Sexual Assault Clarification

By Guest Contributor

We are writing in response to the article Oct. 8 Campus article “Report Shows that Sexual Assault Numbers Tripled.” While we think it is important that the topic of sexual assault is covered in the Campus, we were disappointed by the ways that the article misrepresented the issue. First of all, the title was simply inaccurate. Sexual assault numbers did not triple. Reported incidents of sexual assault did triple. The title, accompanied by a graph showing the rapid rise in reported cases, misled readers to believe that there was an unprecedented and mysterious spike in the number of incidents of sexual assault on this campus. This is disrespectful to survivors and to the campus community as a whole. First of all, it suggests that there were only 5 sexual assaults in 2011 and 2012, which is untrue. Based on a study by the National Institute of Justice, five percent of college women are sexually assaulted during any given calendar year; in other words, it is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape. Most importantly, “less than five percent of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to law enforcement.” There is no reason to believe that Middlebury’s numbers would diverge from the national average. 

Therefore the only conclusion that can be inferred from the announcement that reported incidents of sexual assault jumped from five to seventeen in one year is simply that more people reported than usual. This is a fairly safe assumption, as reports of sexual assault at colleges have increased nationally. There are many possible reasons for this. The Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2013, creating new standards of compliance for schools. The White House has established a task force focused on preventing and responding to sexual violence on college campuses. Students at colleges and universities across the country have rallied and pressed charges against their institutions, so the U.S. Department of Education is now investigating over 70 schools for Title IX violations. The stories of survivors such as Emma Sulkowicz from Columbia University and Lena Sclove from Brown University have received widespread media attention. 

Another important point of clarification is that the statistic of 17 reports does not refer to the number of students who pursued a judicial process. It refers to the number of students who told a Campus Security Authority (a Dean, Professor, coach, Public Safety officer, CRA/CA/RA/FYC, etc.) that they were sexually assaulted. If they become aware that a student has been assaulted, these members of the community are required to inform Public Safety. Public Safety then adds the incident to the numbers for the Clery Report, which is published October 1st of every year. Just because an assault is reported does not mean that a student must pursue a judicial process. Karen Guttentag, the Dean of Judicial Affairs, states: “Our work with students … is guided by our understanding of the importance of allowing students to make their own choices and to restore their sense of control over their own path after an experience that may have profoundly violated that sense of control. We are always extremely concerned when we hear of events that may involve sexual violence, and we would always prefer to investigate. However, in some cases, the involved student expresses to us very clearly the preference that we do not investigate, and we feel a strong commitment to honoring their wishes.”

Instances of sexual assault have not tripled on Middlebury’s campus: they are already high, as they are at colleges across the country. Using the Department of Justice’s statistics, we can estimate that around 43 Middlebury students were assaulted in the past academic year. We hope that future Campus articles will represent the issue accurately so that students can be informed about sexual assault at Middlebury and think about their role in stopping it.

REBECCA COATES-FINK ‘16.5 is from Northampton, Mass.

KATE MURRAY ‘ 15 is from Milton, Mass.