Sexual assault reports increase at Dartmouth College


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-03-2019 10:14 PM

HANOVER — The number of rapes reported at Dartmouth College increased by more than 41% in 2018, according to annual statistics released this week by the college.

But officials said the increase does not mean the campus has become less safe. Rather, they say, victims are feeling more comfortable about reporting sexual assaults, due in part to the #MeToo movement.

Although the number of rapes reported at Dartmouth increased to 34 in 2018, up from 24 in 2017 and 25 in 2016, Kristi Clemens, the college’s Title IX Coordinator and Clery Act compliance officer, on Thursday said, “We don’t have any indication that incidents are increasing.”

Some of the increase in the tally, she noted, came from reports from women who were assaulted at Dartmouth in earlier decades but reported the incidents in 2018.

“The rates of prevalence are pretty much the same (nationally),” Clemens said. “The culture has shifted and people are reporting more.”

The statistics are part of the annual Security and Fire Safety Report, also known as the Clery report, which includes statistics on several types of crimes, including sexual violence, theft and arson. The college releases the report annually in October under the Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities to compile and release information on public safety in their communities.

While reported incidents of rape, fondling, statutory rape and dating violence are up on campus, aggravated assault, burglary, stalking, domestic violence, alcohol and drug arrests and hate crimes are down. There were no major fire incidents.

Fondling, which is defined as the touching of a private body part of another person for sexual gratification without consent of the victim, increased to 15 incidents from 14 in 2017. (There were eight reported cases in 2016.)

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Statutory rape reports, involving someone under the age of 16 in New Hampshire, increased to three incidents in 2018 from one in 2017 and zero in 2016.

Clemens, who started in the Title IX office in April 2018 but has worked in many positions at the Ivy League school over the course of a decade, said she couldn’t say for sure why people are reporting more these days, as that isn’t a question she or her staff asks. But she believes the #MeToo movement and the filing of a class-action lawsuit alleging Dartmouth College administrators turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct by three professors that settled in August may have played into that.

Throughout the years, the college has “gone through different iterations of our community feeling comfortable reporting,” said Clemens, who hopes that her familiarity with students on campus has helped bring more people into the Title IX office. Staffing there also has risen from one employee to four.

“I think we are trending in a positive direction,” she said. “The more people can feel comfortable about reporting and engaging in resources, the better.”

Similarly, Betsy Kohl — a spokeswoman for WISE, the Lebanon-based nonprofit that provides support for survivors of gender-based violence and has an office on Dartmouth’s campus — said via email on Thursday there is no hard evidence that the college is seeing an increase in “perpetration.”

Kohl also attributed the increase in reporting in part to “a shift in the national conversation” related to the #MeToo movement and the Dartmouth lawsuit, which has “created a climate where more people know that they can say something and be heard.

“We also are noticing that we have a new generation of students that have had prevention education in schools,” she wrote. “There is less of a learning curve, these students know what consent is and clearly understand when there is no consent.”

Diana Whitney, an alumna from the class of 1995 who is a leader of Dartmouth Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, a group formed a year ago, said it’s unclear what to make of the increased number of rape reports.

“We can hope” that the increase in rape, fondling and statutory rape statistics are because more people are reporting, she said, but “I don’t think we can possibly know.”

“Even one sexual assault on this campus is too many,” said Whitney, who says she was sexually assaulted in her Dartmouth dorm in 1992.

She said Dartmouth needs to take a stronger stand against sexual assault on campus. Although the college has recently made changes, like launching a “Campus Climate and Culture Initiative” in January, with the aim to foster stronger relationships among faculty, staff and students, Whitney said a lot of what officials are doing just feels like “lip service.”

Whitney said she hopes the college engages more with survivors and involves them more in the conversation on how to further improve the culture on campus. Perhaps, the college should engage the community in the conversation too, she said.

The statutory rape reports tell Whitney that “the campus is not a safe place for your teenagers.” She called the three alleged crimes against teens under the age of 16 last year “really disturbing.”

In total, there were 52 reports of rape, fondling and statutory rape on Dartmouth College’s campus in 2018, three less than reported in 2014.

“This is deeply concerning. It is really an epidemic,” Whitney said. “We can be sure that the actual numbers are much higher.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@ or 603-727-3248.