Georgetown’s annual security report released this month revealed seven reported cases of sexual assault — but these numbers reflect only a portion of cases reported, as the university has yet to conduct a more complete sexual assault climate survey, as is recommended by the White House.
The annual security report is distributed every year under the Clery Act, which mandates that all colleges and universities receiving federal financial aid share information about crime in the campus area. Data of on-campus crime comes from Georgetown University Police Department records, the Office of Student Conduct and campus security authorities. Public property statistics are collected from the Metropolitan Police Department or U.S. Park Police.
The document lists seven reported cases of sexual assault in 2013, an increase from five reported cases in 2012 but noticeably lower than the national rate of one in six women and one in 33 men being sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. A 2012 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that 19 percent of undergraduate women have experienced sexual assault since entering college. Since the statistics in Georgetown’s report include only sexual assaults reported by students, staff and faculty to GUPD, the Office of Student Conduct and the Title IX coordinators, Women’s Center Director Laura Kovach explained that the narrow definition did not capture the extent of the problem on campus.
“If you look at the definition of Clery, it states that a crime occurred on or near campus. It is a narrow definition, and when I see seven, I’m not surprised. These are reports that fit into that definition. So many students either choose to not disclose or if they do disclose, they contact a hotline or seek out support from Health Education, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, Women’s Center, LGBTQ, etc. We need to be thoughtful when looking at numbers,” Kovach wrote in an email. “Our Clery numbers are important but so are disclosures that happen in other spaces around campus and off campus. We need to look at the totality of disclosures and reports.”
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes with 60 percent of cases going unreported, according to RAINN. Health Education Services Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Services Coordinator Jen Schweer agreed that the Clery numbers do not accurately reflect the whole story at Georgetown and noted the need to include other sources to craft a complete picture.
“By definition, it doesn’t include assaults that occur off campus, while on spring break, while home over the summer, etc., even though these can be survivors who seek services on campus and/or their perpetrator is another Georgetown student,” Schweer wrote in an email. “This is why the information we get from places like Health Education Services, National College Health Assessment data, etc. is so critical, because it helps us get a fuller picture of what is being experienced by our students as a whole.”
The new White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, created in January 2014, recommends that universities conduct campus climate surveys to better assess the situation on their campuses. The surveys would determine the students’ knowledge of university policy, the number of students who have experienced sexual assault and more information to help improve campus responses to the issue.
Georgetown has not announced a plan to conduct a campus climate survey, but the administration said that it is closely following federal legislation and developments. Rutgers University was invited by the White House to pilot the sexual assault survey, and the Association of American Universities, a nonprofit organization, is leading the survey’s development.
“As a White House recommendation, a campus climate survey is one of many issues we are considering in terms of how to best engage our campus on this issue,” Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh wrote in an email. “We are closely following these developments to be sure that any climate survey we use at Georgetown is the best possible instrument to help us understand the prevalence of misconduct at Georgetown, what our students’ concerns are, and how effective our educational programming is.”
Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ’15) said that a climate survey is essential to assess the culture of the campus with relation to sexual assault.
“[A campus climate survey] provides the best snapshot of the culture at Georgetown and maybe indications of underreporting because that is still an issue that we suffer from. A campus climate survey at one end can gather students’ knowledge about issues of sexual assault and understand how they are approaching the issue, but it could also be very indicative and point out holes in our current reporting procedures,” Tezel said.
GUSA Secretary for Health and Safety Nora West (SFS ’15) added that the campus climate survey will also help ensure that Georgetown provides the best resources and support to survivors of sexual assault.
“In order to create better programs and networks that support survivors, we need to have a better understanding of the situation on campus for survivors of sexual assault,” West said.
As the White House continues its push for campus climate surveys nationwide, student leaders plan to continue advocating for a campus climate survey at Georgetown.
“Things move slowly here, and with any bureaucracy it involves the continued and sustained pressure of student advocates on this issue in order for it to follow through,” Tezel said.