HAVOVER — The number of reported sexual assaults at Dartmouth College has risen sharply, according to the recently released Clery Act report.
College officials say this is the result of better reporting and survivor support, but Diana Whitney, a Dartmouth alum and member of the advocacy group Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, thinks this could be a sign of an epidemic.
“We want to see more people coming forward, yet we really want to open our eyes and see campus sexual assault as the epidemic that it really is,” Whitney said.
The Clery Act report shows that the number of reported sexual assaults jumped from 24 in 2017 to 34 in 2018. There were also 15 reports of fondling, three reports of statutory rape and three reports of dating violence. Whitney said “fondling” is an offensive euphemism for another form of sexual assault.
When fondling, statutory rape, dating violence and other sexual assaults are added up, there are more than 50 reports of some form of sexual violence, meaning the actual figure could be closer to 250, far higher than what the college is reporting, Whitney said.
“(The Clery Act report) number is really not representative of what is going on on campus,” she said.
Diana Lawrence, the associate vice president for communications at Dartmouth, said some of the 2018 reports were historic, meaning they had occurred in prior years.
Lawrence said the increase in reports does not necessarily mean there have been more assaults on campus. She said the spike in reports means the college is doing a better job at supporting survivors.
“We have not seen any indication that incidents are increasing. More reports do not mean that the prevalence of sexual assault is higher; it seems counterintuitive, but if people are reporting it means they trust the system to handle it appropriately, they know the resources are there, and they want to be part of a culture that effects change,” Lawrence said. “At Dartmouth, we want to see the level of reporting go up and the prevalence of incidents go down.”
Lawrence said the increased reports are partly the result of the #metoo movement as well as the sexual harassment and assault lawsuit brought by several students against the school in November 2018; the plaintiffs alleged in the suit that they had been sexually harassed and assaulted by three former Psychology and Brain Sciences Department professors.
Dartmouth settled the lawsuit this year, agreeing to pay the plaintiffs $14 million. The three professors accused in the suit — Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen — are no longer with Dartmouth. Since the lawsuit, the college has changed its sexual misconduct policy to include consequences not just for students but also faculty and staff.
Whitney said that while it is possible that survivors were inspired to come forward by the lawsuit, it is impossible to know what is really behind the increase in reports.
“We just can’t know,” Whitney said.
Named for Jeanne Clery, a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered on campus, the Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that accept federal financial aid to collect data on crime that is reported on campus and to make that information available to the public.