Analyzing Westminster’s Annual Security Report: Rape Reports Up, Alcohol Violations Down
BY JIM MALVEN
Five rapes were reported at Westminster last year, three more than in 2014, according to the 2015 edition of Westminster’s Annual Security Report, which Interim Vice President and Dean of Student Life Dan Haslag released in September. The same report shows an 83.33 percent decline in alcohol-related arrests from 2014.
Members of the Clery Task Force said education and programming may have lead more students to feel comfortable reporting sexual misconduct, while the alcohol policy has helped reduce alcohol violations.
The report defines, but does not stipulate, rape as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Despite the increase in rape reports, Haslag said that he does not definitively believe there was an increase in incidents.
“It could be that because of the education, the programming, that we have in place, the healthy climate culture we try to have, that there may be more students who are just feeling more comfortable coming forward and reporting cases of sexual misconduct,” he said.
Director of Campus Safety and Security Geoff Crosby added that the number of rapes listed in the report merely shows that five people stated that they had been raped, not necessarily that five rapes occurred.
But, several studies show that false accusations of rape are extremely rare. According to an extensive paper from the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only about two to eight percent of all rape accusations are false.
Dr. Kasi Lacey, executive director of the Wellness Center, said that the ratio of reported rapes at Westminster is much lower than the national ratio – one in four to one in five for women and one in 10 to one in 13 for men.
“Five is a good number in a sense,” she said, adding, “When you look at schools and they have zero, I get more concerned because then students aren’t reporting what happens.”
Lacey said that “there are still things that go unreported” at Westminster but that she believes the college “does a good job.”
“That’s the benefit of being on a small campus – we know our students; we know what happens; they know security; they can connect with resources very quickly, so we’re more likely to actually know about the reports than possibly some of our larger institutions,” she said.
However, Westminster alumnus Tyler Oberlag, ’16, who helped found Westminster’s Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (M.A.R.S.) Club, said that five is “a lot” of incidents for a college of Westminster’s size.
“Having even one is too many,” he said, adding, “A lot of what needs to happen is an increase in awareness and prevention training. … It’s going to take everyone to get involved, not just a small group of individuals of staff and students. What needs to happen is a culture change.”
The Security Report also included data on alcohol violations, stating there was only one arrest from a liquor law violation last year, as opposed to six in 2014 and 11 in 2013.
Crosby and Lacey said that they believe the recent decline (83.33 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 90.91 percent from 2013 to 2015) is due in part to Westminster’s new alcohol policy. The policy, which was implemented at the beginning of the fall 2014 semester, requires fraternities to register events with more than 65 people with the college, mandates that alcohol at these events must be brought by guests or provided by a third party vendor, establishes alcohol-free areas, bans drinking games and creates other restrictions and thresholds.
“There are just clearer guidelines on the presence of alcohol in public, and even though there’s been, sometimes, resistance towards that new policy, we really do feel like it’s made a change,” Lacey said.
Haslag also credits students’ decision-making for the decrease in alcohol-related arrests.
“They are making, I believe, some sound decisions and being responsible, and that doesn’t put them in such a situation that would get them into legal trouble,” he said.
Lacey added that another positive factor is that Greek organizations are practicing better risk management, by working with their national headquarters and Assistant Director of Greek Life at Westminster Nicole Elliott.
“The risk management piece and those who are identified as risk managers have also helped,” Lacey said.
Although there was only one arrest for alcohol violations last year, there were 23 students referred for disciplinary action in the same category. That number is up by four from 2013 but down by 10 from 2014.
Haslag said that the amount of cases is a product of a “multipronged strategy towards combating underage drinking and drug use.”
While residential advisers (R.A.s) are becoming more available for reporting alcohol violations, they are also becoming more visible, which helps deter underage drinking, he said, adding that educational programs have also curbed underage drinking and substance abuse.
Senior Residential Adviser Amanda Kiso, ’17, said there has been a clear decrease in alcohol violations in the Quad and Triangle throughout her two-and-a-half-year tenure as an R.A.
“Of course, with all of our Clery numbers, it’s great when we have lower numbers to show, but I think, for instance, drinking on a college campus is going to be something that not only we are faced with, but, you know, every other university and college is faced with the same thing,” Haslag said about the 23 cases.
“The best thing we can do is continue to be vigilant in our policies, our efforts to keep our students healthy, safe and focused on their academic success,” he said.
Lacey, who along with Haslag, Crosby and representatives from Residential and Greek Life and the Office of Human Resources, is on a Clery Task Force to monitor and report campus crimes, said that she believes “we have a healthy campus climate” but that there is still room for improvement in areas such as binge drinking and alcohol-influenced sexual assault.
“That’s just an ongoing battle; I don’t think it’s worse or less – it’s just something we can’t ever let up on,” she said.
Meanwhile, Crosby said that he continues to receive increasing amounts of reports from students.
“I think they’re coming forward a lot more than they were a few years back, which helps out a lot,” he said. “I mean, it’s not uncommon for us to get a call not just from an R.A. but from a student in the Quad or wherever saying, ‘Hey, I think this is going on; can you check it out?’”
Lacey commented that “empowering our students to be part of the solution” is another goal of Student Life and the Clery Task Force.
One way the college has done this is by training students in a bystander intervention program called Green Dot. The name refers to an imaginary map where a red dot is an act of violence and a green dot is proactive action to prevent violence.
“The more green dots we have, the better our campus is going to be; it’s going to change the campus culture,” she said.
Six faculty members – Lacey, Elliott, Kelly Famuliner, Caroline Rodriguez, Anne Rulo and Jackie Weber– went through bystander training in May and have since trained more than 100 of their colleagues and approximately 30 students, Lacey said, adding that they have four additional training seminars scheduled for this semester.
“That’s kind of the difference – we’re starting top-down,” Lacey said. “We’ve always started with freshmen (LST programs, general talks on sexual assault and bystander intervention and guest speakers, for example), but when freshmen come in and they realize what the culture is, that’s not effective and that’s a lot of pressure on them to make a change,” she said, adding, “Our students care about our campus, and they care about each other; sometimes, they just don’t know what to do, and so, working through some of those barriers to report or to ask a friend how they’re doing, just empowering our students, I think that’s something we’ll continue to work on,” she said.
The Columns would like to continue its coverage of sexual assault on our campus and encourages survivors to reach out to us, so that we can include their voices. You can contact us by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; we will not publish victims’ names unless those who come forward give us permission to do so. Any student may also attend our editorial meetings, which will resume Oct. 31 and will continue every Monday at 5:30 p.m. in CSC 227. The Columns is Westminster’s student-run newspaper, and we welcome and appreciate student feedback.