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ABC57 Investigates: Sex crimes in St. Joseph County

Crime statistics obtained by ABC57 show a large amount of reported sex crimes in St. Joseph County. Officials report 706 from 2017, the majority of those alleged crimes occurred in South Bend, where the city reported 348 through October of 2017.

“Nearly 80 percent of the sexual assaults that are reported are allegations of crimes against children.” Kelly Todd, commander of the county’s Special Victims Unit, said.

All of those crimes go through SVU. While all are reviewed by the unit, not all are thoroughly investigated. Many of the crimes are sent back to the local jurisdictions from which they came. The SVU’s 10 investigators took on more than 400 of those referred cases last year.

“They’re not easy cases to prosecute or to charge.” Todd said.

In fact, only a small percentage of those cases actually end with an arrest.

“We do a significant amount of work with them. But our arrests, cases that are referred to the prosecutor, I think it’s about 20 percent of them.” Todd said. “Being able to meet the elements and collect DNA evidence and gather enough evidence or witnesses for the prosecutor to be able to charge the cases (is difficult).”

Take the case of 34-year-old Mark Peppers from August of this year. According to court documents, he was investigated for alleged molestation of a young child in 2017. The little girl was forensically interrogated, but no criminal charges were pursued. Then, in August, someone found a memory card outside of a local gas station with sexually explicit images of Peppers and that child, according to charging documents. That was enough evidence to produce probable cause for an arrest.

“They’re tough cases to investigate. With kids, more often than not, you’re getting a delayed disclosure. It’s not getting reported immediately. It might be something that happened a week ago, five years ago.” Todd said.

While the number of reported cases seems high, Todd says she sees a silver lining.

“One case is too much. What I like about the numbers is that it tells me we’re doing a good job getting the word out where kids, in particular, are reporting and disclosing.” She said.

Todd says sexual assaults by strangers is rare. She says her unit sees several cases involving disabled adults and cases involving alcohol.

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