Zero campus sexual offenses reported by DPS may be misleading, officials say

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

A recent Department of Public Safety report stating that no on-campus sexual offenses were reported to DPS in 2005 may not accurately reflect the number of such offenses, according to University officials.

The report, which outlined crimes committed in the Brown community, including sexual offenses, burglaries and incidents of assault, was released in compliance with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities receiving federal financial aid to prepare an annual summary of three years of crime statistics on campus and in the surrounding area.

The report tallied zero sexual offenses on campus and three on “public property” in 2005.

In response to a question during last Sunday’s “An Hour With the President,” a Parents Weekend event, Chief of Police Mark Porter said no sexual offenses were included in the report because it only discloses crimes that were reported to DPS.

“There were zero (sexual offenses) reported to public safety in 2005,” Porter said.

Director of Media Relations Molly de Ramel did not grant The Herald an interview with Porter this week.

Though no sexual assaults were reported to DPS, according to the report, this statistic does not accurately reflect the number of sexual offenses that actually occur on campus, said Gail Cohee, director of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center.

Cohee cited a 1997 report released by the National Institute of Justice that found that as few as 5 percent of sexual offenses are reported to officials such as health care providers or police officers.

The same report found that between 20 and 25 percent of women are likely to be victims of sexual assault or attempted assault while in college. Only four on-campus cases have been reported to DPS since 2003.

There are many reasons why so few cases of sexual assault are reported, said Frances Mantak, director of health education. Victims of sexual assault, – who can be men or women – often believe they are somehow to blame for the attack, especially when alcohol is involved, she said.

They are also very likely to know their attacker and are reluctant to acknowledge or label a friend, partner or family member as a perpetrator of sexual assault, Mantak said.

Another major reason for underreporting is fear of the attention that could stem from ensuing legal proceedings.

“People see things like the Duke (lacrosse team) case, and they are scared off from reporting,” Mantak said. In the Duke case, the woman who said she had been sexually assaulted was publicly accused of fabricating the charges.

Victims often only seek medical care such as emergency contraception, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV prophylaxis, a procedure to prevent HIV infection, after an assault, according to Mantak. Most do not want to pursue any legal action, even when the attacker is identified, Mantak said. Health Services typically has about three to five such cases every year, which “is still far fewer than we would expect from the national statistics,” she said.

Victims of sexual assault at Brown have several channels through which they can receive help, said Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president for campus life and dean for student life.

Immediately after reporting an incident, a victim can receive medical attention at Health Services. If desired, the victim can also be taken to a local hospital for a rape kit. A representative from Psychological Services is available to go to the hospital with the victim during the examination process.

If the victim wishes to pursue legal action, a report is made to DPS or the Providence Police Department, and a criminal investigation is initiated, Klawunn said.

If the victim does not wish to pursue legal action, the University has an internal, non-legal procedure for dealing with what is termed “sexual misconduct.”

Sexual misconduct is “non-consensual physical contact of a sexual nature,” Klawunn said. This encompasses a wide range of offenses, including “acts using force, threat, intimidation, or advantage gained by the offended student’s mental or physical incapacity or impairment,” according to the University’s Student Rights and Responsibilities Web site.

“The reason why we came up with a different term (from sexual assault) is to make it clear that we are using our own system … that is not like the way a sexual offense would be handled in a criminal system,” Klawunn said.

Filing a sexual misconduct claim with the Office of Student Life does not result in legal action unless the victim initiates it, but it does not preclude such action from being taken in the future, Klawunn said.

Sexual misconduct has a much lower burden of proof than sexual assault would in criminal court, Klawunn said. For this reason, sexual misconduct is dealt with much more quickly than a sexual assault charge could be.

“Some students want an immediate physical separation from the other person, like having a dorm room change … or a no-contact order,” Klawunn said.

The OSL did not comment on the number of complaints of sexual misconduct in 2005, though at least one incident was listed in the report detailing violations of the non-academic code released by the office in September.

Brown also offers counseling for victims of sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Advocates are Brown staff and faculty members trained to provide information and support to student victims of sexual assault.

While programs to increase awareness are important, the University should more accurately report the prevalence of sexual assaults on campus, said Kate Horning ’07, former coordinator of the Women’s Peer Counselor program.

“There is harm (in reporting zero sexual offenses) because it lets people convince themselves that (sexual assaults) are not happening here … and they are,” Horning said. “It is necessary to see numbers that reflect what is happening on campus so that people can be aware that if it has happened to them that they are not alone, and that there are people that they can talk to, and there are resources for them.”

“If people were aware at the rate at which this is happening to their fellow students, they would watch out for their friends more and they would watch out for themselves more,” Horning said.

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