Anna Hornell/Mustang News

Anna Hornell
Special to Mustang News

Three years, four sexual assaults. But just two hours south, there is a very different reality.

Based on official university statistics, the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) has a sexual assault report rate six times that of Cal Poly. With greater funding, around-the-clock help for survivors of sexual violence and system-wide coordination of its response to sexual assault, UCSB’s differences from Cal Poly’s sexual assault response approach run deeper than just the numbers.

“I think higher numbers are always a benefit, because it’s a sign we’re doing our job,” said Jill Dunlap, director of UCSB’s Campus Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE) program. “It means survivors of sexual violence feel comfortable coming into our office.”

In addition to the schools being close geographically, Cal Poly and UCSB have several similarities. UCSB has an enrollment of nearly 22,000, compared to Cal Poly’s 19,000 students. The numbers of students who live on each campus are also close: about 7,100 at Cal Poly and 7,300 at UCSB.

When looking at sexual assault statistics, however, the campuses are far from equals. Between 2010 and 2012, UCSB had 29 reported instances of sexual assault on or adjacent to its campus, according to the university’s Campus Security Report. The three assaults reported by Cal Poly pale in comparison.

While an earlier Mustang News analysis placed Cal Poly’s sexual assault report rate at the tail end of all state-run California universities, UCSB falls in the top 10.

As is the case with most universities, however, the official UCSB statistics do not give an accurate picture of student-on-student violence, given that only crimes that occur on campus, adjacent to campus or on off-campus university property have to be reported on annual security reports. With a majority of UCSB students living in nearby Isla Vista, much of the student-on-student violence occurs outside those boundaries.

“All those rapes that happen a block away are not in the Campus Security Report, so the numbers are a bit misleading,” Dunlap said.

The CARE program is UCSB’s equivalent to Safer at Cal Poly. Both work to help survivors of sexual assault and to prevent violence by educating the campus community. There are, however, a few things that set the CARE program apart.

First of all, Safer is only able to offer crisis counseling on from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. CARE, however, accepts students 24/7 with a special hotline for students to call at any time. At Cal Poly, students who need help outside of office hours are referred to RISE, a community organization that offers crisis counseling. CARE crisis counselors will even meet students off campus — in the middle of the night, if necessary.

Possibly as a result of this availability, CARE sees more students. In the first six months of 2013, CARE saw 75 survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence or stalking; Safer saw 22.

Several of the services offered at UCSB are funded with a three-year grant of almost $300,000 from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, which was awarded to the university in 2011. Cal Poly did not receive that grant.

That money allowed CARE to hire a full-time advocate for survivors and a part-time prevention coordinator. Since then, Dunlap said, the number of survivors willing to come forward has skyrocketed.

“We’ve seen our numbers of walk-ins and call-outs increase dramatically,” she said, “and the number of students who report to law enforcement continues to increase.”

Safer’s budget is more modest, at close to $90,000 annually, which Safer coordinator Christina Kaviani described as “OK.”

With Kaviani being one of only two full-time staff members, however, applying for federal grants is not an option.

“I think that for me to oversee this program and do a little bit of crisis services, education and program development, I don’t have time to write grants,” she said. “If we had the ability to get that money, I think that would help.”

Still, Kaviani emphasized that Safer has always been able to accommodate survivors right away, and the fact that Cal Poly even offers on-campus crisis counseling sets the university apart from several other schools.

“There are schools much larger than Cal Poly that don’t even have a Safer program,” she said. “So we’re kind of somewhere in the middle.”

Another difference lies in what crisis counselors at the different campuses can share with other campus entities. While CARE services are completely confidential, Safer’s crisis counseling shares all reports of sexual assault with Cal Poly’s Title IX Coordinator, Dean of Students Jean DeCosta.

“It’s not something we want to do,” Kaviani said. “We want to be confidential, but this has been mandated to us from higher echelons at the university.”

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex-based discrimination, including sexual violence, in schools that receive federal funding. A 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights clarified the law’s requirements, stating that colleges must pursue sexual assault investigations, or else face violations of Title IX. Safer therefore reports all instances of sexual violence to DeCosta, who then contacts the survivor for an investigation — though no other action is taken without the survivor’s consent.

The crisis counselors at CARE, on the other hand, are exempt from reporting to the Title IX coordinator at UCSB. CARE’s confidentiality is important, Dunlap said, because it gives survivors a way of getting help without the pressure of having to formally report the assault.

“If a survivor tells their peers first, their response will often be, ‘You have to go to the police,’ which can actually deter a survivor from ever disclosing what happened again,” she said.

If the student is able to talk to a crisis counselor first, Dunlap said, they can go through their options in a relaxed and nonjudgmental way. This can, in turn, increase the number of students who choose to report to police.

Kaviani said though Safer has seen a steady increase in the number of students who request crisis services over the past few years, the lack of confidentiality could deter some survivors from coming forward.

