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ASU Sexual Assault Reports Rise, Signaling Improved Awareness

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The number of sexual assaults reported at Arizona State University nearly doubled from 2013 to 2014, according to the university’s annual security report.

That may sound ominous, but, according to advocates for victims, it’s actually good news.

ASU police investigated 21 cases of rape or forcible fondling in 2014, compared to 12 in 2013. Considering that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 21 is far fewer cases than expected at the country’s most populous university. This is because more than 90 percent of sexual-assault victims on college campuses don’t turn in their attackers.

The increase in cases doesn’t signify an increase in sexual violence, but rather an uptick in the number of victims who felt safe coming forward, said Allie Bones, chief executive officer of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.

“It is encouraging to see those numbers going up,” she said. However, she added quickly, “We are not where we need to be yet in terms of culture — by any stretch of the imagination.”

In some ways, ASU has proved to be a leader among its peers in attacking the problem, she said. For example, ASU police were the first in the country to join the “Start by Believing” campaign, an initiative of End Violence Against Women International that promotes taking accusations of sexual violence at face value, rather than questioning how victims may have “brought it on themselves.” Although all of ASU’s police officers are trained in handling sex crimes and dating and domestic violence, the university this year hired two detectives to focus exclusively on sexual violence.

“We take vigorous action when offenses are reported,” ASU spokesman Mark Johnson told New Times in an e-mail.

The university also has ramped up prevention efforts, he said. All new students are required to complete an online course on sexual-violence awareness, discussing consent and respect, among other things.

Kat Hofland, vice president of services for ASU’s student government, “learned a lot” from the modules, but she said the best part about the university’s increased outreach was the way it has amplified the conversation about sexual violence on campus.

“I really came away feeling like ASU cared about this issue — and that’s huge,” she said. “Students are feeling a lot more comfortable with the administration.”

In other areas, however, victim advocates said the university is foundering. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how ASU, along with 65 other colleges, responds to sexual harassment and assault claims. The university only just hired its first full-time Title IX coordinator to oversee the school’s compliance with federal regulations on the issue.

Only 12 of the sexual-assault claims filed in 2014 resulted in discipline for the perpetrator. Punishment ranged from expulsion to doing a stint with a judicial educator. Nine cases were not adjudicated because, Johnson said, “the perpetrator could not be identified or was not a student.”

Several students have sued the university for failing to properly look into rape claims in recent years. In one lawsuit, filed in 2010, a former student claimed campus police blamed her for “having been forcibly sodomized” at a Sigma Chi party, didn’t interview anyone from the fraternity, and “refused to authorize either a drug screen [or] rape kit for DNA analysis.”

Last year, more than 1,000 students signed a petition calling out the university for protecting predatory faculty members in the honor’s college. ASU, which has since adjusted its student teacher fraternization policy, has terminated the contracts of at least three professors who engaged in sexual relationships with students. 

"There's definitely a lot of work to be done," Bones said.

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