Troy underreporting sex crimes?

Michael Shipma
Sports Editor

Troy University is most likely underreporting sexual assaults that take place on its campus, according to Herbert Reeves, dean of student services.

Reeves said in an interview that while the university is required to provide crime statistics such as murder, sexual assault and robbery, the numbers that it reports are probably lower than the assaults that actually take place.

Under the federal Jeanne Clery Act of 1990, all colleges and universities, both public and private, are required to report crimes that occur on or near their campuses, according to the act’s informational website. Those numbers are to be reported to the public in an Annual Safety Report, known as an ASR. The act also provides required methods for handling cases of sexual assault.

“The safety report is basically what crimes are reported to us,” said Chief of University Police John McCall. “It doesn’t mean that they are legitimate or not.”

According to McCall, the university police deal with only two or three reports every year, a number much different than national rates.

According to numbers published by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, also known as RAINN, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or some form of sexual assault during their undergraduate careers.

Based on those statistics, an institution as large as Troy with a fall 2015 enrollment of 14,535 undergraduate students would have roughly 3,358 females and 785 males who have experienced some form of sexual assault.

These numbers put RAINN’s statistic in perspective.

While Troy’s main campus in Troy, Alabama, had an enrollment closer to 7,000 at this time, the university is required to report on crimes anywhere that it teaches, which includes the Montgomery, Dothan and Phenix City campuses.

So how does Troy’s report of sexual assaults match up to this?

In its 2013-2015 Clery report, Troy reported two rapes, two fondlings and one forcible sex offense. In other words, there were a total of five reports of sexual misconduct over a three-year span.

Frances Scheel, coordinator and counselor for the Student Counseling Center at Troy, also said that that number is most likely too small. Scheel provides counseling services to students who have experienced a variety of situations, including sexual assault.

“I do think that there are more (sexual assaults) than what are reported,” she said.

Scheel explained that she didn’t believe that the university was manipulating the numbers.

Scheel stated that only “10 percent to 20 percent” of students who claim to be victims of sexual assault in their private sessions go to the police.

This, in turn, affects the number that gets reported, and the 2013-2015 report is no exception.

The main reason for Troy’s low number of rapes, according to Reeves, is that the university cannot report crimes that are not brought to its attention.

“The biggest problem that I think we have is that we do not have folks that come forward,” Reeves said. “It’s tough to force that issue. Certainly, we can encourage it, but to force it is hard.”

Reeves, who is responsible for publishing the Clery report, said that most victims do not want to report their assault because they simply do not want the issue to be made public.

McCall also pointed out that victims are usually the ones who come forward with reports, if a report is even filed at all.

“Even if the victim comes forward and says she doesn’t want to prosecute anymore, we still typically present everything to the grand jury here in town,” McCall said. “And we let them know that the victim does not want to prosecute.”

McCall did make clear that the university encourages victims to push through with the investigations and to not retract their reports.

While finding victims who are willing to report their assaults is difficult, finding the public report about sexual assaults has its own challenges.

To get to Troy’s Clery report, one must click on the A-Z Sitemap at the bottom of the University’s home page, click under “U,” click on “University Police,” click the link on the left-hand side titled “Crime Statistics,” and then scroll through a PDF.

Although the document is titled “Annual Safety Report 2016-2017,” the reported numbers are from 2013-2015. To get the latest 30 days’ crime report, you have to go to the Troy University Police Department. According to Reeves, crime stats for the Clery Act are reported a year behind.

However, the search process is lengthier at Alabama’s other major schools.

In the University of Alabama’s Clery report, a curious individual must scroll to Page 92 of 161 to see the actual statistics.

Auburn’s Clery report is on Page 50 of 76. Compared to Troy’s two reported rapes: Alabama reported 37 during the 2013-2015 period, while Auburn reported 21 in the same timeframe. Alabama had a 2015 enrollment of 37,100, and Auburn had 27,287.

According to Reeves, having crime statistics readily available for students and faculty is a necessity, and something that Troy will be making sure of in the future. He said honesty and clarity are his philosophy when it came to reporting crime statistics.

“I think the more information you put out there, the better,” he said. “Trying to be upfront about things, even if it’s not the most popular thing to read in a newspaper, is the best avenue to go.”

Reeves said numerous changes are on the way regarding the Clery report’s expectations of universities, but one thing that he said will change is how readily available the crime statistics are. According to Reeves, the Clery Act’s requirements will be updated in the coming year, as well as things that Troy will do to go above and beyond to provide information.

“You can no longer bury the crime stats seven, eight or nine pages down,” he said. “We’re going to add a statement not only on the home page, but on the admissions, housing and police department pages.”

Reeves said it should only take one or two clicks to view the latest crime report in comparison to the four or five clicks it takes to reach the report currently.

Not having this information readily available is something that Scheel said might make it harder for some victims to come forward and report. According to her, it’s already uncomfortable for victims to come forward, especially when alcohol, drugs or someone they know personally played a role in the assault.

All these aspects play a role in what is reported, but Reeves said that changes are on the way to help create an environment that encourages students to speak up on their own behalf, thus making the Clery report more accurate and reliable.

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