×

College: Fewer Rapes Reported



Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, October 08, 2016

Hanover — Reports of rape and arrests for drugs and alcohol in 2015 dropped sharply from the previous year, according to campus safety statistics released last week by Dartmouth College.

Administrators partly attributed the fall in sexual assault reports — from 55 incidents of rape and nonconsensual “fondling” in 2014 to 24 such reports in 2015 — to new confidential disclosure outlets available to the community, including an on-campus clinical social worker who does not pass on reports from rape survivors.

The social worker, among others, is bound by law to confidentiality — unlike other campus support workers, who may report incidents to Heather Lindkvist, who coordinates the school’s compliance with federal laws tracking campus crime.

These statistics are part of a report that schools are required to release by Oct. 1 each year under the Clery Act, a 1990 federal law put into place after a female student was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room in 1986. The law mandates that higher-education institutions keep their campuses notified of potential dangers.

Lindkvist warned that so many variables affect the statistics that “it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise reason” for a change. She also noted that a decrease in reports of rape does not necessarily indicate a decrease in the prevalence of rape on campus.

“Dartmouth has taken some really positive steps to address behavior on campus,” Lindkvist said, “and it has also strengthened campus-community ties with (the) Hanover Police Department and with WISE” — the Lebanon-based crisis center — “to ensure that we’re meeting our commitment to our community members. Enhancing these collaborations is a benefit to everyone.”

In mentioning ties with WISE, Lindkvist was referring largely to the hiring of Delaney Anderson, a survivor advocate employed by the crisis center who now is based on campus.

Like Dartmouth’s new social worker, Anderson is bound to confidentiality; however, she came to campus in January — after the period covered by these latest Clery statistics.

In an interview on Friday, Anderson said she had been pleased by the response to her work on campus, where she helps survivors of gender-based violence navigate the options available to them — ranging anywhere from finding an ear willing to listen to filing a formal police report, depending on the person’s preference.

“Some will want to start a formal investigative process,” Anderson said. “Some will not.”

Anderson said that Dartmouth, with 6,350 students enrolled in 2015, is much smaller than the institutions she’d previously worked at, including Ohio University, a school of about 30,000. Dartmouth also has a “rich tradition” that brings pride to community members, she said.

“That pride is something we very much want to honor,” she said in a later email. “What can be challenging on any campus, and is not specific to Dartmouth, is balancing that great pride of that campus culture and what’s been acknowledged to be this widespread issue of sexual and relationship violence on campus. As a confidential campus advocate, my role can rub up against that at some times.”

As for the decrease in drug and liquor arrests — down to 45 alcohol arrests in 2015, versus 100 in 2014 — administrators pointed to the ban on hard alcohol that college President Phil Hanlon enacted in spring 2015, as well as new police practices in Hanover.

In addition, Lindkvist said, Dartmouth has taken to handling more minor substance abuse offenses itself, which means students are increasingly likely to be subject to internal disciplinary action rather than to arrest.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said a change in his department’s policy on ambulances — police cruisers no longer follow emergency vehicles to the college infirmary — likely accounted for a small decline in arrests.

The bulk of the decrease could be attributed to Dartmouth itself, he said, including to the liquor policy and new educational programs that the college has debuted in recent years.

“I can only speculate,” he said, “but part of the decrease may be the role that the college is playing; it could be attributed somewhat to the hard alcohol ban.”

Skeptics of the hard alcohol policy, which was implemented in spring 2015 as part of Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” reforms, predicted the restrictions would drive student drinking underground — into dorm rooms and off-campus housing, where less supervision is available to keep them safe.

But Dennis wasn’t sure that theory had been borne out by the facts. Binge drinking in private likely would lead to more ambulance calls — “at some point they’re going to have to go to the hospital,” he said — and Dennis said he wasn’t aware of a corresponding rise in hospital transports.

At Colby-Sawyer College in New London, levels of forcible sexual assault and substance abuse arrests stayed roughly level; none rose above 20 reports in the school of about 1,700 students.

At the University of New Hampshire’s Durham campus, Clery results were a mixed bag.

Rape and fondling — an offense that these reports define as “the (nonconsensual) touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification” — rose to 45 reports from 26 in 2014. Alcohol arrests fell slightly, and drug arrests increased by roughly 50 percent.

The Durham campus has more than 15,000 students; at the comparably sized University of Vermont (more than 12,000 students), numbers were much lower, largely thanks to the Vermont school’s tendency to handle most incidents internally.

In 2015, for example, UVM reported no alcohol arrests, yet there were 675 internal referrals for liquor-related violations.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com.