Junior Emily Grode, president of the Association for the Advancement of Women’s Rights, is saying “No More” to sexual violence and the underreporting of such crimes.
This is why her organization is tabling for the NOMORE campaign, which raises awareness to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault, Thursday and Friday in the Muenster University Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. But Grode is also taking the time to say “No More” to the results of this year’s Clery report, which was released earlier this month.
“In an ideal world, it would be considered great that USD only reported one forcible sexual offense. But this is reality, and this number is not true,” she said.
What Grode is referring to is the annual report published each year by the University of South Dakota that contains campus crime, arrest and referral statistics. The information is compiled by the University Police Department, the offices of the Vice President and Dean of Students, Student Rights and Responsibilities and local law enforcement.
The federal Clery Act requires colleges and universities across the nation to publish their annual crime reports by Oct. 1, with the reports covering everything from the number of aggravated assaults reported to weapons law violations — basically all crimes logged on school grounds and some non-campus properties.
USD’s report included a decrease in liquor law violations in the residence halls and an increase in aggravated assaults, but a more significant result suggests the university is bucking national trends in its reporting of sexual assaults on campus.
The Department of Higher Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced earlier this year that it’s in the midst of reviewing 76 colleges and universities for how they handle sexual assault cases. Some of these schools include Minot State University in North Dakota and Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colo.
The national trend from recently released Clery reports is showing that these schools are reporting more sexual assaults on campus this year, which could indicate that more victims of sexual assault feel comfortable coming forward and talking about the crimes against them.
USD is not under investigation for mishandling sexual assaults, but the low reporting of the crime, which decreased from four to one incident in 2012 compared to 2013, has some students skeptical of the Clery report’s accuracy.
While 1 in 5 female students reports sexual assaults, junior Minji Gim said students would never know they were at this risk by looking at the university’s Clery report.
“For how much we pay to go here, you’d think we’d have a right to feel safe on our campuses,” she said. “If USD wants to bring light to this issue, we need believable numbers to begin this conversation.”
Gim, who is working with Grode on the “No More” campaign for AAWR, said the tabling event can serve as a way to let the university administration know keeping quiet about sexual violence at USD is unacceptable.
Some national politicians are agreeing with Gim. In April, the Obama administration admonished colleges and universities — “No more turning a blind eye” — as it released guidelines designed to stem sexual assaults on campuses and help the victims.
“Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault — no more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn’t exist,” said Vice President Joe Biden, who was to make remarks in April when the task force findings were released. “We need to give victims the support they need — like a confidential place to go — and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Grode added that while having an annual crime report is a step in the right direction, she wants to see more accountability and communication between the different groups that work together to publish the Clery report.
Lt. Jef Rice of the University Police Department said law enforcement is aware of gaps in the Clery report because of underreporting, but said officers complete regular training to evolve how they handle cases of sexual assault.
“We know that the information we have is what is being reported, but we are not naive to believe that these are the only crimes that occurred. But we can’t document it if it wasn’t reported,” Rice said.
Rice said as the UPD collects information throughout the year for the Clery report, they are analyzing possible problem areas on campus or particular crimes that appear to be on the rise.
But Rice said when reviewing the statistics, university administration and law enforcement needs to keep in mind the circumstances of the increase. One influence could be if Hobo Days occurred the same week as Dakota Days, which he said could be a reason for the decrease in liquor law violations last year.
To abide by federal guidelines, USD has made some changes to how it educates students, faculty and staff about incidents of sexual violence and prevention measures. Haven – Understanding Sexual Assault was an online program administered to students which discussed critical issues of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking.
But there are other precautions taken by other regental schools USD has not implemented.
For instance, Black Hills State University, which has only reported three sexual assaults in the past three years, has a sign-in procedure in the dorms. If a resident living in that building has a guest with them, they have to bring them down and sign them in with the community adviser on duty.
Grode said she agrees with BHSU’s precaution, and that the bigger issue that needs to be addressed by USD is why students are not reporting.
“The Clery report is under a lot of fire from both sides, because it is not an effective way to record these incidents,” she said. “People are slipping through the cracks.”
(Photo: Juniors Emily Grode, left, and Minji Gim say they both are concerned about how the University of South Dakota’s Clery report compares to other schools in the nation. Grode and Gim are both members of USD’s Association for the Advancement of Women’s Rights. Megan Card / The Volante)