The U.S. Department of Justice recently reported that one in four college women will be victims of sexual assault by the time she graduates, though officials say that statistic might be higher than the reality at USC.
According to Department of Public Safety Capt. David Carlisle, that number isn’t applicable to smaller communities such as USC.
In 2009, 27 cases of sexual assault were reported to DPS. In 2008, 16 cases were reported, he said.
“As you can see, with several thousand female students at the university, a claim that one in five female students are sexually assaulted is not borne out,” Carlisle said. “Of course, it is impossible to measure how many sexual assaults go unreported.”
Carlisle said it is not uncommon for victims of sexual assault to be reluctant to report it to DPS.
“We are not sure our numbers are a true reflection of the number of assaults,” he said.
DPS is required to forward all reports of sexual assault to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The USC Center for Women and Men is also called whenever an incident occurs. Danielle Lancon, director for the Center for Women and Men, said students at USC are no more or less at risk than in other communities.
“It’s just a high risk group of 18-25 year olds,” Lancon said. “Whole cultural change needs to take place about violence and sexism.”
Some communities within USC create environments that lead to more sexual assaults, however, according to Melora Sundt, associate dean for academic programs at Rossier School of Education who works with the Center for Women and Men.
“We have some of the indicators that would suggest that we would have a bigger problem here — higher levels of alcohol, relatively strong Greek life culture — not the cause of it — but when it comes to creating environments where predators can continue, you’re likely to find them there,” Sundt said.
Several groups at USC are dedicated to reducing the risk of sexual assault through education and the encouragement of responsible behavior. USC Men Care, DPS’ Rape Aggression Defense and the Center for Women and Men are among these.
“We’re trying to work with the Greek system, doing presentations throughout the whole year, talking about risk reduction, feminism, etc. Chapters get more attention, and certain cases, like with high profile athletes, garner more attention,” Lancon said.
The best way to protect against sexual assault, Carlisle said, is to make smart decisions in party settings.
“Don’t leave a party with a stranger. Don’t walk alone off campus after dark. Take advantage of USC’s various transportation services,” he said. “Making smart decisions — such as drinking responsibly — greatly reduce a person’s chances of becoming the victim of a sexual assault.”
Sundt warns, however, that it is important to properly prepare women to proactively protect themselves from possible sexual assault without scaring them.
“You don’t want to sound like you’re blaming [the woman], but you want them to understand to be prepared,” Sundt said. “Some predators are smooth and polished … He goes out and targets victims.”
Often it’s not a case of bad communication between the predator and the victim, Sundt said, but it is a standard operating procedure for the predator to seek out vulnerable women.
“As just a woman in college, it’s upsetting to hear something like that,” said Ellen Streit, a senior majoring in neuroscience. “[But] it sounds about right, it sounds accurate.”
Streit said students new to USC might not have adapted yet to the social scene and might be more vulnerable because they are not familiar with safety practices.
Whitney Blaine contributed to this report.