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story.lead_photo.caption University of Arkansas students are shown on the lawn in front of Old Main on the campus in Fayetteville in this file photo. - Photo by David Gottschalk

Crime totals for college campuses in Arkansas continue to show relatively low numbers of sexual assaults, but a security expert said the federally mandated system of reporting "dramatically understates the scope of the problem."

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville saw reported rapes increase to 11 in 2018 compared with nine a year earlier. Arkansas State University had six rape reports, the same number as in 2017.

Colleges and universities had until Tuesday to publish annual security reports disclosing crime totals and other information.

The mandate comes from what's known as the Clery Act, federal legislation passed in 1990.

"The way the Clery Act collects data on sexual assaults dramatically understates the scope of the problem," said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses.

He said the data depend on reports made to campus officials or police. Also, the reports each cover a specific geographic area that includes campus residence halls and property controlled by a student organization like Greek housing, but leaves out private apartments, he said.

Overall, sexual assault continues to be widely unreported to authorities, Carter said, despite what he called "significant strides in increasing reporting rates."

Carter said gathering information about sexual assault is a different undertaking compared to other crimes like burglary and aggravated assault, adding that campus climate surveys can provide more information.

UA-Fayetteville last spring conducted a survey of students that included questions about sexual assault. One survey question asked, "Have you experienced sexual contact without your consent since you became a student at this school?"

Out of 1,610 students who responded to the question, 345 answered yes, or 21.4% of the total. The full survey was provided to 26,109 students, according to records provided by UA-Fayetteville.

The percentage for the campus, the state's largest, appears to be in line with what has been reported elsewhere. A study published in 2007 concluded that about one in five women experience a completed or attempted sexual assault while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. A study published in 2016 found that about one in four women in their senior year of college had unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact while in college.

In addition to rape, the security reports also list reports of fondling, with UA-Fayetteville listing five such reports and ASU listing seven fondling reports.

In their annual security reports, the University of Central Arkansas listed three rape reports, while the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas Tech University each had one rape report.

These three schools, along with UA-Fayetteville and ASU, are the state's five largest by enrollment, with a total of about 68,000 students, not including dually-enrolled high school students, based on preliminary state data for this fall.

Carter said the reporting requirements under the Clery Act, as well as the nature of a school's student population -- such as whether students mostly commute or live on campus -- must be considered when thinking about the totals.

Arkansas Tech University has 2,553 students living in university housing, spokesman Sam Strasner said.

Like other colleges and universities, Arkansas Tech operates a Title IX office that receives and processes reports of sexual assault, Strasner said.

Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination at schools receiving federal funding, and federal authorities have said schools should investigate complaints of sexual misconduct involving students. These proceedings are separate from any police investigation.

Arkansas Tech also requires both employees and students to participate in yearly online training "concerning sexual assault reporting," Strasner said in an email. The university publishes online "a wide variety of information for students who may be the victims of sexual assault," while also conducting programs and workshops on the topics of sexual assault and prevention, Strasner said.

"ATU will continue to utilize intentional and consistent communications and initiatives to educate members of the university community on ways in which they can protect themselves and others," Strasner said.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has 991 students living on its campus, said spokeswoman Judy Williams.

The university provides an online reporting form as part of its Title IX website, Williams said, adding that employees undergo training, she said. For students, training is "strongly encouraged" and covers topics such as intervening as a bystander as well as rights under Title IX, Williams said in an email.

Metro on 10/02/2019

Print Headline: Assault tallies at Arkansas colleges stay low, but expert says cases unreported


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