As grim as dealing with the adult victims of sexual abuse can be - and Sgt. David D. Pelphrey of the Columbus Division of Police does so every day he's on duty - there are assignments that are grimmer still.

As grim as dealing with the adult victims of sexual abuse can be - and Sgt. David D. Pelphrey of the Columbus Division of Police does so every day he's on duty - there are assignments that are grimmer still.

Pelphrey, one of three sergeants assigned to the adult side of the Special Victims Bureau's Sexual Assault Unit, was the guest speaker at last week's monthly meeting of Block Watch coordinators in the Northland area.

In outlining the various types of crimes the bureau handles, Pelphrey said there is one to which he would least like to be assigned: physical abuse of a child.

"This is the job, folks, that I don't want to have," the 22-year veteran of the division said. "I know people do things to babies and children, but I just don't want to know about it."

During his presentation, Pelphrey said Columbus has a "specialist police department," as opposed to a "generalist" one. That means not only is there a division between patrol officers and detectives, but also that the detectives are further broken down into units that deal with specific kinds of cases.

This degree of specialization for investigators was further enhanced about six years ago with the creation of the Special Victims Bureau, according to Pelphrey.

"I think they did it Tuesday night when 'Special Victims' was on," he joked.

Most of the units within the bureau interact with agencies outside the Division of Police in handling cases, Pelphrey said. These include Franklin County Children Services, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Child and Family Advocacy Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office.

The three sergeants and 13 detectives, with a 14th possibly on the way soon, in the adult sex crimes unit are based out of police headquarters. Some of them are on duty at all times, and they deal with possible juvenile sexual assaults on the third shift, Pelphrey said.

Among the cases these detectives handle are:

• Sexual assaults involving persons with a developmental disability.

• Those referred to the unit by school officials or Children Services. personnel

• Molestations.

• Public indecencies.

• Kidnappings.

• Sexual assaults.

Pelphrey warned the Block Watch coordinators that a man who used to expose himself while driving on highways in the Northland area was scheduled to be released from prison on March 5. Pelphrey himself arrested the man in 2004.

Sexual assaults handled by the unit break down into rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition. The law requires that an element of force be present in order to charge someone with rape, but that's not the case with sexual battery, according to Pelphrey. He used the example of a man who has sexual contact with a woman incapacitated by alcohol.

"You can't have rape without the element of restricting her liberties," he advised.

Sexual imposition is a misdemeanor and can involve something such as a male student inappropriately touching a female in a school hallway, Pelphrey said. Gross sexual imposition, a felony, could be charged if the touching took place after the boy pushed the girl up against a locker, he added.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the number of sexual assaults reported in Columbus spikes every fall with the return of students to the Ohio State University campus, he said. Other than that, Pelphrey said, statistics are all over the place in terms of seasons.

In 2006, the sexual assault unit investigated 1,303 reports or referrals, 633 of them involving rape, Pelphrey said.

The following year, he said, 1,251 reports or referrals were received, 635 of them rapes.

In 2008, reports or referrals number 1,256, and of those, 660 involved possible rape.

In 2009, reports and referrals dropped to 1,146 and possible rapes were down even more sharply at 554.

In late 2008, Pelphrey explained, the "Northwest Rapist," whose victims were mostly in the Hilliard area although one victim lived at the Continent, was receiving a great deal of media attention. Self-defense classes were all the rage, and Pelphrey found himself giving news briefings practically every Tuesday while the rapist was still at large.

"I was the face of felony sex for about six weeks," he said. "There's a nickname that you want."

The attention drawn to the Northwest Rapist also increased awareness among potential victims, Pelphrey speculated, and resulted in the drop in reported rapes.

In 2010, the number of reports and referrals returned to 1,256. These included 632 possible instances of rape.

Last year, 1,220 reports and referrals led to 640 investigations of possible rape, Pelphrey said.

While FBI officials maintain that only about 30 percent of rapes are actually reported to law enforcement, Pelphrey said the people in the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio do excellent work and encourage victims to file police reports.

He said he believes the percentage of rapes in Columbus is much higher than the national average.

For the two most recent years, the number of people arrested for rape was 87 in 2010 and 68 in 2011, according to Pelphrey's presentation.

Asked about the disparity between reports and arrests, he referred to "a lot of he-said, she-said. That's were the cases that we were able to take them to court with our evidence."