- UF's results for McCaskill Title IX survey (PDF - 680kb)
UF leads the state in reported sex assaults
Published: Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 12, 2014 at 8:06 p.m.
The University of Florida led all state universities in Florida in the number of reported sexual assaults for 2010, 2011 and 2012, based on data universities and colleges in the U.S. must report each year to the Department of Education.
UF reported 24 incidents of forced sex for that three-year period, compared with 21 reported by the University of Central Florida and 17 by the University of South Florida's main campus for the same period.
UF also reported more than any private university or college in Florida. Eckerd College in St. Petersburg led the private schools with 15, followed by Rollins College in Winter Park with 10 and the University of Miami with nine. Victim advocates, counselors, police and other officials whose job it is to look after the safety and well-being of students, faculty, staff and visitors on campus said those numbers show that UF is doing its job to make victims of sexual violence aware of their options and the resources available to them.
They said the numbers also show that UF is more vigilant about reporting and investigating incidents of sexual assaults.
“We have done a lot of education around it. That's why our numbers are increasing,” said Jen Day Shaw, UF dean of students.
Campus sexual assault is a nationwide epidemic that has drawn the attention of the White House and Congress. There is a growing consensus and body of research that universities and colleges are failing to protect students.
Critics contend there are far more campus rapes than are being reported and that universities and colleges are not investigating all of the cases being reported to them — meaning assailants are getting away with it.
A report released by the White House alleged that one in five women are sexually assaulted during their time in college, based on data kept by the Department of Justice.
Only 5 percent are reporting those assaults, according to a report released Wednesday by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
The “Sexual Violence on Campus” report also said that only 16 percent of college campuses conduct climate surveys on sexual assault, which experts have said is one of the best ways to get an accurate picture of what's happening on campus.
UF conducted campus climate surveys in 2008, 2010 and last spring. Shaw said the university is going to make it an annual survey.
In last year's survey, 4 percent of the 2,200 students who responded said they were sexually touched against their will, while 2.1 percent said someone attempted to force them to have sex against their will, and 1.1 percent said they were raped.
Those numbers were higher for women than men — 4.9 percent compared with 2.3 reported being touched against their will; 3.2 percent compared with 0.3 percent reported attempted sexual assault; and 1.2 percent compared with 0.3 percent reported rape.
The McCaskill survey also found that many schools don't encourage reporting of sexual assaults, 51 percent don't have hot lines, and 56 percent don't have a way to report assaults online. Eight percent still don't allow confidential reporting.
UF provides confidential reporting online, has a hot line for reporting assaults and lots of information available to students. It conducts educational seminars for incoming students and training throughout the year and at the request of student organizations, as well as staff training.
Students also have several options for help, including the UF Police Department, Victim Services, Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, the Counseling and Wellness Center, and the STRIVE peer advocacy program.
“The Counseling and Wellness Center serves lots and lots of sexual assault victims; probably a lot more students here have experienced it here or in their life,” Shaw said.
The Clery Act — also known as the Campus Security Act of 1990 — requires all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid to file an annual report of all crimes committed on or adjacent to campus for a three-year period.
The number of sexual assaults reported on college campuses nationally rose more than 50 percent from 2001 to 2011 — from 2,200 to 3,300. That number rose another 18 percent to 3,900 in 2012.
UF's numbers also show an upward trend during those three years — from three in 2010 to nine in 2011 to 12 in 2012. UPD's crime log also shows 16 incidents of sexual violence reported in 2013.
“Numbers increasing is going to be a positive sign of a campus with good practices in place where people feel comfortable coming forward, as opposed to feeling unsafe,” said Chris Loschiavo, assistant dean of students and director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution at UF.
That spike in reporting occurred around the same time the Office of Civil Rights sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011 to colleges and universities saying underreporting might be an issue and recommended ways to improve reporting, Loschiavo said.
After receiving the “Dear Colleague” letter, UF put more of an emphasis on sexual misconduct in the material covered during orientation, he said.
“The thing we know — those are still low numbers, if you believe the one-in-five national statistic that is shared pretty freely,” Loschiavo said.
Not reporting accurate numbers or mishandling sexual assault complaints can have consequences — with millions of dollars in federal student aid at risk for universities and colleges found in violation of the Clery Act or Title IX, the federal gender equity law.
Sixty-seven universities and colleges, including Florida State University, are under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for possible violations of federal laws dealing with the reporting and investigation of campus sexual assault complaints.
UF is not under investigation for Title IX complaints or Clery Act violations, nor has it been investigated for either in the past decade, UF officials said.
Loschiavo, who has met with McCaskill and other lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to provide input on this crisis, said he gets the sense UF is doing many or most of what the government wants. “That doesn't make us immune from a lawsuit or complaint,” he said.
UF appears to be more vigilant in reporting and investigating sex crimes on campus than many other institutions across the nation, too.
The McCaskill survey showed that 40 percent of 440 universities and colleges had not conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the past five years — and 20 percent of the nation's largest private institutions conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents they reported. UF reported that it conducted more than 10 investigations in the past five years.
Not all cases wind up in the Clery report, Loschiavo said.
“Someone could report something as a sex offense that doesn't qualify as a rape,” Loschiavo said. “The initial report could say here's what we've got, officials could decide it was not a sex offense, versus the security report that lists all forcible/nonforcible sex offenses.”
From 2010 to 2013, UPD posted 53 reports of sex crimes on its Crime Log, the majority of which were sexual assaults and sexual batteries. Sixteen of the incidents were received by a campus security authority, such as a dean or coach or victim advocate, and were not investigated by police.
