Update: The Seattle Police Department statistics for CY2016 are complete. There were 169 reported rapes in Seattle in 2016, up from 108 in 2015. That’s an increase of 56.5%. I believe there’s a relation to the growth of the technology sector and deepening gender imbalance in the city.

increase in seattle rapes vs other western cities

Rapes in Western Cities & NYC 2015 (Total) vs 2016 YTD

Seattle’s Experiencing a Spike in Rape Reports

Recently, Danny Westneat reported in The Seattle Times “Rape in Seattle is up an alarming 55  percent this year. There were 82 rapes in the city last year through Sept. 10; this year, through the same date, there have been 127. We’ve already exceeded the yearly total for each of the past 10 years, and if it continues at this pace Seattle would record the most rapes since 1999.”

Capt. Deanna Nollette, who heads the Seattle Police Department’s Sexual Assault Unit and knows these reports in detail told him, “It’s a huge number, all of a sudden.” She’s right, rape reports have spiked in Seattle in 2016, from a monthly average of 8.8 in 2015 to 13.8 this year:

increase in rape in seattle 2016

Rape in Seattle (Average per Month) 2014 – 2016

Here’s a historical view of rape reports in Seattle, monthly over the past three years:

Rape increasing in Seattle 2016

Rape in Seattle By Month 2014 – 2016

Certainly, our population has grown and crime is up generally too as Westneat says, shootings occur now more than once per day and “domestic-violence cases are also up … by 11 percent.”

What’s Causing The Increase in Rape?

Nolette told Westneat “there has been a surge in hard-to-investigate cases based around social dating apps, ‘with people meeting strangers with the idea of dating or having sex, but then not being able to get out of it when it goes farther than what they wanted.'” i.e. Tinder plays a role.

A few days later, Nolette told Times reporter Sara Jean Green that she attributed Seattle’s spike in rape reports to increased reporting by women.

“Nollette pointed to the sexual assault of an unconscious woman by former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner. … ‘I think [the national coverage is] empowering victims who previously wouldn’t have come forward … to tell their stories,'” which would hopefully be true, but then there’s also Donald Trump threatening to sue accusers. (For tips on women’s safety, dating safety and rules of consent, I recommend reading Green’s piece).

Certainly, Nolette has a difficult job and did explain a variety of nuance to the increase in this year’s reports, but it didn’t make sense to me that this was just an increase in women coming forward.

I was skeptical. And, if Nolette was right, you would think that this would be something happening nationally, but it’s not.

Furthermore, The Stranger’s Sydney Brownstone recently reported that “At Least 10 People Say They’ve Been Drugged at Seattle Bars This Summer” (Green reports that Seattle recently began including blood draws in rape kits in cases of intoxication or incapacitation) and separately Brownstone’s impressive reporting uncovered and led to charges brought against Seattle-based tech journalist Matt Hickey. Seattle’s King County has experienced a record rise in prostitution as well — which some reporters attribute to the growth in the technology scene and senior personnel at both Microsoft and Amazon have been arrested in Seattle PD enforcement activities.

As I’ve written in the past about Seattle’s technology boom and the rise in the number of men vs. women in the city and its impacts on dating, I decided to research rape statistics across other major western cities to see if SPD’s observation about increased reporting held up along the West Coast (as well as New York City for comparison).

It doesn’t seem to.

Seattle’s increased rape statistics may partly reflect the increase in our population but YTD 2016 reports exceed all of 2015’s reports — and other western cities, San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles seem to be seeing decreases:

Increase in Seattle Rape Per Capita

Rape Per 100,000 People in Western Cities

Note: I would have included Portland but it was very difficult to find crime statistics for the city and its reporting system is in transition.

Please understand that the spikes and higher rate of rape reports you see above is due to the FBI’s change in the definition of rape. On January 1st, 2013, the FBI changed the definition of rape from “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” to “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.”

While other cities have gradually adapted to recording these statistics separately for improved tracking, Seattle has not yet adopted the new standard in its statistical reports (even after four years).

Here’s a historical view of rape reports in these cities (and New York city for comparison) since 2010. While there is no 2015-2016 available for Portland, only Seattle’s 2016 data is rising. Other cities seem to reflect a decline in reports this year.

Increase in Rape in Seattle vs. Western Cities

Rape in Western Cities & NYC 2010 – 2015 (Totals) and 2016 YTD, Note: Seattle continues to use pre-2013 FBI definition of Rape.

Note: In all the above charts, Vancouver BC records “Sexual Offenses” not “Rapes”.

Status of Rape Kit Testing

I also thought it was useful to revisit the status of rape kit testing, a common sense issue long ignored.  According to End the Backlog, Seattle has yet to report the status of its rape kit testing backlog whereas Portland is in active testing and Los Angeles has completed testing theirs:

Cities Rape Kits Testing Status
Seattle 1,276 Unknown
San Francisco Unknown Unknown
San Diego 2,873 Unknown
Los Angeles 12500 Completed
Portland, Or. 1,931 In progress
Vancouver, BC Unknown Unknown (see here and here)

What are the Key Takeaways?

It’s not exactly clear what is causing Seattle’s rapid increase in rape reports this year, but it is significant. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Seattle has significantly more rapes in 2016 than it did in 2015
  • It’s unlikely the spike in Seattle rape reports is related to increased reporting as this is not reflected in other major cities.
  • Seattle should be transparent and responsive in testing its rape kit backlog
  • Seattle should begin to adopt the FBI’s 2013 definition of rape beginning January 1, 2017
  • Seattle should study this issue more closely


Note: Crime tracking is decent, departments are clearly trying for the most part but only now catching up with the digital age. It wasn’t easy to gather this data across many cities and there is variation amongst the cities such as what year a department changed over to the FBI’s 2013 rape definition or verifying that the LAPD meant YTD 2014 and YTD 2015 vs Yearly Total here, or guessing why the cumulative 2016 rapes in Seattle dropped by 3 from the September 14th SeaStat report in its crime dashboard October 26th or trying to access Portland, Oregon’s outdated crime statistics.

Regarding statistical recording of the changes in the Rape definition:

  • FBI changed the definition Jan 1 2013
  • San Diego changed beginning in 2015
  • San Francisco appears to have changed beginning in 2014
  • Seattle continues to use the old definition (nearly four years later)
Los Angeles
San Francisco
San Diego
Vancouver, B.C. Canada

Portland, Oregon

New York City

Rape Kits


Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest.

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