The USC Department of Public Safety last week released its Annual Campus Security and Fire Safety Report, which made adjustments for forcible sex offenses, not noted in the previous year’s report.
The report, which covers three years of campus crime statistics, noted that in 2011 there were 14 incidences of forcible sexual offenses on campus and nine in residential facilities. The original report said there were only seven incidences of sexual offenses off campus and five in residential facilities.
The report also noted seven incidences of forcible sexual offenses on campus in 2010 and three in residential facilities. The original only reported five forcible sex offenses on-campus and two in residential facilities. The 2012 annual security report noted only seven forcible sex offenses on campus and five in residential facilities on a subset of campus.
In a statement released on DPS’ website, Chief John Thomas said that “the corrections for sex offenses … were due, respectively, to a self-initiated internal review and to additional information from the Los Angeles Police Department.”
The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act requires college campuses to “[document] three calendar years of select campus crime statistics including security policies and procedures and information on the basic rights guaranteed victims of sexual assault,” according to the Clery Center’s website.
According to Thomas’ statement, “The Clery Act allows an exemption for reports made to counselors [such as those at the USC Center for Women and Men] so as to provide students a safe haven” even if they do not wish to report the incident.
“Our reporting procedures for those years did not state that the counseling center was exempt from reporting to DPS,” Thomas said in the statement. “Therefore all of the complaints should have been counted by DPS and made public as part of our Clery Act numbers.”
Still, junior international relations major Francesca Bessey, herself a rape survivor, is concerned that the error in the security report is evidence of a lack of acknowledgment by the university to address the problem of sexual violence on campus.
“A statistical acknowledgement of the issue goes hand in hand with a more general acknowledgement of the issue and that it’s a problem that happens here and a problem that happens everywhere,” Bessey said. “Without that basic precedent set by acknowledging the issue, you’re not going to be able to talk about the issue openly, honestly and comfortably.”
Earlier this year, the university administration determined that effective Oct. 1, staff of the Center for Women and Men, which provides counseling for victims of sexual assault, will no longer be designated as Campus Security Authorities, the title given to entities that can file official reports of sexual assault.
In a statement on their website, the center said that “referring a victim to the Center for Women and Men does not satisfy the requirement of submitting an incident report form. In addition to referring the victim (if known) to the Center for Women and Men, the CSA also must submit the Incident Report Form to DPS.”
Though Bessey said she recognizes that the administration might have aimed to increase students’ feeling of safety and anonymity when they go to the center, she felt concerned that making reporting sexual assault more difficult could perpetuate victims’ denial of their assault.
“There’s a reason calling 911 is easy,” Bessey said. “No one can undo what happened and [it] can’t undo that it’s going to be hard for someone but to make it harder doesn’t help. You actively discourage people from seeking on-campus resources either because you don’t advertise them or you make the process extremely difficult and potentially even traumatizing.”
Even prior to the administration’s decision, Bessey said her experience with reporting sexual assault was difficult.
“When I was sexually assaulted as a freshman, I didn’t have any idea at all what kind of resources were available to me, and after I got over the initial period of shock and denial, I was almost immediately discouraged from doing anything about it,” she said. “By that time, I’d already heard a lot of people express their frustrations with going through the reporting process and there wasn’t much that made it seem worthwhile.”
The university gained national media attention last May when 16 students and alumni submitted a Title IX complaint to the Office for Civil Rights within the Department of Education regarding USC’s treatment of sexual assault victims and errors in its reporting and adjudication process.
According to senior theater major Alexa Schwartz, who is one of three students whose complaints are currently under investigation by the Office for Civil Rights, the complaint was written with the help of an organization called End Rape on Campus.
Schwartz said that while USC claims not to tolerate sexual assault and rape, the complicated reporting process leaves students unsure of what to do.
“This is a major dilemma across the nation about what you’re supposed to do not just when you’re sexually assaulted or raped but when you hear about it,” she said. “Are you supposed to tell the police or are you supposed to provide immediate emotional support to the person telling you? Are those things mutually exclusive?”
Schwartz went to DPS in August of this year to find out if the Center for Women and Men had given them information about her incident. DPS had no record of her file. She remains uncertain if her assault was included in the revised campus safety report numbers.
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