Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series on Penn State’s sexual assault reporting.
UNIVERSITY PARK The number of reported on-campus sexual assaults went up again in 2016, continuing a trend of growth since 2010.
By Dec. 21, 34 reports were documented in the Penn State police daily crime log and published as Timely Warnings, the emergency alert system that sends out texts and emails to university students and employees when a crime is deemed to present an ongoing threat.
According to Penn State police data, which is archived on its daily crime log website, 31 reports of sexual assault were made in 2015 and 26 in 2014, an increase of almost 20 percent.
But the increase in reporting doesn’t necessarily signal that more sexual assaults have happened. Penn State Police Sgt. Monica Himes said the growing numbers mostly resulted from increasing awareness about sexual assault.
“If you talk to counselors who work to provide services to survivors, there isn’t a spike or influx in people who receive services,” said Himes. “One in 5 women would experience sexual assault during their undergraduate years.”
Himes referred to the statistics from the 2016 Campus Climate Survey Validation Study. The report, more than 200 pages, was released by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics a year ago in an effort to measure sexual assault incidents and assess college students’ perceptions of the issue.
Based on 23,000 responses gathered from nine schools, the report found that “over the course of their time in college, 13 percent to 51 percent of females in their fourth year had been a victim of sexual battery or rape.”
“Unfortunately that number hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that people are realizing there are others who would listen to their stories,” said Himes. “And there are resources for those in need.”
The database used for this series of stories was obtained from Penn State police. Crime reports were sorted by the types of primary offenses that would be considered sexual assault, starting in 2012, when the daily crime log data became available.
These primary offenses include indecent assault, indecent assault with criminal attempt, aggravated indecent assault, forcible rape and sexual assault — all reportable crimes under the federal Clery Act that requires campus crime data transparency.
All of these crimes fell in the university police department’s jurisdiction because they happened either on campus, in off-campus buildings owned or controlled by Penn State, or on public property within or immediately adjacent to campus.
Sexual assaults that happened off-campus and on property not under Penn State’s control fall under the jurisdiction of police in the localities where they occurred and are not in this database.
As a result, the data offers only a limited look at the problem. Still, certain patterns are clear.
Among all 138 sexual assault reports made to Penn State police from 2012 to 2016, the most — 31 — occurred in September, the beginning of the school year, and the second-most — 21 — in January, the start of the spring semester.
Over the course of a week, 33 were reported to have happened on Sundays; Monday was next-highest with 26.
Nearly half of the reports said the assaults took place in the very early morning: 47 were reported to have occurred between midnight and 1 a.m., and 12 were reported to take place from 1 to 2 a.m.
However, Tracie Bogus, Penn State’s Clery compliance coordinator who helped produced the database, noted that the 47 reports might be an inflated number. When a crime is reported with a specific date but with no actual time of the incident, the occurrence is listed as starting at midnight, Bogus said.
The total of 138 assaults reported over five years also supports evidence that only a small number of all sexual assaults are reported.
The 2015 Penn State Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey found that just 2.6 percent of undergraduate students contacted campus police after speaking with someone about an incident of stalking, domestic violence, intimate partner violence or nonconsensual sexual contact. The percentage of graduate students or employees who did so was 4.4.
More than two-thirds of those who experienced unwanted sexual contact or assault felt that reporting their cases would “cause more trouble than it was worth,” and about 15 percent did not believe justice would follow, according to the climate survey.
Battling the problem of unreported incidents is one of many challenges to changing the sexual assault picture.
In December, Penn State’s Title IX office received a $30,000 grant to combat sexual misconduct and sexual violence from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office as part of the “It’s On Us” campaign.
Katie Tenny is the program coordinator for Stand for State, the bystander intervention program at Penn State that seeks to provide training and education on how to intervene in potential sexual and relationship violence situations, as well as those involving mental health and acts of bias.
She said the offices are uniting to advance their efforts.
“There is more of a focus on the role of the community in making a difference and preventing violence. It’s a movement to engage all the people,” Tenny said. “It’s a slow process to change culture, but it’s happening.”
Min Xian is a Penn State journalism student.