The number of sexual offenses reported for the Foggy Bottom Campus inched slightly higher last year, but determining whether there was an increase in cases or more reporting of incidents is difficult, experts and a University official said.
The total number of reported on-campus sex offenses has steadily increased at GW over the last four years, from five reported incidents in 2007 to 12 cases in 2010, according to University Police Department statistics.
Drawing conclusions on the real number of sex offenses on college campuses using small, incremental increases in reported cases is difficult because, “it’s the un-reports that count for the vast majority of cases,” Scott Berkowitz, founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said.
Nearly 20 percent of women who attend college are victims of attempted or actual sexual assaults, according to Department of Education data. A Department of Justice report estimated that about 95 percent of completed rapes of women on campuses go unreported, while nearly 96 percent of attempted rapes go unreported.
One hundred percent of sexual coercion cases go unreported, the Department of Justice study found, citing the reasons for not reporting as a victim not wanting others – including family – to know about the incident, as well as “fear of being treated hostilely by police” and “lack of proof that the incident happened.”
Universities and colleges nationwide that receive federal funding are required to report on-campus crime statistics yearly to the Department of Education to comply with the Clery Act. The law passed in 1990, following Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery’s rape and murder in 1986, when the school’s 38 other violent crimes in the three years leading up to her death were kept under wraps.
Sex offenses, among the different crimes included in the annual reports, divide incidents into categories: forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object and fondling. Non-forcible offenses include incest and statutory rape, or cases in which one party is a minor.
University Police Chief Kevin Hay said it is difficult to discern whether the yearly upticks in reported sex offenses represent a spike in the actual number of incidents at GW or an increase in how many students are comfortable reporting the incidents.
“Hopefully survivors are reporting more because they are more aware of resources and feel safe coming forward,” Hay said. “It takes courage for a survivor to report a sexual assault.”
While the number of cases on the Foggy Bottom Campus saw slight rises each year, the Mount Vernon Campus saw only one forcible rape in 2010 and one forcible fondling in 2008, but no other reported sex offenses in 2009 or 2007.
Hay said UPD also separately releases the number of reported off-campus incidents of sex offenses, even though under the Department of Education rules, schools are only required to include on-campus reports.
UPD received 10 sex offense reports for off-campus incidents in 2010, seven of which were forcible rapes, according to the department’s statistics. Three of the rapes, as well as one forcible fondling, were reported to non-police officials who then reported the incident to UPD.
“The low reporting rate may be attributed to the fact that the majority of sexual assaults on campus are committed by an acquaintance,” Berkowitz said. “Overall acquaintance rapes are less likely to be reported than stranger rapes.”
The majority of students at the University are uninformed about how to report or seek help following cases of sexual assault, a survey conducted by GW medical students concluded in December 2010. It found that 89 percent of 1,031 survey respondents thought GW Hospital offered rape kits, while another 69 percent thought rape kits were available at Student Health Service.
The only location in the city that houses rape kits is the Washington Hospital Center, which employs the only certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in D.C.
Peter Shin, a crime analyst at Boston University Police, said the university saw two reported sexual assaults on campus in 2010, but that cases are “definitely under-reported.”
“Do I think that we only had two sexual assaults occur in 2010? No, I think that’s really unrealistic,” Shin said. “I’m sure there’s probably a group of people that don’t realize they were sexually assaulted and they don’t report it cause of that.”
Citywide, reports of rapes jumped nearly 25 percent in 2010, from 150 cases in 2009 to 187 the next year, according to the FBI’s “Crime in the United States” report.
Sex abuse crimes in the second district, where GW is located, also saw a surge in 2010, rising by 74 percent from 19 cases in 2009 to 33 cases in 2010, according to a Metropolitan Police Department’s crime mapping tool.
“Generally, colleges need to have a good and fair system in place to facilitate sexual assault reporting,” Berkowitz said. “Schools need to publicize that system to educate students that there is something to be gained by reporting, that there’s a process and a chance to get justice in the end.”