Cal Poly’s number of reported sexual assaults from 2010 to 2012 is one of the lowest of all California public universities, but those reported numbers might not reflect an accurate picture of sexual violence at Cal Poly.
Special to Mustang News
Three years, three sexual assault reports.
According to Cal Poly’s official statistics, those are all the instances of sexual violence that occurred between 2010 and 2012 — a number that places the university’s sexual assault report rate at the tail end of all state-run universities in California.
“Well, I get a lot of reports, so my first reaction is that (these statistics) give a false sense of what the reality is,” Safer coordinator Christina Kaviani said.
In the wake of the U.S. government pledging a renewed commitment to end sexual assaults on campus, a Mustang News analysis found that according to the annual Campus Security Report, Cal Poly’s sexual assault report rate ranks 29th of all 33 California public universities in sexual assault reports per 1,000 students.
The annual security report, known informally as Clery statistics, is published each fall by the University Police Department (UPD).
The grand total of three sexual assaults in three years places the raw number of reported assaults at the same level as California Maritime Academy — a school with fewer than 1,000 students.
Kaviani said she feels Safer’s own statistics are a more accurate gauge of sexual assaults in the Cal Poly community. Safer did not start recording statistics until Fall 2012, but saw seven survivors of sexual violence in that quarter alone.
“If I were a parent, I wouldn’t look at the Campus Security Report to see if this is a safe school or not,” Kaviani said.
Dean of Students Jean DeCosta echoed Kaviani’s statements. Many sexual assaults go unreported because survivors are afraid to come forward, she said, but she added this is not an issue unique to Cal Poly.
“Personally, I think it’s great news, actually,” DeCosta said about Cal Poly’s low statistics. “I’m glad to hear that our report numbers are that low compared to other schools.”
The annual crime statistics are released to comply with the Clery Act, which mandates that all universities receiving federal aid publish statistics on certain crimes annually, as well as maintain a daily crime log.
“I think the numbers reflect that we have a community with a pretty low crime rate and high quality of life,” UPD Chief George Hughes said. “We have a very responsible student body and campus community.”
In accordance with the Clery Act, the university only has to report crimes that occur on campus, in areas adjacent to campus, or on off-campus property owned or operated by the university. Critics say this potentially excludes many student-on-student crimes that take place in other locations.
At Cal Poly, this means that a sexual assault at a university-affiliated house would be reported via Clery, while an assault on a street in front of that house or at a private party across the street would not.
“The Clery Act served its purpose when it came out, and I think it has some validity, but I think it gives a skewed vision of what’s really happening,” Kaviani said.
A government report released earlier this month, “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action,” found that one in five college women have been sexually assaulted — but only 12 percent of them choose to report it. Applying these statistics to women at Cal Poly sets the expected number of annual reported assaults in the community at approximately 200. But the one-assault-per-year statistics reflected in the campus security reports, as well as Safer’s statistics, are a far cry from that number, partially because of the Clery Act’s location requirements.
Safer crisis counselor Katy Palmer examined the Campus Security Reports, and was one of a handful of students who decided to take action during fall quarter.
“I was outraged that we only had one reported sexual assault in the report last year,” said Palmer, an anthropology and geography senior.
Palmer has worked with survivors of sexual assault at Cal Poly for three years, and was frustrated with the disparity between the number of people she saw and the numbers that made it into official statistics.
“These are the statistics that the general population sees, and it’s things like this that perpetuate victim blaming, slut shaming and brushing this rape culture that is pervasive in our society underneath the rug,” Palmer said. “And I’ve had enough.”
Palmer’s frustration led to the “Break the Silence Coalition,” a group of students and community members committed to reexamining the way Cal Poly reports sexual assaults. The group is still in its preliminary stages, Palmer said, but aims to examine sexual assault policies and Clery reporting procedures at other schools, and then approach the university with potential changes.
“I don’t think it’s a university issue, per se — I think it’s a policy failure in the Clery Act,” Palmer said. “But I do think there are things we could be doing to better represent what actually occurs on this campus.”
The Clery Act was first created in response to the rape and murder of 19-year-old Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery. When signed into law in 1990, it was intended to push universities to give an accurate picture of campus crime.
Kaviani also voiced concerns about the Clery Act. She said Cal Poly could redo the form of reporting in order to more accurately reflect actual sexual violence numbers.
“Cal Poly’s doing a lot of things right,” she said. “But it has a lot of things that it could do better.”
Hughes said the Clery Act mandates that UPD report statistics in a certain way. In 2014, some changes will be made to the report to include more of what Cal Poly does to prevent sexual assault. Hughes also was not entirely opposed to including more statistics in the report – such as Safer’s statistics – to capture more student-on-student crime.
“Could we add another section to the report for other numbers?” he said. “Possibly, but I would have to investigate that.”
A true improvement in the prevalence of sexual assault, however, would require a campus-wide shift in attitude, Kaviani said.
“If we wanted to be up at the area of where our academics are for our student affairs and our social development areas, then I think we have a lot of work to do,” she said.