Campus Crime: 2-Year Increase in Sexual Assaults Could Reflect More Awareness of Rape and Willingness to Report It, Experts Say

May 4, 2011  

By Carolina Brioso

Grab your mouse and start clicking. With new interactive maps produced by SMU journalism students as a part of the Light of Day Project, curious students, staff, and faculty can now use data to to explore where crime and fire incidents are occurring on campus with the most frequency.

The interactive maps pinpoint crimes such as alcohol violations, forcible sexual offenses, and drug violations and even fire alarms.

The maps and the SMU Crime on Campus Report from 2007-2009 illustrate a significant two-year increase in the number of forcible sexual offenses reported to police or campus officials. In 2007, there were three sexual assaults; in 2008, there were five; in 2009, there were nine.

Karen Click, director of the SMU Women’s Center, said the higher numbers could reflect greater awareness on campus about sexual assault.

Click can see a positive trend: either students are becoming more comfortable reporting these traumatic experiences, she said, or SMU is making its resources more widely accessible and better advertised among the general student population.

“It is our belief that when we have a climate that is supportive of sexual assault victims and providing of resources, we see people come forward to share their story,” Click said via email. “Once someone has been sexually assaulted there are dozens of scenarios for whom they may or may not choose to share that story. The number of sexual assaults that are formally reported, we know is always going to be lower than the actual number of assaults experienced.”

SMU Police detective Linda Perez said that sexual offenses are generally underreported.

“We want to let students know that it’s OK to come forward,” Perez said.

Sexual offenses were not the only notable increase spotted in the results. In fact, when it came to liquor law violations, the increase over the three-year period was staggering. In the year 2007, 115 incidents were reported while in 2008, the incidents dropped to 100. But in 2009, liquor-related violations jumped 47 percent to 147.

S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Security on Campus Inc., said the spike could stem from a change in enforcement approach or that the increased number of incidents may have called for that level of response.

Perez, the SMU detective, said the increase in alcohol incidents in 2009 is not especially alarming because alcohol use on campus constantly fluctuates – it goes up, then it goes down, she said.

“The good thing is that people tend to explore more with alcohol than drugs. Alcohol is legal at age 21,” she said. “Drugs are never legal.”

The data collected from the SMU police logs also reflect ample fire activity. Have you ever accidently burned an old TV dinner in the microwave and before your logical impulse to grab a fire extinguisher kicks in, you are surrounded by the University Park Fire Department?

Well, this scenario happens more frequently than expected. In fact, fire alarms were reported on SMU police and fire logs 80 times on campus in 2009—roughly once every four days.

Steve Mace, community information officer for the University Park Fire Department, explained that the city has a Direct Alarm Monitoring system—a system where the alarm sounds directly to the dispatcher, allowing police to get on the case immediately. Police are required to make calls and ask whether it is a fire, or simply a false alarm.

“It’s the nature of public safety — when we hear the alarm ring, we head over to the emergency,” Mace said. “Burning popcorn in the dormitory population is a part of student life, and our services are a part of safety.”

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