Reports of sexual assaults within residence halls have been on the rise this year, with incidents tripling compared to data from 2012. This dramatic increase has spurred the university to take action.
From January to Oct. 10, six sexual assaults have been reported from the residence halls as compared to two last year during the same timeframe.
Dean of Students Stephanie Ives said the numbers have the potential to be skewed due to victims not reporting past assaults.
“A rise in reporting can mean that more victims are willing to come forward and regain power in their lives by having the person who assaulted them held accountable,” Ives said in an email.
Shondrika Merritt, assistant director of Residential Life, said she believes the rise in reported sexual assaults could be correlated with her department’s push for awareness within the staff.
“I think it’s coming from people being more aware of what it means to come forward,” Merritt said. “It comes from people feeling more comfortable and people knowing more resources on campus and things like that.”
Members of the Residential Life staff have had many conversations about dealing with sexual assaults in the residence halls, Merritt said, adding that the best way to combat the issue is to continue educating those that come into close contact with the students.
“In the residence halls, the first people that students go to are the RAs or the peer mentors,” Merritt said. “The more that that staff knows about this topic, I think the more aware a community can be.”
Merritt also said interdepartmental communication is a vital cog in the fight against sexual crime.
“I think when we partner together as we do, it definitely helps increase the awareness on campus and within the halls,” she added.
Merritt said the residence halls use the Wellness Resource Center as their partner and guide when dealing with sexual crime.
On Thursday, a meeting was held to discuss how further cooperation can be utilized to continue to combat sexual crime.
Campus Safety Services, the Dean of Students’ Office, the Wellness Resource Center, University Housing and Residential Life, the Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance and the Office of University Counsel were among the groups that participated in the discussion.
Acting Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone said the topics discussed included theories as to why there are a larger number of sexual assaults being reported in residence halls, as well as prevention, protection and support for student survivors.
“This group can and will make change for the better happen,” he said in an email.
However, Ives said, regardless of the efforts the university puts forth, sexual assaults will continue to occur as long as students fail to understand the concept of consent.
“In every situation in which sexual intimacy is about to occur, consent is an active and verbal process on the part of both participants,” Ives said. “No one should ever assume that silence is consent.”
Ives said the university will continue to strive to make improvements and help students as much as it can. Her office recently released an amendment to the university policy on sexual assault, which was brought to the attention of students via email Friday.
Cindy Stansbury can be reached at email@example.com.