A headline Monday misstated the rise in violent crime across the nation, as reported by the FBI. Violent crime rose by 10 percent in the first half of this year compared with the first six months of 1989. That compared to a 5 percent rise between the first half of 1988 and the first half of 1989. (Published 10/24/90)

A dramatic rise in the number of rapes in the District this year is part of a nationwide increase in sexual assaults against women, which have risen 10 percent over 1989, the FBI reported yesterday.

In the District, 149 women were reported raped from January through June, compared with 90 for the same period in 1989, a 66 percent increase.

In other cities with a population of 100,000 or greater, rapes rose 10 percent during the same period, according to the FBI's mid-year crime report.

The FBI statistics show violent crime in cities also has risen 10 percent, the largest increase in five years and twice what it was during the first half of 1989.

In crimes against property, the FBI reported an increase only in motor vehicle thefts, which rose 6 percent. Burglary, arson, larceny and theft all declined.

After seeing a significant drop in the number of reported rapes through the mid-1980s, from 421 in 1982 to 165 in 1988, D.C. police have noticed a steady increase beginning in 1989, when 186 rapes were reported for the year. The total for the first half of this year -- 149 -- indicates the number of rapes is likely to be much higher than in 1989.

Just what is driving the violence against women is debated. Last month, when police were hunting for two men suspected of seven sexual assaults, Capt. Wyndell C. Watkins, commander of the sex offenses branch, said drug use among women is at least partly responsible because it exposes some women to abuse. Watkins was not addressing the serial rapes. Three men have been arrested and charged in those cases.

But the explanation by Watkins is rejected by some people who counsel rape victims. Denise Snyder, the executive director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, said blaming drug abuse for any part of the increase simply places the responsibility on the victim.

Moreover, Snyder said, studies show the rate of sexual assaults transcends economic and geographic boundaries. Women who are addicted and on the street, and by implication poor, are not the only victims, she said.

This year, the crisis center is averaging 240 calls a month to its hot line, compared with 124 last year. Because rape is traditionally one of the most under-reported crimes, Snyder said, the monthly increase shows the seriousness of the problem. As violence in general increases, so does violence against women, she said.

The statistics, compiled by the FBI and based on figures provided by police departments, show that crime figures overall remained virtually the same nationwide during the first six months of 1990, compared with the same period in 1989.

But the increase in violent crime, including murder, assault and rape, is the largest six-month increase in five years and almost double what it was during the first half of 1989. By year's end, the total number of homicides is expected to hit 23,200, making 1990 the bloodiest year on record.

The FBI said the District's homicide total for the first half of this year was 219, two more than during the same period in 1989. As of Friday, there were 374 homicides, 14 more than in all of 1988.

The six-month figures for Baltimore show that homicides rose from 119 to 133 and rapes from 254 to 303. In Richmond, there were 58 homicides, compared with 49 for that period in 1989; during the same period, the number of rapes declined from 85 to 81. Alexandria, the only other regional city included, had five homicides during the first six months, compared with four in 1989; rapes decreased from 31 to 26.