Increased reports of sexual assault not always a sign of campus comfort

The report, which collected assaults reported to both the UConn Police Department and the Office of Diversity and Equity, housed in the building seen above, listed UConn, tied with Brown University, as having the most sexual assaults of any college campuses in 2014. (Jackson Haigis/Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut recorded the most sexual assaults of any college campus in the country in 2014, tied with Brown University at 43 assaults, according to a report from the Washington Post. 

The upward trend in reported assaults has been, according to the Post report, seen by victim advocates as a positive sign and indication that victims have become more comfortable in stepping forward to report and seeking resources following an incident.

Others argue that the process to report is painstaking and the number of assaults may be higher than 43 due to hesitation and reluctance to report.

“UConn works very hard to cultivate a culture of forthrightness, so this traditionally underreported crime can be addressed,” university spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said in a statement.   

A May 2016 UConn graduate and the victim of two unreported sexual assaults in 2012 and 2016 said although UConn’s campus culture improved in her four years at UConn, more needs to be done, as many more assaults go unreported each year.

“I think the UConn administration has made strides in providing a safe environment for victims, but they still have ways to go in empathizing with the situation rather than sympathizing,” she said. The victim chose to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.

“It’s one thing for administrators to feel sorry for someone. Empathy is putting yourself in their place…When you understand how they feel, you’ll want to fight for them,” she said. 

It’s one thing for administrators to feel sorry for someone. Empathy is putting yourself in their place…When you understand how they feel, you’ll want to fight for them.
— Anonymous victim of sexual assault

The victim added that reporting an assault can mean exacerbating the recovery process.

“My friends, the ones who know (about the assault), I think they want me to talk about it, to report it, even anonymously, but doing that makes it real. It turns it into a legitimate experience, and the trauma of accepting that is not one I’m ready to deal with.”

Among the 43 reported assaults at UConn in 2014, 17 were reported directly to UConn Police and assigned a case number for investigation. Not all 17 were reported from victim to police, however. The remaining 26 incidents were shared by the victims to non-police individuals, such as roommates, RAs, advisers or others, according to Reitz.   

In 2012, UConn’s Board of Trustees implemented a policy that required nearly all university employees – including Resident Assistants and university counseling center psychologists – to report knowledge of an incident to the university’s Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE). Once a report is filed, the ODE then begins an internal investigation into the incident, which does not include the involvement of campus police or other law enforcement.

This policy of automatic reporting, Reitz said, has helped to increase and facilitate the reporting of sexual assault incidents, regardless of how much detail the report contains regarding the alleged perpetrator, location or time.  

The practice of automatic reporting, however, brings to question how many victims have willingly disclosed the incident to university officials.

Often, victims can disclose an incident to a counselor or resident assistant without realizing that the person is required to report, which contradicts the notion that increased reports of sexual assault is a sign that victims are more willing to disclose.

Brown University, tied for the most reported assaults, similarly enforces an automatic reporting policy, Brown spokesman Brian E. Clark said.

In fact, every university on the Post’s list of the top 10 schools with the highest total of rape reports in 2014 have automatic reporting policies, according to their websites.

The report also showed that 100 colleges had at least 10 recorded rapes in 2014, citing data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

In an anonymous survey conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium last November, about five percent of UConn students reported experiencing sexual assault. Of the roughly 1,500 survey respondents from Storrs and regional campuses, 62 percent identified as female. The university’s total enrollment was 31,624 in the 2015-16 academic year.

Sexual assault is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”

Of the 82 students who responded to the question “Whom did you tell about the sexual assault?” on the November 2015 survey, about 7 percent said they told no one, while 30.3 percent said they told a “close friend.” 4.5 percent reported the assault to a member of UConn faculty, staff or administration.

In the same survey, 45.6 percent of students said they have never received information from the university about the procedures for investigating a sexual assault, and 203 students said they strongly disagree with the statement that campus officials would conduct a careful investigation in order to determine what happened if someone were to report a sexual assault to a UConn official.

“UConn has significantly increased training for all employees and campus sexual assaults (CSAs) so they better understand their reporting obligations,” Reitz said. “There have also been more outreach efforts through UConn’s Office of Diversity and Equity and other university offices, more tools for reporting and more awareness efforts.”

The entrance to the Office of Diversity and Equity, located in Woods Hall on Glenbrook Road. (Jackson Haigis/Daily Campus)

The May graduate cited the lenient three-month jail sentence of convicted Stanford rapist Brock Turner as reason to “not even bother” reporting sexual assault because the system has shown to repeatedly fail victims.

“The Stanford rape case brought me to tears because there are so many cases that go unreported. And for the fraction of those that do end up in court, this is the outcome. A slap on the wrist, a man who blames ‘party culture’ while his state representative lambasts the ‘alcohol epidemic,’” she said.  

“Why would anyone bother going through the trauma to endure that result,” she added.   

She said to think about the precedent that this case sets for future rape cases and how this could affect how victims choose to report assault.  

“I think of all the things I could have done differently but scream at myself for thinking I should have changed my behavior to prevent this… The second time (I was assaulted) made me realize that there is no safe situation,” the victim said. “I was in my own bed. I still have to remind myself that… I know that this wasn’t because of me. I was in my apartment with my roommates. I was about to go to sleep before he showed up. I was too drunk to consent.”

Why would anyone bother going through the trauma to endure that result.
— Anonymous sexual assault victim

UConn junior Alexis Kiernan said that universities should focus on carrying out justice for victims in order to inspire victims to report sexual assault.

“I think UConn does try to reach out and encourage people to report cases of sexual assault, but I don’t believe they necessarily do any more about it to punish the perpetrator than other universities,” said the fifth-semester biomedical engineering major.

UConn Women’s Center director Kathleen Holgerson says sexual assault reporting data, like of that found in the Washington Post report, is just a first step in assessing campus culture, and that more needs to be considered.

“I think whether (the statistics) are good or bad is determined by if more people are getting connected with resources,” Holgerson said. “The larger question is why don’t people feel comfortable coming forward - that’s why we spend so much of our time talking about prevention work ultimately working in a direction where (sexual assault) isn’t happening.

“It comes down to how survivors feel on campus,” Holgerson said.


Megan Krementowski is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at megan.krementowski@uconn.edu.