Why a Rise in Reported Rapes at Colleges Is a Good Thing
More reported rapes means more victims are being heard and getting help.
You might consider me to be a bit insensitive and blunt to claim that an increase in the number of reported rapes by U.S. institutions of higher education is a step in the right direction in improving campus safety. For those of you whom I have offended or traumatized, I’m truly sorry, but I think it’s important to be crystal clear when I talk about rape on campus. I’m normally not happy about increased crime rates, but there are several reasons why I believe the fact that a lot of colleges reported more sexual assaults in 2016 than in the previous year is progress in the fight to make colleges and universities safer.
The rise in reports doesn’t mean college campuses experienced more rapes and sexual assaults last year than in 2015. Instead, it probably means more victims reported what happened to them and are coming out of the shadows of shame and pain.
Numerous studies have found that the vast majority of sexual assaults never get reported, and the victims suffer in silence. The fact that more rape victims are coming forward means that this issue is no longer being swept under the rug by colleges (or being swept under the rug as much as it was before) and more victims are getting the help they need.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the increase in rape reports is due to victims and campus communities being more informed about their rights and the services campuses provide. A lot of colleges now offer student awareness programs on sexual assault.
For example, UCLA’s Lt. Kevin Kilgore believes one reason the number of reported rapes more than doubled at his school in 2016 is that the UCLA Police Department, its dean of students and its Title IX offices gave several presentations to the school’s fraternities, sororities and other students about sexual assault, reports the Daily Bruin.
Bystander intervention training on campuses might also be helping, although there hasn’t been research conducted to determine its effectiveness in higher education. However, one study released earlier this year found that the Green Dot bystander intervention program was effective in high schools.
The increase in rape reporting is also probably an indication that victims are more confident they will be believed by campus public safety departments and administrators. How some campus police departments are now handling rape cases could also be having a positive impact on reporting rates.
For example, WRIC reports that Virginia Commonwealth University Police Chief John Venuti attributes some of VCU’s increase to his department’s use of a survivor-centered approach, which provides forensic nurses services, a wellness resource center, student health services, counseling services, and equity and access services.
Of course, just because a lot of campuses recorded an increase last year doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a lot of improvement. The number of reported rapes is still very small compared to the actual number of sexual assaults we know are happening. And there still are a lot of colleges that only report one or even zero rapes per year despite enrolling thousands of students. Remember, a 2015 study by the Association of American Universities found that more than 23 percent of female college students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of force or incapacitation since enrolling in their universities.
It’s also important to recognize that awareness programs about sexual assault must be ongoing and frequent. If you fail to maintain your efforts, the rate of reporting will most likely go down, and victims will once again suffer in silence. Don’t let that happen. In fact, I urge you to bolster your efforts.
The institutions of higher education that saw an increase in the number of rapes reported last year deserve some positive recognition. Some of them are: the University of Oregon, Ohio State, Stanford, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, University of Arizona, Rowan University, University of New Mexico, University of Kansas, CSU Chico, UC Berkeley, Ohio University and Western Michigan University. If your institution experienced an increase in reports and I left you off of this list, my apologies. Let me know so I can update the list and give you the recognition you deserve.