Low Ivy sex assault numbers deceiving

by Heather Kofke-Egger | 11/10/99 6:00am

The relatively low number of reported incidents of sexual assault at the College and around the Ivy League veil a deeper, more grave problem,

While the number of reported incident remain fairly level throughout the Ivy League, some Dartmouth administrators and student leaders worry that the enlarged role of alcohol in students' social lives could lead to higher incidents of sexual assault.

"In general there is a very high correlation between reports of sexual assault and sexual abuse and the consumption of alcohol," Dean of the College James Larimore said. "Given the prominence of alcohol as the drug of choice on campus, we do have reason to be concerned about the connection between alcohol and sexual abuse."

Larimore said because of the focus on alcohol in social activities at Dartmouth, incidents of sexual abuse at Dartmouth could be higher than at other Ivy League institutions.

"When one or more students have been drinking there should be heightened concern that sexual assault could take place," he added.

Coed Fraternity Sorority Council President Jamie Paul '00 told The Dartmouth that students' use of alcohol has a negative effect on campus gender relations.

"I think that there's been trouble with gender relations on this campus for a long time. As people on this campus have a particular mentality about alcohol, they also have a particular mentality about how people relate. A lot of times, the Greek system does perpetuate particular types of behavior," Paul said.

Around the Ivy League, the statistics for sexual assault remained fairly even among the eight schools -- regardless of their location and size.

During the 1998-1999 school year, Dartmouth reported no incidents of sexual assault. In the previous academic year, Dartmouth reported three incidents.

Columbia University, which has about 7,500 students located in an urban setting, reported two incidents of sexual assault on their campus last year and one in 1997.

Last year, Harvard reported 11 sex offenses on campus. The University of Pennsylvania, which is located in an urban area, reported seven. Cornell University, which is located in a rural setting, reported five. Yale University reported three. Brown University reported two, and Princeton reported zero incidents.

"There are concerns about sexual abuse on every college and university campus," Larimore said. "Unfortunately, because so many incidents go unreported, it's hard to know where the total number of incidents at Dartmouth stands in comparison to other schools."

Dartmouth reports statistics similar to those from the other Ivy League schools in the annual security report issued by Safety and Security and the Dean of the College's office. However, the statistics kept by Susan Marine, director of the Sexual Abuse Awareness Program, reflect a different view of sexual abuse on campus.

The SAAP report states there were 26 cases of sexual assault or rape between September 1998 and August 1999, as well as 19 cases of unwanted sexual conduct, three cases of attempted sexual assault or rape and three cases of relationship domestic abuse.

Among the Ivy League, Dartmouth's approach to keeping sexual abuse statistics is unique, according to Marine.

The SAAP report began in response to complaints that the administration was trying to cover up the truth about sexual assault at Dartmouth, Marine said.

Now the report, which includes all incidents reported to Health Services, counselors, deans, Sexual Abuse Peer Advisors and Marine herself, is a unique and more thorough picture of sexual abuse at the College.

"One of the things that I was most pleased to learn about when I arrived here was that the approach Dartmouth has taken was to make as much information available to the public as possible," Larimore said.

All of the schools contacted said they had no such program, but released crime statistics in accordance with the Campus Crime and Security Act/Cleary Act, which mandates that certain crime statistics be made public to the college community.

However, since reporting laws vary by state, some campus statistics do include incidents reported to counselors, deans and health services.

In Massachusetts, all incidents reported to a counselor or health professional must be reported with a time and place, although all personal information can be kept confidential, according to Dr. David Rosenthal, director of University Health Services at Harvard.

A similar approach is taken at Penn, where blind reports are taken and incorporated into the official statistics without criminal investigation.

"I'm amazed at how accurate and how thorough these reports are at Penn," said detective supervisor Pat Brennan.

However, these statistics cannot measure the incidents that go unreported, she said.

Marine said that even her report, which encompasses a larger group of reporting contingencies, is not representative of the whole picture. She cited a study that found approximately one in four college age women report being the victim of a sexual assault or an attempted sexual assault.

Marine said that the location and environment of the campus makes little difference, because most perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse are acquaintances of the victim.

"Acquaintance rape happens in any college environment. It doesn't matter if you are in the city going to bars or in Hanover going to frat parties," Marine said.

However, Janet Waronker, director of Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education at Princeton, said she felt students perceptions was that they were safe because of the quiet suburban setting of the campus and the low reported statistics.

"I think that people have a concern about it when someone they know has been affected," Waronker said. "If they don't have some context to put it in they may minimize it or ignore it."