In the murky realm of sexual assaults on college campuses, one thing seems clear: More assaults take place than are recorded in reports required by the government.
Take the recently released Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies, mandated by the U.S. Defense Department. It says the Air Force Academy received 27 sexual assault reports in the last academic year, a drop from 45 in 2012-13. But the study also found, based on cadet and midshipmen surveys, that only 1 in 6 who had experienced unwanted sexual contact reported that they were victimized.
The 1990 Clery Act requires all colleges participating in federal financial aid programs to post annual crime reports to their websites. The act is named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old student who was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room in 1986.
Clery reports for 2011 to 2013, the most recent available, show reports of sex crimes are nearly nonexistent at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College. While 32 sex assaults were reported over those three years at the smaller private school, Colorado College, UCCS students reported only four sexual assaults, four cases of fondling and one instance of "dating violence," defined as "sexual or physical abuse or the threat of such abuse" within a dating relationship.
"I think we can all agree this is statistically an underreported crime," says Julia Paris, Title IX compliance officer at UCCS. "We absolutely do not believe this is the extent of it. That's why we make students aware of resources and what's available."
Paris blames the low number on students' discomfort in reporting, a wish to move on, and a lack of awareness of resources.
When a student chooses to pursue legal action, UCCS offers victim-support programs, including counseling referrals and help navigating the legal process. The school also participates in the "It's On Us" campaign, sanctioned by the White House. Launched last year, the program aims to help colleges quantify the problem with climate surveys, engage men in the discussion, and expand ways to aid victims. In large part, Paris says, the program is "a marketing effort to make [students] aware of resources available, to encourage people to report."
UCCS officials say reports might be low in part because their student body is older than those of other colleges. UCCS undergraduates average 25 years old, and graduate students, 35, says UCCS spokesman Tom Hutton.
Also, only about 10 percent of the 11,000 students live on campus. "Prior to housing in 1996," says Susan Szpyrka, UCCS' vice chancellor for administration and finance, "I do not recall a single report of sexual assault."
PPCC doesn't have dormitories, and two-thirds of its 13,800 students — average age 26 — attend part-time, says spokesperson Allison Cortez. The school received no sexual assault reports at any of its six locations, the Clery data show, and students reported only four cases of fondling during that time. Cortez says the two-year school has a list of programs aimed at educating students and faculty about how to report sexual assault and what's available to support victims.
CC has about 2,000 students, who are 18 to 24 and must live on CC's urban campus their first three years. CC saw 10 sexual assault reports in 2011, seven in 2012, and 15 in 2013. It also received one report of non-forcible sexual assault and eight cases of dating violence.
But CC sexual assault response coordinator Tara Misra isn't discouraged. She says those numbers reflect the college's dedication to building trust with students and its commitment to supporting victims, which encourages them to report. She also notes CC has had a full-time professional dealing with the issue for more than a decade, and that the school offers a range of programs, including one in which students are taught "How to Make Consent Sexy," in efforts to shift the culture.
"We try to emphasize bystander intervention programs," she says, "to empower students to step up when they see something that concerns them."
CC also faces a problem that often plays a role in assault: abuse of alcohol.
"One of the things we are aware of about CC students is they do tend to drink more alcohol than the national average," Misra says.
The Clery report shows there were 721 referrals for disciplinary action on liquor-law violations at CC from 2011 to 2013, which actually was a drop from 1,100 violations in the prior three years. At UCCS, there were 172 referrals, and at PPCC, three.
According to collegedrinkingprevention.gov, students who drink the least attend two-year institutions, religious schools and commuter schools. As UCCS' Szpyrka notes, the nearest bars to UCCS, on Austin Bluffs Parkway, are "a pretty long walk" to Nevada Avenue. "It may be downhill going," she says, "but it's all uphill coming back."
Clery reports don't show how cases are resolved, but local schools say they discipline and even boot offenders, and work with law enforcement to file charges. One person was charged at UCCS since 2011, Hutton says, and Misra says one student at CC is awaiting trial in district court on sexual assault.