In the eight weeks since classes resumed at Middle Tennessee State University, six sexual assaults have been reported by students–more than were reported through all of 2013.
An annual security report of campus crime at MTSU was published on October 1 in accordance with the Jeanne Clery Act recounting the numbers of assaults reported to campus police. In 52 weeks, five rapes and six charges of forcible fondling were reported by MTSU students.
Colleges across the country have been experiencing similar increases in sexual assault reporting, and female MTSU students have expressed concern about campus safety.
Despite the apparent increase in crime, MTSU University Police Lieutenant of Emergency Operations Broede Stucky and Dr. Ronald Aday, a professor of sociology who teaches classes on family violence, say that the likely cause of the change comes not from an increase in incidents, but an increase in victims’ willingness to report offenses.
“Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes there is,” Stucky said. “Everything from the social stigma that comes from it, to the judgement that people put on victims.”
Stucky said the atmosphere surrounding the discussion of sex crimes has changed “because of the educational programs out there where you have more victim assistance, more counseling options, and more ways for the victim to come forward and say ‘hey, here’s my story, something happened, somebody needs to know’…the push is for them to come forward.”
“That’s good. Good in the sense that if we know something’s happening we can try to do something about it. If we don’t know something’s happening, we can’t do a whole lot about it.”
Stucky cites the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and other public pushes in recent years towards improving education about sexual assault and reducing the stigma associated with being a sexual assault victim.
Stucky said that the approach to handling sexual assaults is much more driven by a desire to help the victim than to “catch the bad guy” than it was 20 years ago.
“Today it’s really geared towards helping the victim, and do what the victim wants to do,” he said. “A lot of times they just want to tell us that something happened, but they don’t want to pursue anything in a criminal nature.”
The six assaults reported have been spontaneous assaults by strangers, which is a comparatively rare type of sexual assault to rapes occurring between acquaintances.
“It is a grayer area in terms of defining, and we’ve seen this in cases where she may claim, and he may rebut that,” Aday said. “I think that’s why, when you’re looking at college campuses, especially in date rape or acquaintance rape situations, only five percent are reported to the police…they feel like they can’t really substantiate their claim, and there’s going to be a he-said-she-said kind of thing.”
Aday said that, because men are socialized to be aggressors, many see a push for sex, even against a woman’s wishes, as natural.
“We know that a lot of males in the past have actually been predators, but in their own mind they defined it as consensual sex-based on the socialization and culture, and the gender divide that we see in what’s considered appropriate behavior,” Aday said. “and that’s something we have to address in order to put a stop to this.”
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