New campus crime reports released this week show that Dartmouth College and Middlebury College saw dramatic increases in the number of reported “forcible sex offenses” on their campuses in 2013.
Data released from Dartmouth this year shows a pattern of consistent underreporting in past years. Sex crimes, school officials say, may have been reported at a higher rate in 2013 than before. And school officials said a rise in the number of alcohol violations is the result of more comprehensive reporting by the school, which was previously omitting certain categories of alcohol violation from its reports.
The reports, required by federal law, are issued every October and cover the previous calendar year. The 2013 data about sex offenses and alcohol and drug violations for major Vermont schools and Dartmouth College show largely stable numbers from 2012 to 2013, with some prominent exceptions.
VPR compared the data from Champlain College, Norwich University, Middlebury College, the University of Vermont and Dartmouth College.
The Clery Act, a federal law that established campus crime reporting standards, is named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old student who was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room in 1986. One of the most prominent statistics the law requires is the number of sexual offenses reported.
“Forcible sex offenses,” according to the U.S. Department of Education, are defined as “any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent.”
A survey of major Vermont colleges and universities and Dartmouth College show that Middlebury had a dramatically higher number of forcible sex offenses per 1,000 students than any other major school in Vermont.
In a press release, Middlebury officials said the increase from 2012 to 2013 (five sexual assaults in 2012 versus 17 the following year) was of concern, but could be the result of increased reporting. According to the school's press release about the data:
“While these numbers are a source of real concern, and we will remain vigilant in enforcing our policies, it is also possible that these numbers reflect a greater willingness among individuals to report violations,” said Shirley M. Collado, dean of the College. “Middlebury has actively encouraged the reporting of sexual violence in all of its forms and has established policies and systems to make the process easier and more supportive.”
Middlebury spokeswoman Sarah Ray refused a request for an interview about the new reports.
While Middlebury’s data shows the highest percent increase in sexual assaults from 2012 to 2013, Dartmouth’s number of sexual assaults per 1,000 students is still highest of all of the schools compared.
Dartmouth officials say the increase in reported forcible sex offenses may have been part of a cultural shift toward increased reporting, and not an increase in the actual number of sex assaults.
We believe that the increase in the number of reports is a result of Dartmouth’s efforts to strengthen a climate of reporting rather than an increase in the actual incidence of sex offenses. We believe that creating this culture of reporting is part of the right approach to promoting a safer more secure campus. We want the number of reports from sexual assault survivors to go up, but the prevalence of sexual assault to go down.
The school with the lowest rate of sexual assault in 2013 was Norwich University, which reported one forcible sex offense (a decrease from six in 2012) in the entire student population of 2,300.
The University of Vermont had the largest year-over-year percentage increase in reported drug violations of the six schools compared. UVM had 558 reported drug offenses (both arrests and disciplinary referrals) in 2012. That number rose 29 percent to 721 in 2013.
Tim Bilodeau, deputy chief of police for the University of Vermont campus police, said there is no single explanation for the increase.
"One component is certainly we do have more targeted and strategic enforcement on our part from University of Vermont Police in how we respond to events," he said.
Other schools showed more mild increases with the exception of Champlain College and Middlebury College. Middlebury’s 2013 data was muddled by the fact that campus officials stopped counting small amounts of marijuana as a drug violation when Vermont’s decriminalization law passed in the summer of 2013.
The University of Vermont had by far the highest rate of alcohol violations in its student body of all six schools compared in 2013. For every 1,000 students, UVM had almost 130 violations. The next-highest school was St. Michael’s College, with 92 violations per 1,000 students.
Dartmouth showed a dramatic increase in alcohol violations from 2012 to 2013. In 2012, Dartmouth reported 99 violations; for 2013, the college reported 343 violations.
According to officials, who released the data in a letter to the Dartmouth community, “the increase in arrests and referrals does not indicate a change in behavior on campus, but instead a change in the interpretation of the law.”
Apparently, school officials were not counting "referrals for alcohol education” with the school or referrals to the Hanover Alcohol Diversion Program in the data in previous years. That underreporting led to artificially low numbers. Dartmouth officials said they made the change “[o]n the advice of outside efforts and in an effort to be more comprehensive and better reflect the intent of the Clery law.”
For more information on the six schools compared here, click through to the full reports: