Increase in reported rapes attributed to efforts to support survivors

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

UT saw a spike in reported instances of rape that involved a member of the University community and occurred either on or off campus during 2014, according to the University’s Annual Security Report.

The increase in reporting was in large part because of increased national media attention on sexual assault prevention and reporting, as well as campus efforts, such as the Not On My Campus campaign, which encourages students to stand up against sexual assaults on social media, according to Paul Liebman, chief compliance officer for University Compliance Services — the agency responsible for ensuring the University’s conformity to all state and federal human resources laws. Liebman said the programs have made survivors of assault more comfortable in reporting their experiences to Student Judicial Services and the police.

In 1990, Congress passed the Clery Act, which requires all colleges and universities that participate in the federal financial aid program to keep and disclose records about crimes committed on and near their campuses. As part of UT’s compliance with this law, University Compliance Services releases the Annual Security Report filled with the required information.

According to the report, instances of rape that were reported on UT non-residential properties went up from zero to four from 2013 to 2014. On UT-residential properties, the number jumped from eight instances to 13. Additionally, a total of 31 instances of rape involving members of the University community in non-campus buildings and property and property adjacent to the University were reported during 2014, up from 21 last year.

Liebman said most instances of rape occur off campus because a minority of students reside on campus.

“The thing is, very few of these events happen on campus,” Liebman said. “There are 50,000 students and only around 7,200 rooms total. Most rapists are not part of the University community as staff, students or faculty.”

To address the problem of sexual violence at UT, the federal Office of Violence Against Women founded Voices Against Violence in 2001.

As a part of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center, VAV offers counseling and advocacy services to help survivors of sexual violence after the trauma they experienced. One such service is the Survivor’s Emergency Fund, a fund fully supported by individual contributions that provides survivors with financial assistance for legal fees associated with prosecuting the offender, medical care and more, according to the CMHC website.

Erin Burrows, prevention and outreach specialist for VAV, said the number of students the Fund has helped also increased in the past year as a result of successful fundraising and outreach.

There are many reasons why a sexual assault surviror would be hesitant to report a rape incident, said UT Police Department Lieutenant Charles Bonnet.

“They could have a fear of the criminal justice system or the police in general — a fear of what’s going to happen in their social circles, particularly if the suspect is someone they know in their circle of friends,” Bonnet said. “[They could be concerned about] what their family is going to say, what their friends are going to say.”

A majority of incidents of rape reported to UTPD involved suspects the victim knew, Bonnet said.

Burrows said victims should continue sharing their stories in greater numbers because it directly contributes to making the University safer for themselves and other students.

“[Reporting an incident] is a big deal after someone has experienced any form of harm or violence,” Burrows said. “Keep in mind that the University has a responsibility to keep everybody safe here. It is a difficult decision but it is one both for the survivor’s own journey, but also to make sure that it does not happen to anyone else.”

This article has been updated since its original posting.