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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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Rise in sexual offense reports means greater awareness


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Reported sexual offenses at UH have increased to 22 cases in the most recent CLERY police report from the three reports recorded in 2012, but the reason behind these numbers may lie in the increased awareness of sexual assault on campus.

“Over the past couple years, there has been a significant national discussion about sexual assault awareness on college campuses, and a response by campus communities, UH included, to encourage reporting these crimes and getting assistance,” UH Police Department Lt. Bret Collier said. “Seeing an increase in reports in this light is encouraging, even if it is a small increase.”

Increased crime reports of this nature often reflect students’ awareness of sexual offenses and how to file a report, said Malkia Hutchinson, program coordinator at the Women and Gender Resource Center.

“I think there’s been an increase in reported sexual offenses because the campus community is becoming more aware that they have rights as victims of sexual assault and rape on campus,” Hutchinson said. “Very likely, the visibility of the issue, both broadly and on campus, has empowered more people to report.”

At other Texas campuses, sexual offenses on the CLERY reports have also increased since 2012.

According Texas A&M University’s CLERY report, sexual violation numbers on campus went to eight reports from six in 2014. Texas Tech University’s sexual violence reports increased to eight – up from five reports in 2012.

These universities have over 35,000 students enrolled and match UH in their campus sizes. They also all have some form of a women’s resource center, dedicated to providing sexual awareness within the student populations.

At UH, the Women and Gender Resource Center has been working to implement sexual awareness programs and events which stimulate growth and diminish fear on campus.

Hutchinson said there are many factors which make it difficult for students to report sexual crimes, including guilt, fear of the legal process and stress because of what they have experienced.

Programs like My Safe Campus are available to students to help them with the process of anonymously filing a report.

According the My Safe Campus website, the purpose of the program is to “create a bridge” between users, employees and individuals with their organization.

It works by providing a completely confidential reporting service, complete with passwords and user names to protect identities while monitoring the status of the report.

There are also awareness events such as “Take Back the Night” and “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”, which use campaigning and community to encourage students to talk about the issue of sexual offenses on campus.

Hutchinson said she would still like to see more programs brought to campus for students to realize they are not alone.

“There’s a larger rape culture that perpetuates myths about people who survive sexual violence,” Hutchinson said. “Such as (the belief) that they brought it on themselves, or are not to be believed for some reason, for example, that they have been sexually active in the past or presently so therefore they’re ‘unrapeable’.”

Collier said there is more to staying safe on campus than just knowing when to say no or yes. He said UHPD’s first priority is the safety of the students at UH, and to make sure that safety is preserved and students stay aware of their surroundings, without being paranoid, just attentive.

With greater sexual awareness and safety on the UH campus, there has been an increase in the number of sexual offense reports in the 2014 CLERY report.

“The number of crimes didn’t necessarily increase, the reports of crime increased,” Collier said. “It’s an important distinction that isn’t often considered when looking at these types of statistics.”

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