Lack of awareness: the uncharted rape statistics

Last week, I wrote about sexual assault on campus in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This week, I want to talk specifically about USF. In terms of awareness, I think the biggest issue we have here is a rift in the collective consciousnesses of the student body and police administration: neither fully appreciates the position of the other.

I mass e-mailed a brief questionnaire about campus safety (specifically in regards to sexual violence) to my classmates in each of the five classes I am taking this semester, approximately 450 students. The classes were each in a different department of Arts and Sciences, and, at least visually, represent a wide diversity of class standings, gender, nationality, sexuality and interests.

Perhaps the most striking bit of information to come from these seven-question surveys was that students at USF, on a whole, are apathetic about the topic of rape and sexual assault. I got an overwhelming total of (drum roll, please) 43 anonymous responses, or about 10 percent of those polled. Even accounting for people who don’t check their school accounts, automatically delete mass e-mails or have dropped the class since the drop deadline, that’s a whole lotta obliviousness. I want to thank the 43 that did reply for being brave and honest and for helping a fellow student out. The things that they had to say are, if not perfectly representative, at least compelling.

Women made up the vast majority of the respondents, with 40 replies. Almost uniformly, the three men that did answer didn’t see a problem. They felt they were safe alone on campus, even at nighttime and were unanimously unaware of the University Police or Advocacy Program’s roles in supporting victims of assault.

The women disagreed. Some 21 percent didn’t “feel safe” on campus. Over half (63 percent) felt uneasy only or especially at nighttime — one junior psych major claimed “campus is creepy after dark.” On the other hand, a sophomore psych major — and a resident, at that — claimed to feel “genuinely safe” at any time on campus. The majority, however, complained about the easy accessibility of campus to non-students, the bad lighting in open areas, the long distances from parking lots to classes/dorms, the relative inaccessibility of the Safe Ride program and the blue emergency stations being disabled. These results encompassed both resident and commuter students.

In regard to sexual assault, an alarming bit of information emerged. Three female students claimed to have been “sexually harassed or assaulted” (my words) and reported it. And an equal number claimed to have not reported it. The “reported it” camp contained one rape victim, who, understandably, declined to comment otherwise. To satisfy my own curiosity, I asked students if they knew how many assaults had been reported to University Police between 2000-2002 (if you read last week, you’ll remember that it was under 15), and, if not, to “guess-timate” how many. To my consternation, Responses ranged from 5 to 200, with an average of 55.25. In all, a whole range of answers, a lot of which were really high numbers, which tells me that people (mostly women) on campus don’t feel safe.

It’s no one’s place to say that 13 assaults over three years is a “high” or “low” number, but it certainly isn’t 200, so why is our perception of safety on campus much lower than the statistical reality? The University Police doesn’t seem to know, but they are definitely concerned. Visiting the UP office, I found a number of very well-written and informative pieces of literature on safety and sexual violence that were not only exhaustive, preventative and sensible but respectful of women and sensitive also.

The UP certainly isn’t apathetic about campus safety. Voicing some of the students’ concerns to Sgt. Mike Klingebiel, a spokesman for UP, I can say truthfully that there wasn’t one that he didn’t go over with me exhaustively, making this skeptic feel pretty reassured. Ironically, one of the most interesting things we talked about was the afore-maligned security stations — which are apparently very high-tech doodads that, on top of being monitored 24/7 for function and capability, also run the university a cool $1,500 each.

USF is “committed to safety,” Sgt. Klingebiel emphasized again and again — not only publishing crime statistics for years before federal law mandated so, but keeping these statistics up-to-date and available, in the interest of producing “more educated, more wary students and staff members.”

If anything, he says, students (despite claiming to be paranoid) need to use the same “goodcommon sense” on campus that they’d use on any public street — and not feel invulnerable. Klingebiel stressed the resources available through the Advocacy programs and the support of the UP, both emotional and legal.

Sexual violence victimizes a whole network of people, from the victims right down to everyone who knows and loves them. Luckily, the issue doesn’t have to be monolithic; we can all work to make things better, first by making ourselves more informed and aware, both of what’s out there and who’s on our side.