- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Reports of rape on Tennessee’s college campuses increased significantly in 2014, while total crime reporting was down year-over-year.

According to statistics released by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the number of forcible rapes reported by Tennessee schools jumped from 26 in 2013 to 46 last year.

The TBI did not offer an explanation for the increase, but it comes at a time when awareness of rape on campus is high.

Several campus authorities said the increase could be the result of new school policies that encourage victims to report rapes and a greater willingness of campus administrators to include rapes that were reported anonymously or second-hand.

The school reporting the highest percentage of rapes per 1,000 people on campus was Rhodes College. The private liberal arts school in Memphis reported 11 rapes in 2014. That gave it a rate of 4 rapes per 1,000. A statement from the school says having a tight-knit community with a strong honor code encourages reporting of misconduct.

The University of the South reported three rapes, giving it the second highest rate with 1.2 per 1,000. Spokeswoman Laurie Saxton said the number increased this year because it includes not only rapes reported to police but also those reported to the school’s residence life staff.

Laura Dunn, founder and executive director of the nonprofit SurvJustice, said the trend of increased reporting is national. Reports of sexual offenses on campus increased 89 percent between 2008 and 2013, she said. That’s not because sexual assaults increased sharply but because “more people are willing to report.”

“You’re going to see the schools with high rates most often embrace addressing sexual violence,” she said. “For a school with an unusually low rate, it’s a pretty safe bet they are waiting for there to be an issue rather than being proactive.”

The TBI warns against making comparisons between colleges based on the statistics, saying that they could result in false conclusions about the relative safety of one campus over another.

The two largest state schools, Middle Tennessee State University and University of Tennessee, Knoxville, each reported only two rapes in 2014, although another nine off-campus rapes of Knoxville students were reported by police. Both of those schools reported a rate of 0.1 rapes per 1,000, however those rates do not include the rapes reported to Knoxville Police.

MTSU spokesman Jimmy Hart said he does not know what accounts for the discrepancy in rape reports between the different schools, but MTSU statistics have been fairly consistent over the past few years. He also said there is an awareness of sexual assault on campus and the school encourages reporting.

“Hopefully the low numbers are a reflection that the message is getting across,” he said.

The total number of all crimes reported on Tennessee campuses decreased slightly in 2014 to 6,329. The largest single category of offenses was larceny/theft.

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