There’s a lot to learn from Maine’s crime statistics. The most important lesson, however, is that many of the most egregious crimes committed here never show up in the numbers.

With those that do, Maine looks pretty good. The statistics released by the Department of Public Safety this week show that Maine continues to be one of the safest places in the country, as crime here fell for the ninth straight year.

It is also significant that a nearly 16 percent drop in arrests and summonses did not make communities any less safe, as COVID forced law enforcement to limit the number of people it was sending to the court and jail systems.

Clearly, lowering the number of people incarcerated in Maine has a number of benefits, not the least of which is lower costs to taxpayers. Now that we know Maine can lower arrests and summonses without putting public safety at risk, that should become the policy going forward.

But when it comes to Maine, the annual crime report is more telling for what it doesn’t show: the thousands of cases of sexual and domestic violence that go unreported every year.

Historically those crimes have always been underreported. With the crime rate falling, the dynamic becomes even more pronounced: We know that these crimes are happening, so the falling rate only means it’s likely that more are going unreported to police.

Calls to law enforcement may be dropping, the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence told the Press Herald, but “there has been no similar reduction in the numbers of domestic violence victims reaching out to our 24-hour helpline.”

Hate crimes are similarly unreported, for a number of reasons. So while the number of such crimes reported is way up in 2020 – 83, in contrast to just 19 in 2019, most having to do with racial bias, sexual orientation and gender identity – that is only the start.

By most measures, Maine is incredibly safe. The state’s 14 crimes per 1,000 residents is nearly half of the national crime rate for 2020, and its rate for violent crimes is about a quarter of the country-wide rate.

But those rates miss something, including those neighbors of ours who live in fear of someone in their life, or who suffer from trauma following an assault, and aren’t sure what to do.

Some, too, don’t feel comfortable in public places solely because of the way they look.

Strong communities don’t look the other way when its members are suffering like that. People need to look out for others in their lives that may be survivors of sexual and domestic violence, letting them know they have support. They need to speak up when they see hate directed toward someone.

Survivors need to know that resources are available: people and organizations who can help them figure out what they need to do, whatever that is, and support them along the way.

And when survivors go to law enforcement, police and prosecutors have to deliver. While very few of the overall number of assaults are reported, even fewer end with any real justice at all.

Too many of these crimes now happen in the shadows. The only way to bring them into the light is to make sure people know they are taken seriously.


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