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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

Increase in sexual assault on Ithaca College campus

There has been a marked increase in reports of sexual assault at Ithaca College since 2014–15, but a change in federal reporting guidelines before that academic year make it difficult to determine the reason for the increase.

So far this academic year, there have been 20 sexual assaults reported to the Title IX office at the college, and in the 2015–16 academic year, there were 23 sexual assaults reported, said Title IX Coordinator Tiffani Ziemann. This is an increase from the nine reports recorded in 2014–15 and six reports from 2013–14. The 2010–13 calendar years saw a total of eight reported sexual assaults, but these only include on-campus incidents because the college was not required to report off-campus sexual assaults prior to 2013–14, Ziemann said. In March 2013, Congress passed an amendment to the Clery Act that expanded the types of statistics required to be kept by colleges to include sexual assaults that occurred in off-campus areas affiliated with student activity.

Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that bans discriminatory practices on the basis of sex in educational programs or institutions. Data reported to Title IX include all reported rape, sexual assault and harassment of students, faculty or staff members regardless of location, and it can be accessed through contacting the Office of Human Resources. Campus community members can report sexual assaults to the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, to Title IX or to local law enforcement; then, Lt. Tom Dunn said, the cases can be pursued criminally or judicially, or not pursued but documented.

Ziemann said the rise in reports began in the 2014–15 academic year, the same year the college began Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education, a conglomeration of resources informing students about reporting actions and obligations during orientation. It’s also the same year the college increased training for faculty and staff.

“I think that a lot of the increase has been due to an increase in awareness of reporting,” Ziemann said. “People are much more aware. Faculty and staff are aware of their obligation to let the Title IX coordinator know, and students are more comfortable reporting that information, even if they choose not to act on it with a judicial outcome. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it’s hard to say if it’s an increase in incidents that are actually happening or just an increase of reporting.”Fl

While Ziemann said she recognizes that this increasing trend over the past few years is not traceable to a particular reason, she said the college is not an outlier in these growing numbers. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education, almost all colleges and universities in the U.S. have seen an increase in these reports, but the average statistics of 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men to experience sexual violence have remained consistent, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

“This follows the national trend,” Ziemann said. “Reports are increasing nationwide on college campuses with the increase of Title IX expectations, obligations and education.”

Daniel Carter, campus security consultant and board member of SurvJustice, a national nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual assault seek assistance and justice, said he also believes that this elevating trend is due to the increase in attention.

“As policies improved and attention increased, we saw more and more survivors willing to come forward and report their victimization and seek help and seek justice,” Carter said.

The amendment to the Clery Act broadening the requirements for reporting sexual violence is one of those policies that might have led to a greater number of reports.

Carter said Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and updates to the Clery Act changed how colleges report sexual violence and have prompted more students to speak up, but he said there is still a large portion of rapes and assaults that are not reported. The underreporting rate of sexualassault victims is still staggering among college and university students, primarily due to social pressures that prevent them from coming forward, he said. Carter has also found that the number of disciplinary actions taken is still not comparable to the total reports. According to a report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, more than 90 percent of sexualassault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

“Title IX and the Clery Act are really sort of a starting point for what colleges and universities can do — they provide the essential framework,” Carter said. “The Campus Accountability Bill and Safety Act is expected to be reintroduced in an improved form later this week.So certainly, they feel more can be done.”

According to a news release from the United States Senate, a bipartisan coalition of Senators renewed the Campus Accountability and Safety Act on April 6. The reforms include more requirements from campuses to combat sexual assault, protect survivors and strengthen accountability and transparency for college and university institutions. Ziemann said the college already meets some of the expectations based on previous laws and regulations but that the new amendments could impact the expectations of the Title IX coordinator.

“Depending on how they define the position, it may result in the need to look at redefining job responsibilities or creating a new position,” Ziemann said.

The college must now also provide a written notification to both the victim and the assailant of the sexual-assault when the decision is made to pursue campus disciplinary action within 24 hours to abide by the new legislation, Ziemann said.

Kristi Taylor, Tompkins County Advocacy Center executive director, said the nationwide increase in sexual assault is due to an improved understanding of options available for aid and a more reliable system for helping survivors.

“It’s always really difficult to be able to pinpoint exactly why we see increases in numbers,” Taylor said. “What we see is that when people have a better understanding for what their options are and they feel like those systems are trustworthy, then we tend to hear from more individuals who experience assault.”

Joan Smith, journalist and human rights activist, disputes the claim that the rise in sexual assault is solely due to increased reporting. In a commentary for The Guardian, she argues that it is possible that there are more rapes being committed.

“I’m worried that the assumption may hide an actual increase in the number of rapes and serious sexual assaults,” Smith said in the commentary.

Dunn encourages every student to report any case of sexual violence or harassment to 911 immediately so the police can provide the student with the help that they need.

“I would want a person, either themselves or their friend, to be a good Samaritan and report it to the police or report it to 911 as soon as possible … to aid that person in a total360 care to address their psychological, medical, criminal or evidentiary needs,” Dunn said. “We would want all of those needs to be filled as quickly as they can by reporting it as quickly as they can.”