Nine that were investigated were proven to be unfounded, which would not be reported under the Clery Act, said Maj. Brad Barber, the UPD communications officer and person responsible for compiling the data that go into the annual Clery report.
Another nine were sex offenses that also are not reported — indecent exposure, lewd and lascivious behavior and video voyeurism, Barber said.
Another seven were nonreporting sexual batteries, which also are not reported, he said. In most cases, those incidents involved a student reporting to the infirmary or UF Health Shands Hospital and having rape evidence collected and locked up without any further action taken.
“You can have a rape kit done without having to go and file a police report because the victims may just not be ready,” said Jennifer Vaida, a victim advocate with UPD. “The evidence is collected and keeps the options open.”
In four cases, the victim refused to participate.
University officials do what they can to encourage victims to “report the crime and allow us the opportunity to investigate,” Barber said. “Our priority is to support the victim and his or her wishes, to pursue criminal charges when we can.”
Sexual assault investigations tend to be complex and detailed, involving collection of evidence and witness testimony, Barber said. Those investigations can take several months and often lead to no charges being filed. They can be difficult for the victim, who has to relive the experience over and over again as police investigate and question witnesses.
And the outcomes can be discouraging. Out of the 24 cases reported under the Clery Act, only five resulted in sworn complaints filed, with only one arrest made.
Often, students get cold feet and decide to withdraw their complaint or drop the charges after they've reached the State Attorney's Office. Of four cases that went to the State Attorney's Office, two were dismissed because the victims didn't want to pursue things further.
They can also be discouraged by the low rate of conviction in rape cases. Only two convictions resulted from UPD investigations between 2010 and 2012. And only one UPD case was criminally prosecuted from 2006 to 2010.
“The cornerstone of our office is to explore those options with survivors, that they have noncriminal and criminal reporting options,” Vaida said.
Several factors influence a victim's decision to proceed with a criminal investigation, from societal perception, how victims are treated when reporting or talking about sexual assault, and a lack of understanding of what happened to them, Vaida said.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the nature of college dating and sexual violence, what consent is and what it looks like,” she said. “Sexual assault is underreported, I believe very strongly, because of the environment and the dynamics of the college campus itself.”
They also discuss the dangers of binge-drinking and the involvement of alcohol in rape cases, that it keeps the victim from reporting out of shame or fear of reprisal from the school, especially if they are underage. The university has no interest in disciplining students who were drinking if they also are reporting a sexual assault, she said.
One option for students who believe they were victims of sexual assault is to ask that the case be handled internally, through the student disciplinary court. At least two cases that began with a UPD investigation from 2010 to 2012 were referred to Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution for a disciplinary hearing.
“Providing those options to a survivor and allowing that survivor to make the decision as to the best course of action for them is instrumental in the healing journey,” Vaida said. “The basic bottom line is someone has disempowered you and taken your choices away.”
Vaida's job as an advocate is to provide survivors with choices and support them through the process of determining which choices are best for them.
Student court also has a lower bar for holding the accused responsible, and provides more support for the victims. For instance, victims have been given the right to appeal, something that had not been spelled out before, even though the conduct code stated that the accused had the right to appeal.
Students also have the right to review the disciplinary case files, Loschiavo said.
UF tries to encourage students who believe they were assaulted to talk to a counselor or victim advocate, even if they don't pursue disciplinary action, Loschiavo said.
“It's better to know of an assault rather than forcing people to share details against their will,” Loschiavo said.
If the victim doesn't want to participate, and maintain anonymity, Loschiavo said, “there is little conduct action we can take.”
Sometimes the best he can do is investigate if a hostile environment exists and make different residential accommodations or change classrooms.
If a student decides to pursue disciplinary action, the case goes before the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution board for a hearing. Witnesses are called, and evidence is examined to determine the chances the accused is responsible.
Loschiavo wouldn't give specific numbers but says he handles about 12 sexual misconduct investigations a year. From 2010 to 2013, the accused was found responsible in 68 percent of the sexual assault cases heard, and 76 percent of those found responsible were either expelled or suspended, Loschiavo said.
Some politicians have recommended making a mandatory reporting requirement. Loschiavo said that would be a bad idea.
If a student is attacked, he or she is likely to tell a roommate or friend before anyone else. That friend might be able to get the victim to talk to a residential assistant or a counselor and get the help needed, Loschiavo said.
“If you create a mandatory report to law enforcement and that is not what the victim wants, it may have the unintended consequence of silencing victims and not coming forward at all,” he said.
Sometimes, victims don't want to go through a trial or conduct hearing because they feel they will get blamed. “With months of support and counseling, they may actually change their minds,” he said.
Students don't report their attacks for many reasons, said Jennifer Stuart, director of STRIVE (Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education) at UF. Those include knowing the perpetrator, or that person being in overlapping friendship groups, shame or being unclear what happened.
“A lot of times it's not about the school. It's the social repercussions. An acquaintance, someone who knows their friends, goes to class with them,” Stuart said. “Things like that deter reporting, in this sort of environment.”
Even if students don't choose criminal or disciplinary action, counselors still want to encourage them to talk to someone. Stuart said the best thing she can do is be a confidential advocate in those cases.
“Our confidential resources give them a safe place to process what happened to them and figure out how to stay safe,” she said. “There is a good process in place here at the university. It is something we do well here and always are examining and looking at ways to improve it.”