Merced woman raped inside her own home. Social media could complicate case, cops say

Social media complicated a police investigation as officers search for a man who broke into a woman’s home and raped her.

Officers responded to reports of a sex offense shortly after midnight on June 12 at a home in South Merced, Capt. Bimley West said. Pictures of an alleged suspect and confidential sexual assault documents related to the case were shared on Facebook in the days following the assault.

When officers arrived at the residence, the unidentified attacker was gone. West declined to go into details on the incident, citing a need to protect the investigation. He declined to comment on the photos of the alleged assailant from Facebook, saying it could create problems for the detectives on the case.

“According to the victim, she didn’t know the identity of the suspect,” West said. “Detectives don’t have a suspect at this point, but they’re hopeful that evidence we do have will lead us to the suspect.”

While all sexual assault cases are serious, West said, the circumstances of this one are particularly troubling.

“Typically, sexual assault cases include people who are known to the victim,” he said. “But for someone, a stranger, to go into a home and sexually assault someone is a very rare case in Merced. ... That’s why it’s so important for us to solve this as quickly as we can.”

West urged anyone with information about this case or any similar cases to contact police, but also asked them to refrain from sharing potential evidence on social media.

“The suspect is still outstanding. The more information (anyone) puts out there, the more difficult it is to do our investigation,” he said.

In the ideal investigation, a suspect would not know police are looking into them. Potential suspects might decide to go into hiding or on the run, West said, or his family and friends might try to go after the victim in his defense.

“Our job is to protect,” West said. “We don’t want her to be more vulnerable.”

West also urged residents to make sure doors and windows are locked when they head to sleep.

If a house is properly secured, he said, there’s a better chance a victim wakes up when an attacker tries to enter.

“If a perpetrator like this is still in the area, in all my years of experience, I know he will not stop until apprehended,” West said. “If survivors don’t speak up, there’s going to be another survivor out there.”

Just 23 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police across the country, according to Department of Justice survey data.

Some of the top reasons sexual assaults aren’t reported to authorities, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, are fear of retaliation, believing police wouldn’t do anything to help and believing the incident was a personal matter.

In Merced, there have been 15 reported rapes this year, according to police department data. Last year there were 29 reported rapes in the city.

Rates of reported rape cases have decreased from about 60 per 100,000 people in 1992 to 31 per 100,000 in 2017, according to city and FBI data.

Anyone with information on this incident or any similar incident is being asked to call Sgt. Rey Alvarez at 209-388-7705. The Merced Police Department Tipster Line also can be contacted at 209-85-4725. The public can send information via anonymous text messages to police by dialing “TIP411” (847411) and including the word “Comvip” as the “keyword” in the text message.

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Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.