by Kennedy Haugen
Thanks to movements such as #MeToo, the topic of sexual assault in workplaces, colleges and just day to day life is becoming less taboo than it was before. Even though some victims still have trouble with feeling comfortable about reaching out for help, more people than ever before are choosing to find help.
“I can say, at least for our office and victim advocacy, we are definitely seeing more students than we have seen in the past,” said Sabrina Griffith, director of Student Care and Advocacy at The University of Tampa. “I am meeting with about two to three students a week now, as compared to maybe five calls a semester, years ago.”
For the calendar year of 2018, UT’s crime statistic report states that there were two reported cases of statutory rape, seven reported cases of rape, six reported cases of fondling, 10 reports of dating violence, zero reports of stalking or domestic violence.
“Per student we’re looking right around the national average for where we would be at for a school our size, in terms of statistics,” said Tim Nelson, director of Student Conduct and title nine deputy coordinator at UT.
UT’s statistics for cases of sexual assault have increased since 2016, there were only three reported cases of rape, zero reports of statutory rape, zero reports of fondling, zero reports of domestic violence, zero reports of dating violence and one report of stalking. The rise in students reporting sexual assault does not necessarily mean that attacks are occurring more often.
“Students are looking for support, recognizing it for what it is, calling it out. It makes me feel like they’re probably a little bit more likely to call out their peers when their peers are sitting on the other side of the problem,” said Griffith. “We have a huge challenge of just humanity in general not wanting to be the reason why somebody gets in trouble and if people recognize that it’s not about getting someone in trouble, it’s about holding them accountable and helping them learn right from wrong.”
Many students involved in sexual assault wait to report the incident they were involved with. They will wait days, weeks, months and even years later to report sexual assault. They’ve had enough of their situation and want something done about it and those cases can still go through the Title Nine process and through Student Conduct said Griffith.
“They can report it to Campus Safety or to a responsible employee,” said Nelson. “Then, the responsible employee can make a report to our office. When they receive a report they are kind of obligated to make that report to either myself or our title nine coordinator.”
After the report is made to either the Office of Student Conduct or the title nine coordinator, Nelson and others will review those reports and then meet with the person making a report. The UT process for sexual assault is victim centered. If a student wants to move forward with the process, it moves forward. If a student doesn’t want to move forward with the process and the perpetrator isn’t a threat to the university community, it can be documented but not pursued.
“Once we have that kind of decision by the student or by the university, we do an investigatory process that is very thorough. We have our investigators meet with our student, perpetrator and any witnesses,” said Nelson. “We have an opportunity for each side to review that report and then the investigators make a final determination if anyone violated university policy in relation to number 18 Sexual Misconduct and Relationship Violence.”
Every university in the U.S. is required under the Clery Act to provide a transparent campus crime policy and statistics report. Which means that UT’s statistics serve as a public record and can be found on the university’s website. Other universities have public access to their crime statistics and can show the difference between UT’s statistics and their statistics.
“We had a parent that contacted us a couple years ago and said ‘my student is at this division one school of 30,000 students and their reported sexual assault numbers are lower than yours at UT. Does that mean that if my student comes to UT they’ll be in danger?’” said Griffith, “What we explained to them was, it doesn’t mean that they’re in any danger because our numbers are higher. Our numbers could be higher for various reasons.”
A few of those reasons can include students reporting sexual assaults more than the other institution, maybe their students aren’t as comfortable reporting and education that encourages reporting and help people understand exactly what is going on.
The population size of a university doesn’t always guarantee that people are going to report or that something is actually happening more often. It is common to think that more people and more events lead to more situations but that has not been proven at all, said Griffith.
“For us, it is our goals to make sure that our student know how to report, they know how to recognize sexual violence and how identify it for what it is so that they are telling us what is happening or they are intervening before it actually happens,” said Griffith. “So comparing ourselves to others, we do not know exactly why the differences exist and it doesn’t necessarily say that there’s anything wrong with our process or other schools processes.”
UT has several resources for students to both educate themselves and report sexual assault, victim advocacy, the Office of Student Conduct, Campus Safety and the Wellness Center are a few of them. Campus Safety and Victim Advocacy both have their numbers on the back of student ID cards. More information on sexual assault or the resources can be found at ut.edu.
Kennedy Haugen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org