Increase in sexual reports shows improvement in reporting process, but more needs to be done
The number of sexual assaults reported on campus has nearly doubled over the last year, according to the college’s newly released annual security report.
While the number has increased from five to nine reported incidents, Dean of Students Ellis Hall said nine is only a fraction of the number of sexual offenses that actually occur on campus annually.
“I am sure there have been individuals, male and female, that have been subject to some form of sexual misconduct by another person on them and that it has not been reported,” Hall said. “Absolutely.”
The Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report, which Director of Security Steve Leonard released to the public last month on MyFC, defines the policies for reporting crime, identifies resources available to the community and outlines the data collected from residence life, security and police reports.
Among the data included is the number of sexual offenses reported both on and off campus between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016.
Reported sexual offenses are divided into two categories: forcible and non-forcible. Forcible sexual offenses include rape and forcible fondling. Non-forcible involve statutory rape and incest—two crimes that have not happened on campus in recent years.
Of the nine reported incidents, all were categorized as forcible sexual offenses, and all occurred in on-campus residence halls. Leonard could not detail how many offenses occurred in each residence hall.
“We obviously would strive for that number to be zero every year,” Leonard said. “That’s what we would all hope is that all the numbers would be zero—not just sex offenses, but with burglaries and disciplinary referrals with alcohol. But it’s not a reality on any college campus.”
One in every four female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation, according to the United States Department of Justice.
Hall said he believes this statistic translates to Franklin College. But he said it’s important to understand that the data noted in the report does not necessarily mean the number of offenses occurring is increasing, but instead that more parties are reporting incidents.
“In an absolute sense to say, ‘Yes, one in every four Franklin College females will have some sort of sexual misconduct’—to be absolute that it’s one in four—I don’t know that,” Hall said. “But in a broad sense, yes. It’s underreported nationally. Yes, absolutely it’s underreported here.”
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When senior Megan Helterbrand read that more sexual assaults had been reported over the last year, she reacted on social media.
“Don’t ignore the annual security report… protect each other,” Helterbrand said in a tweet, accompanied by a photo of the circled sexual offense data.
“At first I was shocked, but at the same time, I wasn’t completely surprised,” she said. “People should be sticking together in this day and age.”
When Helterbrand went to a party earlier this month, she said she kept a close eye on younger women. She said she saw several women getting danced on who didn’t know how to say they weren’t interested.
“As a senior, it’s my role to do more of that instead of going out,” she said. “You’re willing to protect the younger ones because you know how things can go.”
Hall said it’s not “motherly” to stop sexual assaults. It’s being a friend, a responsible person and a human.
“On sexual misconduct issues, people—women and men—need to be responsible and need to be proactive in working to prevent these kinds of things from happening,” he said. “If you do that and it doesn’t work, or you don’t do that, it doesn’t excuse the person from sexually assaulting someone. But if you take preventative measures, that will reduce the number of things that happen.”
Hall said that although students can look out for friends at parties by watching their drinking habits and “interven[ing] and say[ing] ‘no’” when they try to leave with someone they just met, he said he wants to be clear that victims of sexual assault are not at fault.
In fall 2015, President Thomas Minar and the Board of Trustees developed a task force to rewrite the sexual misconduct policies on campus. The college enacted the new procedures and the response team last year.
“We began to implement the procedures that outline how it is we live out this policy around sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment,” said Denise Baird, the task force chair.
While the previous policy was fully in compliance with Title IX—a law that holds federally-funded schools accountable for ignoring sexual assault reports—the task force aimed to create a more comprehensive policy that focused on more than sexual assault and misconduct.
The policy protects students and employees from discrimination, harassment, interpersonal violence, stalking, complicity and retaliation.
It also clarifies that employees have an obligation to alert authorities after misconduct cases are reported to them.
“I wouldn’t say these details weren’t there before and are there now,” Baird said in the Nov. 4, 2016 issue of The Franklin. “Rather, I would say they have been strengthened, improved upon and clarified.”
Both Baird and Minar recognized the importance of being aware of the problem as a community—all while having tools and resources to report potential violations available.
At the same time, Baird said she recognizes the challenges associated with having conversations about sexual misconduct.
As a result, the task force created an online reporting system, easily accessible through MyFC. Students have the option of filling out a formal or anonymous report about a sexual assault or misconduct. The report is sent to Leonard, director of the college’s sexual assault response team.
Leonard said the college’s intent is to help students struggling with these situations.
“The more we know, the better,” Leonard said. “Any effort we can make to reach out to these reporting parties to get them the help they might need and be a resource for them, the better it is.”
Hall said he hopes students continue to utilize the newly implemented reporting system.
“We’ve increased the awareness of the availability of reporting. This year it went up from five to nine. It sounds huge. One is too many,” Hall said. “But the point is, I think people are reporting it. That’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing that it happens. It’s a good thing that people are reporting it.”