Trigger Warning: This article discusses sexual violence.
According to a Dec. 23 Boston Globe analysis of colleges and universities in New England, the number of reported forcible sexual offenses on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus increased from 14 in 2014 to 25 in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. The data comes from the Clery Reports, federally mandated reports released every October by the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD), as well as by all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid.
However, the article recognizes the limitations of these numbers, given that specialists say the number of sexual assaults on college campuses each year is several times higher than the number of assaults reported. Additionally, while the Globe reports rising numbers of assaults, there are multiple aspects of the report, as well as the nature of sexual assault reporting, to consider in conjunction with the data.
The Globe reports only what it calls “forcible sex offenses,” which include rape and fondling. Individual schools’ reporting, on the other hand, is broken down into four specific categories as of 2015: rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape, according to the Department of Education. Prior to 2015, statistics for rape and fondling were combined under “sex offenses — forcible,” while incest and statutory rape were combined under “sex offenses — nonforcible.”
In addition to the fact that many assaults go unreported, because the figures published only account for the reported sexual assaults in any given year, some assaults might not have occurred in the same year that they were reported.
According to a report issued by the Tufts Department of Public and Environmental Safety for the 2016-2017 school year, in 2013 there were 12 reports of forcible sexual assaults that occurred on campus property on the Medford/Somerville campus, one that occurred on off-campus Tufts property and zero non-forcible assaults. In 2014, there were 14 reports of forcible sexual assaults that occurred on campus property and zero non-forcible assaults. In 2015, there were 17 reports of rapes on campus property, seven instances of fondling on campus and off-campus Tufts property and zero instances of incest and statutory rape.
Reports of forcible sexual offenses at Tufts, as displayed in the Clery Reports, have steadily increased in recent years, quadrupling from six in 2012 to 25 in 2015. Executive Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) Jill Zellmer told the Daily in an email that she believes the rise in number reflects an increase in reporting, rather than an increase in these crimes.
“Most colleges and universities in the area have been encouraging sexual misconduct reporting on their campuses, which has translated into more sexual assault reports across almost all schools in New England and across the country,” Zellmer said.
In fact, the dramatic rise in number is consistent across many other colleges and universities included in the Globe’s analysis.
According to the results of the last Tufts Attitudes About Sexual Conduct Survey (TASCS), conducted for the first time in Spring 2015, of the roughly 30 percent of the undergraduate population who took the survey, about 25 percent of undergraduates reported having experienced at least one type of sexual misconduct.
This means that the survey suggests a much larger number of instances than those reflected in Clery Reports. Tufts is planning to begin surveying students for the second TASCS in late January, according to Zellmer.
This discrepancy is also reflected by the radically different numbers reported by OEO, which both administers the sexual assault reporting process and provides resources to those who have been assaulted or violated. OEO claims it reports much higher numbers than TUPD’s Annual Security Report because it includes many more categories of sexual assault and uses different geographic restraints.
Each year, the OEO reports instances of “student sexual misconduct,” which includes, “Sex/Gender Discrimination and Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Stalking, Dating/Domestic/Relationship Violence, Sexual Exploitation, Sexual Misconduct Climate matters and Retaliation allegations that may have also been filed as a result of any of the above.”
The OEO does not provide a breakdown of individual types of sexual misconduct, but its figures have also increased every year. The most recent data published by the OEO reports 63 instances of sexual misconduct in the 2012-2013 school year, 84 in 2013-2014, 109 in 2014-2015 and 135 in 2015-2016.
The increased reporting could be related to the slew of changes the university recently made in how it handles sexual assault. From 2013 to 2016, University President Anthony Monaco convened a Sexual Misconduct Prevention Task Force in response to activists’ demands and Tufts’ 2014 Title IX violation.
Allyson Blackburn, a member of Action for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) at Tufts, cited student- and university-led changes that occurred in 2014, including the start of the It Happens Here event, increased sexual assault education during first-year orientation and the addition of two new positions within OEO to specifically work on sexual assault reporting and prevention.
“Since Tufts was found noncompliant with Title IX in 2014, it’s not at all surprising to me that the number of Clery Act reports has increased,” Blackburn, a senior, said.
Blackburn said that since first coming to Tufts in 2013, both the campus climate and police attitudes surrounding sexual assault have improved.
“I feel like it is understood what is and what is not appropriate behavior,” Blackburn said. “There is more of a culture of support for survivors, and I think we understand the importance of believing survivors and holding assailants accountable.”
But Blackburn added that there is still a lot of room for improvement in terms of assault reporting. The numbers reported to TASCS, an anonymous survey, are likely much higher than the official numbers because people feel uncomfortable reporting, she noted. Blackburn attributed this discomfort partly to the explicit nature of the reporting.
“It’s really hard to try to sit down and say, ‘I am going through something hard and I need the university as an institution,’” she said.
She also felt that the university’s “cumbersome” process could potentially deter reporting. Hannah Shevrin, another ASAP member, agreed.
“I haven’t heard people walk away [from the reporting process] being like ‘Wow that was a really great experience,’” Shevrin, a junior, said. “I’m not sure if [the reporting process is] perfect because it probably is pretty new.”
Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon acknowledged that not all incidents of sexual assault are reported. She said that the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Steering Committee, a result of the initial task force, will be meeting in February to discuss how to improve the reporting process and sexual assault prevention programs.
“We recognize that other cases continue to go unreported and [that we have] ongoing work to do to ensure that we are continuously improving our outreach and refreshing our educational efforts,” she told the Daily in an email.