The number of reported rapes almost doubled at VCU last year, according to the campus police’s annual report.
There were 15 reported rapes in 2016, eight the year before and five in 2014. In the past three years, almost all of the reported rapes occurred in dorms.
VCU Police shifted the process for handling sexual assault in 2010, according to Corey Byers, public information officer for VCUPD. Detectives have been trained in trauma-informed interviewing when working with survivors of sexual assault.
In 2016, VCU PD implemented the “You Have Options” program that gives survivors three reporting options and changed interviewing practices. The police department now has two rooms designated for victims in their headquarters.
“VCU Police officers want to establish trust and rapport with survivors and want them to know they will be supported when they come forward,” Byers stated. “We believe individuals come forward because they feel comfortable reporting to VCUPD. Awareness and education is a key part in communicating to the community.”
According to Christina Mancini, associate professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, the spike in reporting may be because more students feel comfortable coming forward about their experience.
She said the statistics could be indicating a change in attitude regarding how sexual assault is handled on college campuses.
Mancini recently worked with a team that published a study base on the findings of the 2016 Commonwealth Education Poll, which found that two-thirds of Virginians believe university administrators should create policies that address sexual victimization and violence on campus.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, sexual violence declined across the nation between 1997 and 2013 — the rate of rape or sexual assault dropped by about 50 percent.
“Survivors may now feel their allegations will be taken seriously and so are more willing to come forward and seek assistance,” Mancini stated. “This situation would make it appear that sexual victimization has indeed increased, when in actuality, we are seeing greater confidence in institutional accountability and trust in law enforcement.”
The increase in reports at VCU occurred following the Obama Administration’s guidelines to colleges on handling sexual assault under Title IX, a provision in the Education Amendments of 1972 which addressed gender-based discrimination in publicly-funded schools, Mancini noted. In addition to the administration’s “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual assault on college campuses.
VCU also enforces the “Not Anymore” Title IX training program, required for students and faculty.
“For instance, the implementation of mandatory reporting, awareness campaigns and required Title IX training in recent years are just a few of the important resources that have likely changed attitudes,” Mancini stated. “I would argue again that VCU with its innovative resources and policies, serves as a model for other institutions of higher learning.”
At the state level, Virginia enacted a mandatory reporting law in 2015, requiring public colleges to report alleged sexual assaults to police within 24 hours of notification.
According to the National Violence Research Center, 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assault. Mancini said sexual victimization is the least reported crime nationally. Only one-in-three victims disclose these incidents to police.
For context, Mancini said, the number of people who report aggravated assault in the general population is nearly 60 percent. In contrast, only 20 percent of college students will come forward about an assault.
“Any measure to increase reporting among this population is the first step in developing effective policies and campaigns to reduce and prevent sex crime,” Mancini stated.