“I’m sure there are students out there whose fear of it being reported overpowers their desire to get psychological or emotional help,” Kaviani said.

Whatever the reason, the number of students who choose to report to law enforcement after seeking crisis counseling is higher at UCSB.

The differences between UCSB and Cal Poly speak to differences between the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems as a whole. According to annual security reports, the UC system-wide report rate — the number of reports per 1,000 students — is 1.43. This means the UC’s system-wide report rate is more than double that of the CSU’s: 0.55.

In this statistic, money once again plays a role. In 2007, the UC system received a $1 million grant from the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Representatives from all UC campuses created training programs for UC law enforcement, resource binders on the laws concerning sexual assault, as well as a website that details where to get help and what the policies are on each campus.

The CSU system has yet to see such a coordinated effort, and did not have a system-wide policy against student-on-student sexual assault until 2010.

Both university systems, however, have a sexual assault report rate far lower than the findings of a January government report, which estimates that one in five college women has been sexually assaulted.

In addition, CSU and UC schools both have come under scrutiny in the past year. Allegations that UC Berkeley mishandled sexual assault reports led to a state audit of four public California universities.

Neither UCSB nor Cal Poly was selected for the state-wide audit, but the number of students who seek crisis services continues to grow at both campuses. Both Kaviani and Dunlap agreed this is a good thing — a sign that survivors know where to get help, rather than a sign assaults are increasing.

“It’s an idea that’s hard to swallow,” Dunlap said. “But assaults are happening on your campus regardless of whether it’s being reported.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated there were three sexual assaults at Cal Poly in the past three years. University police numbers were updated to report four assaults in the past three years, and this article has been updated to include the fourth. 

Join the Conversation


  1. This article has very interesting information. The only thing I’m wondering is what’s the reason behind this comparison between Cal Poly and UCSB. Does the author imply that CP is doing a bad job compared to UCSB, or she’s just simply saying San Luis Obispo is naturally a more peaceful place to live, thus leading to fewer sexual assaults?
    I mean having fewer reported sexual assaults does not necessarily mean “safer” or “unproductive at finding out all the assaults.”

    Anyway, good job!

    1. The rationale behind comparing Cal Poly and UCSB is that they are similar in student population (as well as on-campus population) and close geographically, but for some reason have very different sexual assault numbers. Given that the vast majority of sexual assaults go unreported (and that’s true anywhere), it’s impossible to know which campus is truly safer/has fewer sexual assaults. What we can look at, though, is whether there are measurable differences in the way Cal Poly and UCSB deal with sexual assault. This story is the result of doing just that. Glad you enjoyed it!

      1. it is impossible to know. measuring the difference between how each university handles sex crime would be extremely difficult other than to measure how much public and private money is spent on it – and the report-per thousand compared to the “1 in 5” metric tells me that UCSB is 3x more conducive and encouraging to victims. If you assume that 20 percent is the real number, than 1.4 percent is unfortunate but 0.5 percent? there is something wrong at Cal Poly.

  2. Correction of “Behind the Stats: A tale of Sexual Assault Numbers at two Universities.”

    We want to make sure that every Cal Poly student is aware of and understands all resources that are available to them!

    1. Large number of resources on and off campus

    Cal Poly and the community offer a variety of resources for sexual assault survivors. This includes the Health Center Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), the Counseling Services (SART), our Health Education teams, the Dean of Students, University Police, RISE, and SLO County Health Agency SART. These services are provided by licensed staff who are specially trained to support survivors of sexual assault in a safe, quiet and respectful environment.

    2. Resources are available 24/7

    Counseling Services provides confidential and free crisis counseling 24/7 by calling 805-756-2511.
    Health Services also offers a free and confidential after-hours Nurse Advice line at 805-756-1211.

    3. Confidential Services are available

    While medical professionals are required by law to report sexual assault to law enforcement, the counselors at Counseling Services are not. Survivors have the option to confide in a counselor without having to report to law enforcement and/or undergo a physical exam.

    Cal Poly cares and makes every effort to provide ourstudents with a variety of options 24/7.

    David L. Harris, M.D., Executive Director
    Health and Counseling Services

  3. No he’s not implying that Poly does a bad job. I am. The crime statistics posted don’t reflect victims roofied and not aware they were raped, unreported rape, rape reported but not investigated, failed investigations, charges not filed, charges pending and acquittals…it’s always been a culture of secrets, lies and cover-ups….why are the red handprints being covered up? What happened to RememberMe week? “The Dean of Students?” Who’s that?…there’s a dean for every college. are you an alumni? Who is “We” “Response Team”? give me a break….in what way are you making a “Correction”? Anna Hornell drew a few obvious conclusions based on facts. My credit to her and the editors that posted this. I covered crime for the Daily, KCPR and KVEC my last three years -02,03,04. There is nothing to correct in this story. Cal Poly having the lowest-report-rate indicates exactly what I observed. Institutionalized secrecy at all levels: even at the victim level.

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