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UGA reports more rapes amid an effort to better collect data

Reports of rapes involving Georgia’s largest colleges have jumped again, and nowhere more than at the University of Georgia, according to new statistics analyzed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

UGA reported 72 rapes connected to students and employees for 2014, more than four times as many sexual assaults as it had tallied the year before. But that sharp increase is due, in large part, to significant changes in the way the school collects statistics. It now includes assaults reported to an off-campus rape crisis center as well as other cases that had previously been ignored.

School officials said the change is designed to increase transparency on a sensitive issue that has attracted national attention. The White House has urged schools to crack down on sexual assault, and schools like UGA have invested countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars to launch better prevention, training and enforcement efforts. They face the loss of billions of dollars in federal aid if they do not.

UGA officials disclosed the larger number in their own annual campus safety report for 2014. Only 11 of those 72 rapes had to be reported to federal officials. The rise in reports at UGA reflects a fundamental paradox in combating rape: Higher numbers can actually mean improvement because they signal greater willingness by victims and others to come forward.

Emory, Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Kennesaw State also saw their sexual assault numbers rise, according to the federal data, although not as dramatically as UGA.

“The institutions that are doing more about it, that have a more robust support system for survivors and a stronger reporting system, their numbers may be higher, but students are actually safer,” said S. Daniel Carter, head of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, a Virginia-based advocacy group.

UGA, which has about 27,000 undergraduate students, reported just 17 forcible sex assaults to federal officials in 2013.

“While the University’s goal is a campus free of sexual assault, the University believes it’s Annual Security Report reflects the efforts it has made to prevent sexual assault and increase awareness about reporting,” UGA officials said in a statement.

Critics have long complained that sexual assaults on campuses have been vastly under-reported, largely because victims rarely go to authorities.

Studies have shown that one in five women who attend college say they have been sexually assaulted. At UGA that would translate into roughly 3,000 reports involving undergraduate women.

Given those statistics, advocates say it is likely many rapes are still going unreported at UGA. But they praised the university for moving in the right direction.

UGA junior Danielle Lasker applauded the school’s new reporting efforts, but she also noted the changes have been a long time coming and came about as a result of student pressure.

“A lot of what (UGA) is doing is an indirect response to being called out by students to not (counting the additional reports) before. That was one of the biggest things we were saying last year,” Lasker, 21, said.

Lasker is part of the Sexual Health Advocacy Group, a student organization to promote comprehensive sex education and advocate for a safer sex climate.

The statistics UGA is now culling from sexual assault centers not associated with the school, such as The North Georgia Cottage, have been readily available, Lasker said, but the school had chosen not to include those incidents. Now, she said, “it just seems they are doing it for face value, but still aren’t really changing anything to help the numbers go down.”

The Clery Act, which took effect in 1991, requires schools to report crime statistics on campus, including sexual assault. They must report incidents that occur on campus, in school buildings off campus and in some property adjacent to campus.

Carter said statistics have shown that many sexual assaults involving students occur off campus so they have not been reflected in federal data.

UGA says its broader tally “includes all reports of rape and sexual battery against a member of the University community even if the location of the incident was unknown.” Of the cases it reported in 2014, 49 took place at an unknown location and another 12 at an unknown location off campus.

Emory — which has led the state for several years in the number of sexual assaults — saw its total grow by 45 percent, from 22 to 32. University officials have argued that their numbers are high because of an aggressive effort by the school to encourage victims to report assaults even if they do not want a criminal prosecution.

Results of the school’s campus climate survey released Tuesday found that 10.7 percent of all responding students reported they experienced attempted or completed incidents of sexual assault or rape. Among those students 6.6 percent used Emory’s formal procedures to report the incident. More than 70 percent of undergraduate respondents who experienced a completed sexual assault or rape reported that it occurred with alcohol or drug use.

“Although these results are consistent with national trends, they are disturbing and unacceptable,” Emory administrators said in a letter to students, faculty and staff. “It also is disappointing that despite multiple resources and support, a majority of respondents are not aware of these resources.”

At Georgia Tech, federal data show forcible sexual assaults rose from 18 to 23. Georgia State saw its numbers tick up from five to eight, and Kennesaw State from eight to 11.

There were some decreases, notably at Georgia Southern University and the University of West Georgia.

In May, the state’s public university system completed a months-long review of campus safety policies, including how sexual assaults are handled at its 30 institutions. A system-wide coordinator was hired to oversee training and the handling of sexual assault complaints, and training for students and staff will be centralized throughout the system. The university system expects to complete a climate survey in March.

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