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The #MeToo movement has fueled an increase in sexual assault reports to Lincoln police, Chief Jeff Bliemeister said this week.

From Jan. 1 to May 23, 128 rapes were reported to police, and nearly one-third of them had occurred at least a year before police were notified, the chief said.

By comparison, reports delayed that long comprised just 11 percent of the 196 reported sexual assaults in all of 2015, a department analysis found.

Bliemeister credited what he called a compelling reporting trend to the social media phenomenon of women across the U.S. speaking out about their victimization to show the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

That movement gained momentum in October after print journalists documented stories from dozens of accusers alleging years of sexual misconduct by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry.

"There's nothing else that had occurred that would lead to that kind of change," Bliemeister said.

The chief said he's encouraged to see more and more people coming forward to report these crimes, which have long had a stigma attached to them.

The majority of people coming forward to report these rapes are women and girls ranging in age from 11 to 25, the department's analysis found.

So far in 2018, the average report was made 17 months after the rape occurred, according to the department.

"There are groups who feel they've been empowered by this particular awareness movement and they want us to know but they fully recognize from the beginning of their reporting that prosecution could be difficult," the chief said.

These cases are assigned to investigators who are specially trained in handling rape cases in which substantial time has passed, he said.

"Any and all leads are followed to their logical conclusion," Bliemeister said.

Among the challenges investigators face in fortifying these cases are a lack of physical evidence, witnesses who have trouble remembering what happened and digital evidence that can get lost, he said.

All those pieces could help corroborate a victim's account, he said.

The primary focus of investigators is on holding the culprit accountable, the chief said, but officers also ensure the victim is connected with support services provided by the department's victim-witness unit and by advocacy organizations Voices of Hope or the Child Advocacy Center.

In 2017, Lincoln police made arrests in about one of every 10 reported sexual assaults, according to the chief.

Sometimes victims do not wish to continue participating in investigations, and when that happens, investigators defer to their wishes, he said.

That's not always the case in other crimes, such as domestic assault, where prosecutors can try a defendant even without the victim's participation.

Other times, a friend or other third party will report the assault, but when police contact the victim, he or she does not wish to proceed, the chief said.

In those cases, the department logs the case and keeps it as inactive in case the victim later changes her or his mind or new evidence emerges, he said.

"(Rape) is a violent crime, and it deserves that particular attention," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Reporter

Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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