Reporting on the Rise
December 10, 2014
by Shannon Miller
At the beginning of October, Dean Jeff Huang emailed the CMC student body announcing that the annual Jeanne Clery Act crime reports from the five colleges and two graduate schools of the Claremont Conosrtium had been released. These reports, which the schools must make public by law, summarize college policies related to crime and provide data on reported offenses from the last three years.
In light of the ongoing discussions around sexual misconduct and reporting issues at the Claremont Colleges, we have visualized the data on sex offenses at the five colleges since 2011. The Clery reports break sex offenses down into four categories: Rape, Fondling, Incest, and Statutory Rape. However, since none of the colleges had any reports of incest or statutory rape in the last three years, we only include here the data on rape and fondling reports.
None of the colleges' reports of rape have decreased over the last three years. All have either increased or remained constant from year to year. While this may seem at face value to indicate a steady increase in the occurrence of rape on our campuses—which would certainly be a concerning trend—the increase this data represents is in reports rather than incidents.
Rape and other forms of sexual violence are chronically underreported, and much of the activism around ending sexual violence on college campuses focuses on improving the reporting process for rape. By making the reporting process more transparent, accessible, and respectful to rape victims, advocates hope that survivors will be more willing to come forward and report an incident than they would have been in the past.
In a statement to The Forum from CMC's Dean of Students Mary Spellman and Title IX Coordinator Nyree Gray, they explained, "Whether more reports equates to more actual assaults is difficult to know." Nonetheless, with the knowledge that "sexual violence is one of the most underreported crimes," Spellman and Gray added that, "as we continue to focus on the prevention of sexual violence, have processes that are fair and humane, and creating an environment of care and support we will see more individuals who feel comfortable in coming forward."
Dean Daren Mooko, an Associate Dean of Students for Pomona College who also serves as Pomona's Title IX Coordinator, also cautioned against reading these statistics as indicative of an increase in offenses. "I’m not convinced that the trend of rising numbers indicates that there are more sexual assaults on campus," Mooko wrote in an email to The Forum. "Instead, I think more students are reporting."
Jennifer Berklas, Director of Human Resources and Title IX Coordinator for Scripps College, agreed that "developments throughout the consortium in combating and responding to sexual violence have increased the likelihood that students will report sexual assaults to their Title IX Coordinators." Berklas' comment was sent to The Forum on her behalf by Rosa Santana, Scripps' Associate Director for Media and Public Relations.
While much of our discussion about sexual misconduct focuses on rape, which CMC's policy defines as "penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim," sexual misconduct is more comprehensive than that alone. Sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence, and other forms of physical sexual assault short of rape are prohibited by college policy as well, and reports for those offenses are included in the Clery Act reports.
Reporting data for stalking, harassment, and intimate partner violence are negligibly low across the colleges. As mentioned before, this does not necessarily mean incidents of those crimes are low; it simply means that if and when it occurs, it is rarely reported. Fondling, however, is the other sexual offense with higher levels of reporting.
In contrast to rape, fondling addresses non-penetrative sexual assaults, defined as follows: "The touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her age or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental incapacity."
Unlike reports for rape, which appear to be increasing over time, fondling reports are more erratic over the same time period. Pitzer College, however, has received zero reports of fondling in the last three years.
The five colleges are all in the process, both individually and collectively, of revising the grievance procedures for reporting sexual assault, not only to comply with changing legal standards—notably the 2011 federal "Dear Colleague Letter" (DCL) and California's recently-passed affirmative consent law—but also to go beyond the minimum requirements and craft policies of which the colleges can be proud.
Mary Spellman, CMC's Dean of Students, who also served as Interim Title IX Coordinator until Nyree Gray took over on October 1, 2014, wrote to The Forum in a joint statement with Gray explaining what the 2011 DCL meant for colleges. The Letter's expectations "included having an investigation based process for responding to sexual violence, using the preponderance of the evidence standard in decision-making regarding sexual violence cases, providing specialized training for individuals managing and participating in the grievance process, and focusing on education and prevention efforts."
Regarding the legal standards the DCL and California's new law created for colleges, Spellman and Gray wrote that the "DCL really confirmed for the College that we were on the right track in revising our policies and procedures related to sexual violence," and pushed the College to update its sexual misconduct policy by "using plain language to define prohibited conduct and trying to provide more clarity regarding consent."
