What Schools Don’t Tell You About Campus Sexual Assault

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Safety issues on dorms are often not discussed. Penn State


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By Andrea A. Curcio / 04.06.2016
Professor of Law
Georgia State University

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Throughout the summer before my daughter left for college, I repeatedly warned her: never put a glass down at a party; use the buddy system when going to parties; and never go upstairs at a fraternity party.

Instead, what I should have told her is: the place you are most likely to be assaulted is in your dorm; you are most vulnerable the first weeks of the semester; and your attacker is most likely to be a friend or acquaintance.

In the past couple of years, much has been written about the high rate of sexual assaults on college campuses. What no one seems to be talking about is that most assaults occur in the dorms.

Vulnerable freshman year

A 2015 study found over 20 percent of all women surveyed experienced unwanted sexual contact while attending college. This confirmed earlier findings from a survey conducted between 2005 to 2007, in which one in five women reported being sexually assaulted since entering college.

The most vulnerable time is the first two months of the freshman year. In fact, to symbolize the danger, the first few months of the fall freshman semester are now commonly called the sexual assault “red zone.”

Most likely an attacker will be a friend or acquaintance. A study conducted by the National Institute of Justice, the research wing of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that 90 percent of college sexual assault victims knew their assailant.

The majority of assaults happen when one or both parties have consumed alcohol. Parents and students usually associate alcohol use with parties, and particularly fraternity parties. Rarely is the connection made about what happens when a student returns to the dorm after those parties.

Schools’ legal reporting obligation

Colleges and universities that receive federal funding (which is virtually all schools) are required under the Clery Act to compile and publish an annual report on the nature, date, time and place of crimes occurring on and off campus. On-campus crime reports must indicate whether the crime occurred in on-campus residential housing.

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It is likely that campuses underreport sexual assault victims. Wolfram Burner

Rapes and “fondlings” are among the crimes that must be reported. Fondlings are defined as forcible and/or nonconsensual touching for sexual gratification. Nonconsensual situations include those in which the victim is incapacitated and thus unable to consent.

It is quite likely that the Clery Act reports significantly underrepresent the number of campus sexual assaults. As the table below shows, in 2014, the combined total Clery Act reports from all U.S. colleges and universities was 4,971 reported rapes and 2,521 reported fondlings.

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