When students head to college, they prepare for friends, classes and now, sexual assault.
“The university begins educating students on this topic and directing them to university resources…even before students arrive on campus as freshmen,” said Suzanne Clavet, director of news and media at William & Mary.
In recent years, the discussion has become more prevalent on college campuses as new data comes out about the frequency and issues with sexual assault reporting.
According to Campus Climate Survey Validation Study Final Technical Report, one in five women experience a form of sexual violence on a college campus.
Sexual misconduct is an umbrella term that can be broken down, by William & Mary, into the categories of relationship violence, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, non-consensual sexual intercourse, fondling and stalking.
In 2017, the college conducted a study of 2,672 students and found that approximately 64 percent of respondents reported being a victim of at least one type of sexual misconduct. Data also showed the number of reports has increased significantly from 43 in 2015 to 140 reports in 2017.
In the study, it states the term “reports” is used to include all types of reports, including third party reports, reports with no identifying information and reports from individuals not associated with the college.
The study notes the reasons for the increase in reports could be many factors, from increased awareness to reducing social stigma in reporting.
But of those reports, 59 percent were deemed “non actionable.” This means investigators were unable to take steps to proceed.
Clavet said that could be because the report does not have enough information, there might be no action wanted from the reporting party or the college does not have jurisdiction because it involves an individual not affiliated with the school.
Liz Cascone, director of The Haven, a confidential resource center for those impacted by sexual violence, said there could be a number of reasons individuals might report something without the intention of going through a full investigation.
“Proceeding with an investigation means that you have to participate in telling your story and what you experienced,” she said. “It can be traumatizing for many students and they don’t know what the outcome is going to be. There’s no guarantee of a desired outcome that someone is going to be held accountable.”
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation on William & Mary’s conduct after a complaint was filed in 2013 in regards to a specific incident, Clavet said. The investigation was resolved in the spring of 2018 — OCR found William & Mary did not violate the law.
Since then, there are two other open investigation cases from OCR. One in regards to discrimination against a respondent in 2016 and another in regards to the handling of a 2015 investigation. Both cases remain open but Clavet said the college has provided the OCR with all requested documents and information.
Since the first investigation, Clavet said the school has made a number of efforts to improve its process, including the creation of The Haven and additional training for staff and faculty on mandatory and confidential reporting responsibilities.
“We understand it takes tremendous courage for anyone to come forward and report any sexual misconduct, especially sexual violence,” Clavet said.
That’s a topic that has started to become a part of everyday life for students at colleges as their friends and classmates learn to reach out and find support.
It was revealed in William & Mary’s study that members of Greek Life, non-heterosexual students and women had higher rates of sexual misconduct and that on average, a student personally knows three victims of sexual assault.
With those higher rates, Cascone said that means students are hopefully learning more about reporting and recognizing when they’ve been violated. She said the first step to preventing it from happening is educating the students.
“One individual experiencing sexual misconduct on our campus in any form is too many,” Clavet said. “The only acceptable rate is zero.”