Since CMC was already revising its explanation of consent in light of the DCL, Spellman and Gray explained, the California law did not add an additional burden. "We watch these issues carefully and we believe our policy was already in compliance when the law was passed," they explained. "We will continue to evaluate and make changes if needed" and "will continue to work on educating the community about affirmative consent and what that means."
Interestingly, Berklas told The Forum that "Scripps’ policy that was developed in 1994 met all of the requirements set forth in the Department of Education’s 2011 'Dear Colleague Letter.'" However, the Scripps policy itself is rarely used, because "Most sexual assaults reported by Scripps students involve a respondent from one of the other colleges. In cross-campus cases, the grievance process of the home college of the respondent governs the investigation and hearing process."
This means that when a Scripps student reports an assault by a student at another college—CMC, for example—that would activate CMC's grievance procedures, not Scripps'. Scripps' policy would only be used if a student at one of the Claremont Colleges reported that a Scripps student assaulted them.
Dean Mooko spoke positively of the policy developments at Pomona and the other colleges over the last few years. Mooko explained, "Since 2011, Pomona, like all of the other Claremont Colleges, has completely overhauled its policies and procedures concerning sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus."
He believes these efforts have "had a significant impact on our campus culture and climate around sexual assault. Because we took a fairly transparent approach to the overhaul of our policies and procedures, I believe the level of dialogue and visibility of these issues were raised. I believe that when students are informed and know what to expect from a process they will have more confidence in reporting a sexual assault."
As students, we hear another side of this trend—not just the data, but the personal stories. In the past two years, numerous students have shared their experiences of sexual assault in The Forum, both in written accounts that we have published and in testimonials students added in the comments sections.
While many students spoke up about the experience of suffering from sexual assault and handling the emotional trauma caused by it, many of those students chose, for various reasons, not to report their assaults. Earlier this semester, Christy Sutherland '15 took the brave step to expand our dialogue about sexual assault on campus by describing what happened when she reported her own sexual assault to the police and the College—processes that appeared, in a number of ways, to be deeply flawed. For example, the case's adjudication lasted two-and-a-half times longer than the federally-recommended time period, and Sutherland was required by the process to repeat her story countless times to a number of people involved in the investigation, a difficult thing for any survivor to do.
Regarding Sutherland's article, Spellman and Gray told us they were "inspired by Christy’s courage in coming forward and writing her article. Her ability to endure such a difficult situation and willingness to share her story as a source of strength for others is amazing. It is by sharing with one another and openly having these very difficult conversations that we can hope for change."
However, while they acknowledged that federal guidelines from the Office of Civil Rights encourage colleges to complete adjudication procedures for sexual misconduct cases within 60 days, Spellman and Gray refused to comment directly on the fact that Sutherland's case took 152 days to complete. "We cannot comment on any student’s personal situation but each situation is different," they wrote, and "sometimes a case can take longer than 60 days depending on the complexity." For example, they continued, "Some cases have more people to interview," among other factors that could prolong the timeline of a case.
Spellman and Gray also added that when CMC updated its grievance procedures for sex offenses over the summer, one thing they did, in line with many students' negative experiences with the reporting process and "concerns or issues identified as we have gone through the process," was to stop mandating hearings.
"[W]e have found that hearings in the traditional sense are emotionally charged and potentially traumatic for the parties involved," they wrote, and they "tended to duplicate the work that was done through the investigation process." By eliminating the hearings, Spellman and Gray explained, they hoped to correct the burden imposed on both the accuser and the accused to tell their stories over and over again, as well as "mitigate potential emotional impact" on both the accuser (complainant) and accused (respondent).
As Sutherland described it in her article, the hearing process can be exhausting and taxing. "It took 5 ½ hours," she wrote. "There were 2 opening and closing statements, countless questions, and 6 witness accounts before I could get away from listening to him. I sat there, reliving the night, and listening to him blame me and not take any responsibility for what he had done."
While the data on sex offenses will fluctuate, the policies and procedures will shift, and more and more survivors will (hopefully) continue to publicly share their stories, there is more work to be done. Ultimately, Spellman and Gray noted, "What is most important" to CMC is that students "who are harmed know what their resources and options are," and know that "the College is here to assist them."
As long as many students still feel there is too much stigma to report it when they've been sexually assaulted on our campuses, we are not where we need to be. With continued effort and dedication by both students and administrators, though, we can move ourselves closer to that ideal.