Forcible sex offense reports rise in 2013

by Priya Ramaiah | 10/2/14 8:14pm

A spike in reports of forcible sex offenses at the College is likely due to higher reporting rates rather than an increase in incidents of sexual violence, community members and experts said following Wednesday’s release of the annual security and fire safety report.

Data from the report, an annual disclosure of campus crime mandated by the Clery Act and authored by Safety and Security, showed 35 forcible sex offenses in 2013, compared to 24 in 2012 and 15 in 2011.

The College also reported one incident of dating violence and four incidents of stalking. The 2013 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act requires that institutions report dating violence, domestic violence and stalking separately in their safety reports starting in 2015, though some institutions included them this year.

This year’s report will be the last comprised entirely of data collected before the College’s new sexual assault policy took effect in June. Under the new policy, a trained external investigator examines reported incidents of sexual assault, conducting interviews, reviewing evidence and producing a fact-based report of the incident as well as a conclusion of responsibility.

Formerly, students who reported a sexual assault testified in front of Committee on Standards panels comprising administrators, students and faculty.

One of the aims of the new policy is to allow students to feel more comfortable reporting assaults, former Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said in a spring interview with The Dartmouth.

Director of judicial affairs Leigh Remy said that no students have filed formal reports with her office for incidents taking place after June 18, though some may have chosen alternative reporting routes like WISE, a support organization for survivors of sexual and domestic violence in the Upper Valley. As a result, she said, the impact of the external investigator on sexual misconduct reporting rates has yet to be determined.

Title IX coordinator Heather Lindkvist said that she hopes that the presence of an external investigator will enhance reporting rates and the desire of reporting students to move forward with a formal complaint.

“I want to see more reports,” Lindkvist said. “I really do.”

The safety report includes reports made to judicial affairs, Safety and Security and Hanover Police, Remy said. She added that all survivors respond differently in how they decide to report or not to report an incident of sexual misconduct.

Citing the attention the issue has garnered in the past year both at the College and nationwide, Remy suggested that the increase in offenses is due to greater comfort with communicating about sexual assault.

“It’s something that’s in our consciousness in a very different way than in previous years,” Remy said.

Occidental College professor Caroline Heldman, a co-founder of End Rape on Campus who led a Title IX complaint against Occidental College, said that in the short term, the increase in reporting is a “very positive” sign, even though seeing the higher numbers may be alarming at first.

“As numbers go up, it means survivors are more comfortable coming forward and schools can get a better handle on what’s going on,” Heldman said.

Of 12 students interviewed, eight said they believed that people would feel more comfortable reporting incidents given the June policy and recent media spotlight on campus sexual violence, while four said they thought students will still likely have a hard time trusting both the reporting and judicial process.

Caeli Cavanagh of WISE wrote in an emailed statement that the safety report does not factor in the outcomes of student reports or whether or not students felt they had adequate resources throughout the process.

“It’s impossible to know the true scope of people’s experience on campus from this report,” she wrote.

Victoria Nevel ’16, a member of the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault, said that the rise in reported incidents still fails to account for the total number of sexual offenses on campus.

“The numbers don’t give the full picture of what’s going on,” Nevel said, adding that a campus climate survey is a more reliable tool of evaluating survivor experiences throughout the reporting process.

Susy Struble, cofounder of Dartmouth Change — a nonprofit group of alumni, faculty and other community members advocating for student life reforms — also said a campus climate survey would be more effective than report numbers at gauging the scope of sexual violence at the College. She added that there is no evidence to determine if the spike in numbers is due to an increase in reporting or incidence.

A 2009 study by the Center for Disease Control found that 19 percent of all college women experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. According to the National Institute of Justice, about 74 percent of sexual assaults go unreported due to self-blame, shame, fear or lack of trust.

Annie Ma and Zac Hardwick contributed reporting.