Penn State

Data show most reported on-campus assaults happen in dorms

Of the 138 reported sexual assaults that occurred on campus at Penn State over the past five years, 77 took place in residence halls. Simmons, pictured, and McElwain Halls recorded the most incidents, with five a piece.
Of the 138 reported sexual assaults that occurred on campus at Penn State over the past five years, 77 took place in residence halls. Simmons, pictured, and McElwain Halls recorded the most incidents, with five a piece. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series on Penn State’s sexual assault reporting.

Of the 138 on-campus sexual assaults reported to Penn State police in the past five years, 77 took place in residence halls.

But assaults also occurred in many other places across University Park, including: seven in sports facilities and parking lots used during football games, nine in academic buildings and one in one of Penn State’s hotel parking lots.

A total of 27 assaults occurred in locations on campus that were reported as unknown.

Assault locations are included in victims’ reports and were sorted in a database of Penn State sexual assaults from 2012 through 2016; the database was created by university police for this series of stories.

Of the 77 assaults in student dormitories, 13 were in the South Residence Halls area, with five reported in Simmons Hall and five reported in McElwain Hall, the most of any of the university’s dorms.

Eight of those 10 reports took place at night. Seven were reported to police the same day as the assault.

According to Assignments Office Assistant Director Kate Kishbaugh, there are 639 students housed in McElwain and 693 in Simmons. The buildings are the largest residence halls on campus.

For the more than 1,300 students living in McElwain and Simmons, awareness of sexual assault is not left to chance.

In Simmons Hall, posters about the issue can be found, mostly on the upper levels. One poster, for example, from the Office of Student Affairs says “Alcohol is not consent.”

A bulletin board titled “Bad Romance” displays some of the factors that do not imply consent and gives students tips on how to identify, report and escape unhealthy relationships.

When asked about possible reasons for the higher number of reports, most of the halls’ residents who were interviewed noted that the buildings are larger than other residence halls. Some suggested that the proximity of the buildings to downtown and to sorority and fraternity housing could have something to do with the higher number.

But none gave much importance to the sex education talks they had with their resident assistants.

McElwain has 12 RAs, Simmons 14. The floors are segregated by gender, except for the lower floors of each building, which are co-ed.

Adam Barsouk, a freshman resident of Simmons, recalled his RA talking about sexual assault.

“I will say that our RA mentioned that in his introduction to us, but I think, like many things, that’s often treated as a sort of responsibility rather than something valuable; they read the same bullet points because they have to, as opposed to because they truly see the merit in that,” he said.

Eshia Willingham, an RA in McElwain Hall, noted the many swipe-access doors the building has, making it easier to get in. “Some (buildings) in Pollock have one, some in Pollock have two, but McElwain has eight,” Willingham said.

Another problem students pointed out in all residence halls is “piggybacking” — letting someone in a building who doesn’t have authorized access.

Marissa Modi, a junior resident of Simmons, said she prefers to be proactive when it comes to safety. “Between my roommate and myself, we have a rule to just lock the door at all times, even when we’re in the room,” she said.

Daniel Winstead, a sophomore resident of Simmons, said piggybacking is common — even he has done it before. “It’s such a normal thing to hold the door open for someone,” he said.

This year, for the first time, the Title IX office took a large role in residence life training about sexual assaults.

Training for resident assistants included the process once a sexual assault is reported, what the RAs need to do, what they need to report and how they should respond to these reports.

They also did “behind closed doors” role-playing exercises related to sexual assault incidents.

“So, we insert information into those scenarios that would allow them to sort of interact with this stuff on a sort of real-time basis and get feedback, so that, if heaven forbid, somebody reports something, it’s not the first time they have ever thought about it or done it,” said Paul Apicella, Penn State’s Title IX coordinator.

He added that they don’t train only the RAs, “but all the rungs that go up in residence life … all the way to the top.”

Renato Buanafina is a Penn State journalism student.

  Comments