Ohio colleges see increase in reports of rape and sexual assaults

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Ohio colleges see increase in reports of rape and sexual assaults

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Rapes and sexual assaults reported on Ohio college campuses have increased but an advocacy organization fears a rollback of Title IX guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education could reverse the rise in reporting.

Last week, area universities released their federally mandated campus crime and safety reports that list the number of rapes and sexual assaults reported at individual schools as well as drug and alcohol arrests, among other crimes. The annual report — required under the federal Clery Act — is not considered a comprehensive review though as it includes only crimes that allegedly occurred on campus.

The reports highlight education and prevention programs that have grown at many schools in recent years. But, that progress could be set back by changes to national guidelines in how colleges should handle sexual assault accusations, said Becky Perkins, communications director for the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“We don’t want to see all the good work that’s been done be compromised by these rollbacks,” Perkins said. “I think they could discourage survivors from coming forward.”

In September, U.S. secretary of education Betsy DeVos announced that the federal government would begin allowing colleges to use a higher burden of proof when it comes to investigating rape and sexual assault allegations.

The University of Dayton’s report showed that 16 alleged rapes reported on campus last year compared to eight in 2015 and four in 2014.

Sexual assaults generally are under-reported, advocates say, so an increase in reporting could mean more are occurring but it could also mean more victims are comfortable coming forward. Officials at virtually all area universities that saw increases in the number of sex crime reported agreed.

“We believe our intervention education is making a difference in creating an environment where anyone feels comfortable reporting sexual violence,” UD officials said in a prepared statement. “This enables us to support victims and hold accountable those who are responsible.”

Wright State University was one of just two area schools that saw a decline in the number of rapes it reported. The school had two cases reported in 2016, down from five in 2016 and 12 in 2014, according to the WSU report. The school declined to comment for this story.

Miami University saw a rise in 2016 with 12 alleged sex offenses, including rape and sexual assault with an object, reported on campus last year compared to just four in 2015 and 10 in 2014.

Like UD officials, Miami spokeswoman Claire Wagner said that more reports don’t necessarily mean more rapes are being committed. Improved support for survivors of rape and sexual assault have helped people to come forward and report at Miami, even if the alleged incident occurred years before, Wagner said.

Despite what might be better support for survivors at Miami, there are three federal investigations underway of the school’s handling of sexual assault and rape accusations. Miami has the most active investigations of any school in the state.

Wittenberg University in March was able to close its two years-long federal investigations. Wittenberg reported a slight rise in rapes last year with four being reported in 2016, up from just one in 2015, according to the school’s report.

The University of Cincinnati reported five rape cases in in 2016 compared to 7 rape or fondling cases in 2015. Some schools, such as UC, have changed the way they record crimes from year to year, making the data difficult to compare.

Ohio State University saw the largest rise in the number of rape reports from 2015 to 2016. OSU saw a jump from 25 rapes reported in 2015 to 61 in 2016.

The increase in rape, among other crimes, “reflects the university’s efforts to better track and increase reporting of all crime,” according to OSU.

“Sexual assault is a national issue across college campuses and Ohio State continues to strongly focus on increased reporting with the goal of connecting survivors to resources,” said Kellie Brennan, OSU Title IX compliance director .

Central State University reported two “forcible sex offenses,” up from none in 2015. Cedarville University was the only area school to report no rapes. Cedarville has not reported a single rape in at least the last three years, according to its report.

No reports of rapes or sexual assault on campus does not mean none have actually occurred, experts have noted. While its possible no rapes or sexual assaults could have occured on some smaller campuses, its “statistically impossible” for most area institutions, Perkins said.

Cedarville vice president of student life and christian ministries though said that the lack of reports just shows that Cedarville students “pursue excellence.”

“I think it boils down to: we have an outstanding student body,” said Cedarville’s Jon Wood. “I think that bares itself out. We are thankful.”

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