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Annual Security Report Shows Increases in Crime: Sexual Assault

By SARAH ASCH

The college published its annual security and fire safety reports on Oct. 1 for each of its campuses — Middlebury, Bread Loaf, Monterey, and the Language School at Mills College. The report, which is required under the Clery Act, includes statistics about various crimes reported on campus in the last calendar year.

Among the statistics are several crimes that fall under the category of sexual assault, including rape, fondling, statutory rape and incest. In the most recent report, the College disclosed eight reported rapes and one reported fondling for 2016. They also reported three instances of dating violence and one instance of stalking.

Title IX Coordinator Sue Ritter helps put together the report, alongside the Department of Safety staff. Ritter said that a sexual assault may be reported by the victim or anyone with information about the crime, either through the online reporting form on the Public Safety website or through a staff member such as a dean, public safety officer or coach. Individuals can also make anonymous reports by, for example, asking their counselor at Parton to help them provide the information to the Title IX Coordinator or Public Safety without disclosing any identifying information.

Ritter also clarified that for the purposes of counting statistics in our Annual Security Report in accordance with the Clery Act, the incident must have occurred on campus, on public property adjacent to campus or in housing or other property that is owned or controlled by the college and frequently used by students. She added that a reported assault does not need to go through the adjudication process to be included in the statistics.

The victim does not have to be a student for the crime to be included in the statistics. “It doesn’t matter who’s reporting it. It could be a non-member of our community who was raped here on our campus. We’d still report it as a Clery statistic,” Ritter said.

The reason for this is Clery was designed to give potential students and parents an idea of campus safety before students agree to attend a certain college or university.

“I think for parents and students who are looking at what campuses across the country are safe, the number of crimes that are occurring on a campus or being reported to have occurred is something they would look at and take seriously,” she said.

Ritter emphasized that it is very important for the College to accurately report sexual assaults under the guidelines of Clery, but she also pointed out that the annual security report does not include the true number of sexual assaults that occur on campus every year.

“What I grapple with is the fact that the Clery stats vary from year to year and there’s no real way to ascertain why,” Ritter said. “We also know that not every sexual assault that happens here is reported so it’s hard to draw real concrete conclusions from the data.”

Director of Public Safety Lisa Burchard said that another issue with the statistics is that sexual assaults are recorded when they are reported, not when they occurred. This means if a survivor came forward several years after an incident occurred, that is when the college would record the assault in their statistics.

Ritter said that though there have been many national studies about prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses, there is no way to know what percentage of assaults on campus are never disclosed to the college.

“I wish I knew that. We have no way of knowing,” she said. Ritter acknowledged several barriers to reporting assault including social stigma, fear of retaliation and students being unsure if a line was crossed.

“It’s a complex question because someone may have actually been sexually assaulted but they don’t think that they were,” she said. “Or they have other barriers to reporting like they’re fearful of having to go through a process they don’t know anything about.”

In order to remove some of those barriers to reporting, Ritter said she has been trying to demystify the reporting process. She clarified that just because a student reports a sexual assault does not mean they will have to go through a formal investigation.

“Our policy goes into depth about the rare exceptions with sexual assault cases when we would investigate and adjudicate regardless of the person’s wishes because there’s a significant and appreciable ongoing threat,” she said, adding that the college is more likely to pursue a compulsory investigation in cases of domestic violence, dating violence or stalking. But for the most part, Ritter said, students will not be forced into an adjudication process they do not want to participate in.

Ritter stressed the importance of making reporting easy for students so the college has accurate statistics about sexual assault. She also said that biggest reason she would encourage students to report, in addition to safety concerns, is so they can learn about all of the resources available to them, including academic accommodations, the ability to move rooms, and the ability to place a no contact against the alleged perpetrator.

Burchard said that the college can also help students preserve evidence in case they choose to pursue a case later on. “Some of the resources could be maintaining evidence, collection of evidence,” she said, adding that a lot of cases include both physical and electronic evidence such as text messages. “Even if they don’t want to do anything at the time, they just want to know that it’s been preserved because it’s hard to get it back later.”

Ritter also pointed out that although Clery limits which incidents are included in the college’s annual security report based on geography, the same resources are available to all students struggling with this issue.

“Regardless of where the incident happens, we are going to address that matter with the student and provide resources and accommodations and maybe even adjudication depending on the circumstances,” she said. “Whether or not it counts as a Clery crime is not the same question as whether or not the student is entitled to support from us. We have much broader obligations on that front.”

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