Report Shows That Sexual Assault Numbers Tripled


By Ellie Reinhardt


Public Safety released its annual Security and Fire Safety Report on Wednesday, Oct. 1st, which indicated several variances from the 2013 report, most notably, an increase in the number of forcible sexual offenses from five in 2012 to seventeen in 2013. 

The report defines forcible sexual offenses as “[a] sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly  or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent. This includes forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, and forcible fondling.” 

In the all school email from Director of Public Safety Elizabeth Burchard, the increase of forcible sexual offenses was outlined, as was the possibility that this increase may have emerged from an increased effort to encourage victims to report incidents of sexual misconduct.

“While the increase in reports of sexual violence is an area of particular concern, it may be a consequence of our efforts to encourage individuals to report violations. Middlebury will continue to engage in education and prevention efforts related to sexual assault,” Burchard wrote.

However, the increasing number of reported assaults does not seem to be a trend that only the College has been dealing with. According to the Boston Globe, which released an article, “Sexual assault reports climb at area Colleges,” on Oct. 6,“forcible sexual offenses” rose nearly 40 percent between 2012 and 2013 at two-dozen of New England’s largest colleges. 

The article also noted that the increase, according to safety specialists, reflects an unprecedented national awareness of the problem of sexual assault, which has  encouraged more victims to come forward. The Clery Act, in particular, requires colleges to issue a report on Oct. 1st of each year with all the statistics of alleged crimes. 

Despite the notion that the increase stems from more victims coming forward and reporting, the jump from five to fifteen is nevertheless concerning. However, college officials remain optimistic that this truly does reflect an increase in reporting. 

“The message of zero tolerance for sexual violence is being heard on local and national levels,” said Dean of the College Shirley Collado. “We are cautiously optimistic that these numbers mean our efforts to increase awareness and make reporting more acceptable to victims of sexual assault are working.” 

“Middlebury has actively encouraged the reporting of sexual violence in all of its forms and has established policies and systems to make the process easier and more supportive,” she continued. 

However, not all students are as optimistic that the College has done anything to make reporting easier and that this report reflects that. 

“I am concerned and troubled by this increase,” said Lily Sawyer ’16. “If the increase in reports of sexual violence is, as the email suggests, a consequence of the administration’s efforts to encourage individuals to report these viola–tions, then I think that’s fabulous. But I have to say that I haven’t personally noticed any difference over the last two years in terms of encouraging victims to speak out. Not that I think Middlebury encourages victims of sexual assault to stay silent, I’m not saying that at all. But I’m not sure that there have been big policy changes or administrative shifts that we can pinpoint as the reason victims feel more comfortable coming forward. I hope that there have been and maybe I just haven’t noticed them.”

One student who was sexually assaulted reached out to the Campus to share her story. The student, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed particular concern not so much with the College’s commitment to having victims report and helping them do so, but with everything after that—from continued support and sensitivity. 

“When I realized my academics were really struggling I spoke with my dean and was made aware of more resources that are available,” she said.

“[He] made it clear that the College wants to do everything they can to support me, but then we quickly shifted to speaking about the judicial process. My dean expressed the administration strongly encourages students to take that route. However, I felt that there was a tremendous pressure to take that route.”

“There were multiple points my dean made when trying to encourage me [to report], one of them being the benefit of the campus community and for other potential victims, so I eventually did. However, I felt that the focus on my recovery and healing was more about the case than on my health, which is a weakness in the system,” she continued.

She also pointed out that there did not seem to be much follow-through after the initial reporting took place. 

“People in the administration were very helpful, but at the end of the day it always was me that had to go back and follow-up if things weren’t getting better for me,” she said.

“I think it makes it so difficult for a victim, because you are the one that has to reach out to someone and summon up the courage to tell them your story. That takes a lot of effort and it is exhausting. I felt like yes, they wanted to help me and they were concerned and would think about me, but at the same time it wasn’t personal. It often felt scripted, like this is what I was trained to say or ask you about.”

She continued, “One thing that is unfortunate is that I don’t feel like Middlebury plays a role in my healing process. In fact I don’t want to seek help from the Middlebury college professional community. There are negative associations with working with the administration of the campus where it happened. I need to handle this independently of them, because ultimately I was fearful of the power of the administration. Part of coping with a sexual assault is taking back your own control and when you are dealing with people who are in positions of power, however subtle that can be, it is challenging for a victim. It brings back negative memories. This isn’t necessarily their fault, but just came about because of the circumstances from which I was working with them.” 

“I want to re-create this home for myself. This whole situation took a toll on my feelings toward the College, but I want to re-create it,” she said.

“There are three players you are dealing with after a assault: the campus community, the assailant and the victim. It seems that Middlebury is doing a good job handling the assailant and the community, but not as great of a job as caring for the victim,” she concluded.

The College, however, continued to try and make progress in this area. Although the Department of Public Safety issued the report, many of the efforts to address the increase in reported “Forcible Sexual Offenses” and to raise awareness about sexual misconduct and sexual identity on campus are made by the administration with the support of the Department of Public Safety. 

According to an email sent by Liebowitz on Sept. 8, all alleged violations of the “Policy against Sexual Misconduct, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking” will be reviewed by the the Human Relations Officer instead of the Sexual Misconduct Review Panel. 

In the email Liebowitz asserted, “This academic year, we will emphasize prevention strategies and programs to educate students, faculty, and staff with the goal of preventing sexual violence of all kinds.”

In another all-campus email sent on Thursday, Oct. 2, the administration announced another new program. This is the new preferred name and gender pronoun procedure for identification on BannerWeb and subsequently, on all internal College data systems. According to the email, the initiative was prompted by a proposal presented in 2011.

Questions about how to use the new program can be directed to Assistant Director of Student Activities Jennifer Herrera. However, when asked about the importance of the new system, Herrera failed to respond beyond what was said in the all campus email. 

According to the email, “The implementation of the preferred name and gender pronoun procedure in BannerWeb puts Middlebury at the forefront of gender identity and expression initiatives nationwide, and is in keeping with our institutional commitment to creating a diverse, welcoming community with full and equal participation for all individuals and groups.”

Burchard said of the increase in the numbers, “We take these numbers seriously and we fully support Middlebury’s efforts to actively encourage the reporting of sexual violence. Public Safety will continue to participate in the college’s education and prevention efforts, and to work with others in the college and local communities.”

Burchard referenced the grant that the College received last year “to enhance the college’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence on campus.” She said that as a result of the grant, which allows the College to work closely with outside organizations, the Department of Public Safety “will have the opportunity to collaborate on sexual violence training programs, sharing protocols and best practices.”