Six on-campus rapes were reported to police officials last year, following a year when all reports were made to non-police.
For the first time in at least three years, a person reported an on-campus rape directly to the Metropolitan Police Department and five rapes on campus were reported to the University Police Department in 2014, according to recently released data from GW’s annual security report.
Of the 23 total rapes that were reported on Foggy Bottom campus property last year, 17 were reported to non-police. Sexual assault is one of the only crimes in which survivors can decide whether or not to report the incident. At GW, students can also report an incident to the Sexual Assault Response Consultative Team, a group of administrators and staff trained to support survivors.
Advocates who support sexual assault survivors have historically said a higher number of reports does not necessarily mean an unsafe campus, but rather a campus where survivors feel safe and empowered enough to come forward.
Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell said in an email that the recent national spotlight on campus sexual assault likely had an impact on the increased number of survivors reporting the crime at GW.
“We will continue to work hard to create a University culture that encourages victims to file complaints against perpetrators,” Darnell said.
Twelve incidents of fondling, which the University defines as “touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, without the consent of the victim,” were also reported on the Foggy Bottom campus last year, according to the report. There was one report of fondling in 2013.
Shana Maier, a criminal justice professor at Widener University in Chester, Penn., said that the number of rape survivors who report the attack has been increasing nationally, but that rape is still considered to be generally underreported.
She said that while the increase in the number of cases of reported rape is a good sign, progress can still be made in reporting cases.
“It’s an overall trend that I think is trickling down to college campuses, which is fantastic,” Maier said.
She said public service announcements in recent years have spread awareness that sexual assault is a crime as opposed to a personal issue for the survivor. She said Widener University educates students by putting stickers around campus in areas like public bathrooms that urge survivors to report their crime. Officials there also offer sexual assault prevention training to freshmen during orientation.
Last spring, University President Steven Knapp promised to hold in-person mandatory sexual assault training for freshmen during the first week of school, after student leaders protestedthe use of online-only training.
Maier added that there are benefits for the rape survivor to report the crime directly to law enforcement, including that police can more easily direct the survivor to a hospital to have a forensic medical exam to collect evidence of the crime. The resulting criminal investigation after a person reports a rape to the police can also be a deterrence to future crimes, Maier said.
“If they report to police, the positive side is that they can hook them up into services better,” she said.
Forensic medical exams that were performed in D.C. have increased by about 70 percent since fiscal year 2010, following a national trend of more survivors seeking services after a sexual crime.
Laura Zillman, the vice president of Students Against Sexual Assault, said in an email that there are legitimate reasons why a survivor would choose not to report a rape, but said the fact that more people reported a rape directly to law enforcement last year is “encouraging.”
“GW has been making progress in supporting survivors regardless of how they choose to move forward, and we hope that every survivor who chooses to report is treated with the utmost respect and trust,” Zillman said.
Nick Andricola contributed reporting.