This year’s Security and Fire Report showed that reports of rape on campus nearly doubled, rising from seven in 2019 to 13 in 2020.
The report is released annually in compliance with the 1990 Cleary Act. The Cleary Act states that institutions must document crimes in the year that they are reported to the university.
“While it looks like the number of sexual assaults on campus has increased, it is important to recognize that the number represents reports, not the rate of occurrence,” Title IX Coordinator Kaitlin Zies said.
Zies went on to explain that, according to the 2020 Campus Climate Survey, unwanted sexual experiences declined from 2018 to 2020 by 2.2%. To account for the rising reports, Zies believes that the data reflects an improvement in campus culture surrounding sexual assault.
“We attribute this increase to our ongoing efforts to educate the university community on reporting obligations, as well as increased awareness of the availability of supportive measures and other resources for those impacted by sexual assault,” Zies said.
In response to a reported gap in employee training in 2018, the Sexual Misconduct Taskforce stated that, “More frequent and comprehensive training needs to be offered on campus for all employees.” To educate university employees on their role in reporting sexual misconduct, Zies works with Kylie Piette, the Director of Equal Opportunity, in facilitating Sexual Misconduct Reporting Obligations Training.
“This training goes over Title IX, how to recognize and respond when someone may be about to disclose a sexual misconduct incident and [it] reminds university employees of their reporting expectations,” Zies said. “We also talk about how the university can support individuals impacted by sexual misconduct.”
According to Sarah Meiser, the Director of Student Conduct, Title IX, Student Conduct and the Department of Public Safety play different roles in the reporting process. Instances of sexual misconduct are initially reported to Title IX to ensure that those who report are offered necessary guidance and resources.
“If I learn anything, or public safety learns anything about a situation involving sexual harassment, violence or misconduct, we’re required to report those to Title IX, so that Kaitlin can do her work to make sure people who are experiencing those reported situations receive the support that they need,” Meiser said.
Student Conduct, Meiser explained, is often the “end step” of the reporting process.
“We, in the police side of things, don’t see as much as Title IX,” Captain Gary Green, Assistant Director of DPS, said. “We might see some of
them, because not all people want to go the criminal route.”
Green said that DPS has been working with Title IX to find alternative campus safety initiatives to criminal prosecution.
“First of all, we can educate people on how to avoid some of this stuff, and then educate people on what resources are available if something does happen to [them],” Green said. “I think it helps make a healthier community, and [it might] help some people that have these things in their past.”
Green is hopeful that their efforts will eventually result in a decrease in instances of sexual misconduct on campus.
“What we don’t want is having that stuff just swept under the rug and having people deal with this trauma for their entire life,” Green said.
The increased presence of the Anti-Violence Alliance was cited by both Zies and Green as a step in the right direction for campus culture.
Raven Hills, Project Director of Office of Violence against Women, said that the AVA aims to work proactively.
“A strong reporting culture and increased awareness of issues are protective factors; the more protective factors a community has, the lower the rates of interpersonal violence,” Hills said.
Hills personally sees the increase in reports of rape as a type of progress. She explained that as more students understand the dynamics of sexual assault, they will feel more comfortable reporting.
“I think an increase in reporting can also reflect an increase in understanding of what sexual assault is,” Hills said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I have been speaking with someone who is unsure how to talk about or describe what happened to them.”
The responsibility to foster a comfortable environment for survivors falls on everyone in the Ferris community, according to Hills.
“My hope is that people understand that there are many survivors out there who still don’t feel comfortable coming forward to disclose what happened to them, and we can all play a part in creating an environment where survivors feel believed and supported,” Hills said.
A list of resources for survivors is available to all students at any AVA event. To view the full 2020 Annual Security and Fire Report, visit the public safety section of Ferris’ website.