In 2014, 4,964 sexual assaults were reported at four-year U.S. colleges and universities, as campuses have become plagued by an epidemic — a group of individuals who think it is OK to sexually assault others.
The Department of Education numbers are staggering regardless of what geographic region is analyzed. While almost 100 colleges and universities had at least 10 rapes on their main campuses during 2014, Brown University and the University of Connecticut reported the highest number with 43 each, followed by Dartmouth College and Harvard University with 42 and 33, respectively. On the opposite side of the country was Stanford University with 26.
In June 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation published a national poll that found one in five women who attended a residential college over a four-year time period said they had experienced sexual assault. Another daunting data point is that Reed College registered 12.9 reports of rape on its main campuses per 1,000 students, while that number was 11.5 for Wesleyan University (Connecticut).
These statistics, scary as they are, do not take into account all of the instances where rape or other forms of sexual assault go unreported for reasons, according to the National Institute of Justice, such as self-blame, guilt, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, lack of trust in the criminal justice system, and unawareness of how to report. The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates massive underreporting — 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults were reported between 1992 and 2000.
So when one asks the question as to why there are such high reports of rape and sexual assault on college campuses, and yet the perpetrators of such vicious acts go without being criminally charged, one significant part of the answer lies in the willingness of the victim to notify the police. It is understandable that survivors are reluctant to report sexual assault to the criminal justice system because the process can tend to re-victimize them. Moreover, only approximately 5 percent of reported rapes result in a prison sentence.
Title IX mandates that schools combat sex discrimination in education, affording survivors a parallel option to respond to (and hopefully prevent) sexual violence. However, many colleges are failing to live up to the standards and obligations set by civil rights law.
Nevertheless, a series of bills in Congress that would mandate that colleges and universities turn over certain sexual assault cases to local law enforcement has the potential to yield even more devastating results. Victims may be less inclined to report to anyone for fear of reprisal, or because entering their experience into a police database further extends the chances of reliving the trauma.
Survivors of sexual violence are not prevented from reporting to the local authorities if they decide to report to their schools — the two forms of reporting are not mutually exclusive. A survivor may choose to go one way or the other, or perhaps both. But in all of this, it is crucial to remember that situations vary from case to case and that it is very important to provide all students with the relevant information and modes of access when it comes to finding help from the proper personnel. Without educating our community about the available tools, resources, and outlets to fight against this disgusting disease, we are more likely to continue seeing more sexual assaults occur — and even worse, more sexual assaults go unreported.
• Armstrong Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings LLC TV.