In its most recent Campus Security report, the College disclosed 17 forcible sexual assaults in 2004, close to double the nine reported for 2003. That nine was more than four times the number reported in 2002. The increase, College officials say, is actually a good thing.
While officials stressed that it is difficult to say what caused the rise in reported rapes, they agreed that it is most likely not because of a sudden increase in the actual number of rapists on campus.
Instead, they said that the College has created a more supportive environment for victims to come forward.
Sexual assault is the most underreported crime in the United States. Complicating matters, 90 percent of college sexual assaults are “acquaintance” or “date” rapes, where the victim may be reluctant to come forward because the attacker may be a friend or lover, according to Jackie Deitch-Stackhouse, coordinator of the office of Anti-Violence Initiatives.
“People are feeling safer to come forward,” Deitch-Stackhouse said.
The office of Anti-Violence Initiatives works to review protocols and procedures on campus to make victims of violence feel secure in coming forward. Deitch-Stackhouse said she aims to ensure that when victims come forward they will be believed by the administration, and to stamp out “victim blaming.”
Deitch-Stackhouse’s office is funded through a grant from the Department of Justice, and was created following the recommendations of a Sexual Assault Task Force formed in 2000 by College President R. Barbara Gitenstein.
The office works with Campus Police, Health Services, the office of Residential and Community Development and the Athletics department to raise awareness of sexual assault and the services available to victims.
Deitch-Stackhouse emphasized that even the 17 sexual assaults listed in the College’s security report was probably an underreporting.
With surveys showing that 3 to 5 percent of college females are sexually assaulted annually, there could have been between 107-178 rapes at the College in 2004, according to national statistics.
“We’re never going to get up to the real number,” Deitch-Stackhouse said.
The College was cited in 2000 for violating the requirements of the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires all colleges participating in federal student aid programs to file annual disclosures of the number of crimes committed on campus in the last three years.
The Department of Education found that the College had failed to report two sexual assaults in 1997 and one sexual assault in 1996.
The College was not fined, and blamed the error on the high turnover in Campus Police personnel.
Campus Police did not respond to messages asking for comment by press time.
Though rape is underreported, some colleges defy all odds in their annual security reports. The University of Georgia, for example, with a population of 33,000, reported no sexual assaults for the period from 2001 to 2003.
The University of Nebraska, population 21,000, also reported no rapes for the same period.
It is impossible to say whether officials are covering up rapes from statistics alone.
Jeanne Clery Advisory Board member Howard Robboy, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, whose complaint to the Department of Education prompted the 2000 investigation of the College, says that image-conscious administrators do not want their campus to appear unsafe.
Robboy added, however, that the College has come a long way in how it handles sexual assault. “(Other colleges) can look to us as a leader,” he said. “This school has a lot to be proud of.”
Robboy credited the work of Gitenstein, Deitch-Stackhouse and Beth Paul, acting vice president of Student Life, for the more supportive environment.
The key, Robboy said, is not whether a college has no rapes, because rapes can happen at any college.
Instead, it is whether the school creates an environment where victims feel safe enough to come forward and acts candidly about what crime does occur. “There are no safe schools,” Robboy said. “Crime can happen anywhere. The question is, is it a responsible school?”