U police reveal annual campus rape numbers, but many not reported

Sexual assaults at the University continue to be underreported to University police, according to figures compiled by the department.

A federally mandated annual report released by University police Friday said 26 sexual assaults were reported on or near campus in 2000. One-half of them weren’t reported to the police – they were reported to the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, formerly the Program Against Sexual Violence.

The report lists major crimes committed on campus, in greek housing, in larger student housing and in other buildings on a case-by-case basis.

Roberta Gibbons, Aurora Center associate director, said several cultural myths and stigmas attached to a sexual assault account for the underreporting.

Some people are ashamed, afraid of retaliation, feel partially responsible or fear their stories aren’t credible, she said.

“Some people still are just set on forgetting about it, and they came to us because they wanted someone to talk to, and that’s all they want,” Gibbons said.

The prospect of describing the incident to authorities also intimidates victims, she said. “Victims fear being re-victimized, being asked to retell their story over and over again. They fear being not believed – especially if it’s an acquaintance or date rape.”

She said her organization
supports victims if they choose to go to the police, but physical evidence is gone 72 hours after the assault, reducing the chances the case will go to court.

Previous reports found 49 people reported sexual assaults in 1999 and 62 in 1998.

Jaqueline Holder, a student staff member of the Aurora Center, said stricter guidelines this year account for the drop. The program formerly reported assaults in surrounding neighborhoods and included incidents such as stalking or harassment.

The center also submitted statistics that included the dates the assaults were reported, instead of the dates they occurred.

The 2000 statistics don’t include several reported rapes that didn’t have specific dates, Holder said.

Gibbons estimates many more women never report rape to any organization, pointing to a National Institute of Justice survey that found only 5 percent of sexual assault victims report the crime to police.

She said breaking down cultural myths is what inevitably will make a difference, though she doesn’t know how much the report will accomplish.

“Does it give an accurate account of crime?” she asked. “No. Is it a good first step? Yes.”

University police Chief George Aylward said his department does as much as it can, but underreporting of sexual assaults is a national pattern.

He said programs such as the Aurora Center give victims more options to seek help, and officers receive sensitivity training to help victims who choose to report to police.

“It’s difficult for us to impact on the overall cultural attitude toward assault,” Aylward said. “We try not to put any hurdles in the way, and that’s probably the best thing we can do.”

Tim Sturrock covers cops and courts
and encourages comments at [email protected] or (612) 627-4070 ext. 3290