Tuesday, October 5, 2004 Investigate Sex Assault Data

According to a Department of Public Safety report released this past Friday, overall reported crime decreased on campus in 2003. According to the statistics, reported burglaries and thefts were down 10 percent and 26 percent respectively in 2003. Despite this laudable trend, the statistics also brought to light a 78 percent rise in the number of reported sexual assaults. The fact that this comes after two previous years of steady numbers in that area and amid reports of overall lower campus crime makes this statistic particularly disturbing on its face.

It is well known that the university has made combating sexual assault a top priority in its agenda. The elevation of the crime to a Category C offense, initiating specialized sex assault training for DPS officers and taking a multitude of new security measures shows that the university is serious about combating sexual assault. Together with student initiatives such as Take Back the Night and R U Ready, the university measures have contributed to education about and prevention of sexual assault on campus.

In explaining the increase in reported sexual assault incidents, Georgetown’s Sexual Assault and Health Issues Coordinator Shannon Hunnicutt said, “Sex assault is traditionally an underreported crime so I think this means that more people are willing to report sex crimes but not that there have necessarily been more sexual assaults on campus.” While Hunnicutt’s explanation may indeed be correct, the university’s lack of certainty regarding the meaning of the 2003 statistics is troubling, especially considering that it is now the 10th month of 2004.

While it is a fact that sexual assaults are underreported, the university’s hypothesis that the increase in reported campus sex assaults is due to an increase in reporting (rather than an increase in actual assaults) appears to be just that – a hypothesis. Due to the nature of the crime, a simple hypothetical justification of such an increase should not be enough to explain away the numbers. While it is a possibility that the university is right and the numbers just reflect an increased reporting of the crime, there must be a concrete effort made to confirm these suspicions. If the university is right, students can breathe one collective sigh of relief.

If, however, the statistics point to an actual increase in incidents in sexual assaults, they should serve as a further indication that the Georgetown community must again redouble its efforts against this scourge.

Sexual assault is not an issue that one can fight against on shaky ground. Just as the university has had a firm policy of confronting the issue head on, this 78 percent increase in reported cases in 2003 must be given a firm explanation by those whose job it is to protect the well being of the students on campus. Such a critical issue certainly deserves no less.

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