From an urban perspective, 24 forcible sex offenses in a year doesnt sound like a lot. That could be a bad night in many cities.
From a human perspective, its 24 too many.
And from a local viewpoint, its disturbing and a valuable reminder.
Last year on the Penn State campus, 24 incidents of rape, sodomy, sexual assault with an object and fondling were reported to campus police, according to the just-released annual report Policies, Safety and U.
The 32-page report is a compliance requirement of the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.
In 2010, campus police investigated four sex offenses. So were talking a 500-percent increase.
Thats both good and bad news.
First the good: Penn State Police Chief Tyrone Parham partly attributes the spike to more awareness and reporting of sex offenses, still one of the most underreported areas of crime at colleges. To its credit, Penn State mandates that all first-year students complete a sexual assault education program before their first semester.
In addition, the police offer crime prevention and safety awareness programs, including one for Rape Aggression Defense, a self-defense system for women. Last year the Center for Women Students held 26 sexual assault awareness programs for 1,293 attendees.
Those outreach efforts are laudatory and need to continue. Keep the issue in the light.
Now the bad news: Penn State students may not be acting as wisely as they should.
While University Park and State College are a long way from gritty, neither are they perfectly safe. It may be tempting to think so, especially for students from urban backgrounds.
The tree-lined campus, the small town streets: Both can seem free from danger, a place where normal caution doesnt apply.
Unfortunately, thats not true.
Ten of the 2011 incidents happened in residence halls. Parham says most campus sex crimes continue to involve people who know each other, with individuals invited into residences.
Though we dont know the facts of the incidents, given Penn States drinking reputation, alcohol could very well have placed victims in harms way.
More 2011 crime statistics in the Policies, Safety & U report show the universitys dubious party status remains; alcohol-related arrests rose from 742 the year before to 805. More alarming, drug busts totaled 292 incidents, up from 199 the previous year and 93 in 2009.
More intoxicants, more sex assaults: Its probably not a coincidence. Were not blaming the victims. But any time judgments are impaired, and inhibitions lowered, you could be more at risk.
But, sad to say, students arent completely safe in our communities even when sober and minding their own business. Acquaintance rape is far more common, but assaults by strangers happen even on the not-somean streets of State College. Its worth remembering that when walking alone at night to apartments, as many do trustingly, oblivious to potential predators. Go with company and stick to lighted areas, away from alleys, parks and other dangerous spots.
If youre assaulted or know of an assault, report it to the police and the Center for Women Studies, which provides crisis intervention, counseling, and information on sexual assault and relationship violence.
Take care of yourself and educate your friends. Be as smart in the dorms and on the streets as you are in class.
They may not blink at 24 sex offenses in a metropolis, but we do.
Lets start a downward trend.