

Photo by My Southborough via Flickr Creative Commons.

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