The number of sexual assault cases reported on college campuses in Orange County has risen over the last three years. Chapman University and California State University, Fullerton, have seen double the number of incidents reported while University of California, Irvine, numbers fluctuated over that period.
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According to the reports from the Jeanne Clery Act, which requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose the crime statistics on campus, Chapman had nine reported instances of sexual assaults in 2016 but a total of 18 in 2018. Fullerton had 20 cases on campus in 2016 but 40 last year. Irvine, however, had 66 occurrences in 2016 that went down to 46 in 2017, then back up to 64 in 2018.
In recent years, revelations of rape and sexual assaults by public figures have strengthened the #MeToo movement, which was founded in 2006. It gained popularity in 2017 when 22 women came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein, a former Hollywood producer, of sexual assault. Since then, the movement has become a staple in many women’s lives, sparking conversations around the world, especially on college campuses.
However, experts attribute the rise in sexual assault reports on college campuses to universities increasingly disclosing accurate numbers.
According to an article published in the Journal of School Violence in July 2017 by Kaitlin Boyle, a sociology professor at Virginia Tech, colleges across the country have historically underreported the incidents.
“There are a multitude of incentives for university officials to withhold high rates of rape, such as maintaining a safe image and not deterring applicants or alumni donations,” Boyle writes.
According to studies cited in Boyle’s article, institutions in the United States are finally complying with the reporting mandate, reflecting more accurately what has always been occurring.
The Clery Center in Pennsylvania echoes Boyle’s sentiments, stressing that the Clery Act has always strived for accurate reporting of sexual assaults and other crimes on campuses. The nonprofit works with schools across the country to provide resources for them to achieve compliance with the law.
Laura Egan, the senior director of programs at the Clery Center, saw the same trends in her work as Boyle did.
More sexual assaults aren’t occurring all of a sudden, according to Egan. People are just more aware of what can be reported and are more trusting of the reporting systems in place.
Though there has been an increase in the number of sexual assaults reported, rapes have trended down over the same years.
Both Chapman and Irvine saw the number of rape reports decrease steadily over the last three years. Fullerton, however, had a decrease in the first year that rose back up last year. Along with people feeling freer to speak up, there has also been greater education on consent and sexual assault prevention on campuses. In 2013, former President Barack Obama signed into law the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act which requires colleges to have prevention and awareness programs for all incoming students.
Egan has seen an increase in student awareness and interest in campus safety as well. “There’s been an increase in student advocacy… with students asking for articles, reports, and more from the Clery Center,” she said.
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