Reports of harassment to the University Police Department dropped 38 percent between the 2014 spring and fall semesters.
Last semester, the department recorded 18 reports of harassment, compared to 29 in the spring semester. But experts say a decrease in reports doesn’t necessarily mean there have been fewer instances.
GW will look to identify the cause of the decrease at the end of the academic year, University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said in an email.
“We are glad that our community feels comfortable reporting incidents that affect them and are working together as a University to create a culture that encourages the reporting of these types of incidents,” she said.
Anne Hedgepeth, the government relations manager at the American Association of University Women, who works on projects involving the Violence Against Women Act, said anonymous surveys can help tell colleges whether reports are decreasing because there are fewer incidents or because fewer students are comfortable reporting to the police.
“We would all love for there to be zero instance of these offenses, but we know that’s not the case, so it’s worth it to know why,” she said.
To better gauge students’ experiences with harassment, stalking and dating violence, officials released an anonymous campus climate survey last spring. The survey asked students questions about whether they feel safe from sexual harassment or violence. Results have not yet been released.
Last spring, there were five reported instances of cyberstalking, which includes forms of harassment using technology like text messaging and email. There were six reports during the fall.
In fall 2013, there were at least eight instances of cyberstalking reported. Then-UPD Chief Kevin Hay said at the time that most cases of harassment occur when a woman’s ex-boyfriend attempts to contact her.
In October, a female student reported that she had been harassed. She had broken up with a male student, and after a fight at a gas station, he threw and broke her cell phone.
While GW lists each report of harassment in the University crime log during the year, a yearly tally of harassment reports has not been included in GW’s previous annual security reports. Csellar said that they were “awaiting guidance” from the Department of Education as to whether officials should include harassment in the next report that will be released in October.
The best way to prevent harassment on college campuses is to begin educating students about laws before they get to college, said Ashley Badgley, a program coordinator at Break the Cycle, a domestic violence prevention nonprofit.
“On campuses, the wonderful programs that exist to empower young people and end violence should spend some time on harassment,” Badgley said.