Discourse / Editorials / November 5, 2014

Thoughts from the embers: Continue to release sexual assault data

The need for more transparency in how schools deal with sexual assault has never been clearer. One area that often gets overlooked on the crusade for this transparency is policy surrounding the release of outcomes of sexual assault cases. Statistics surrounding the reporting of sexual assaults on campus –and their resulting findings – have been crucial in breaking open abuses by administrations at other campuses across the nation. We feel that the release of these statistics not only provides an important check on the administration, but also marks a crucial milestone in the multifaceted fight against rape culture on college campuses.

Last week, TKS published a rundown of the resolutions to sexual assault cases reported in the 2013-14 academic year. We have had interest in getting these numbers since last year, when the previous editor-in-chief made a formal request for the information. When we met with the administration at the end of Spring Term last year, many members of the administration expressed concern about publishing the results to sexual assault cases out of fear that the respondent and therefore possibly the victim could be identified, given Knox’s small size. Thankfully, Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader took the time to compile these results and release them to TKS on the condition that they be run verbatim.

We implore our readers to take a close look at the statement issued, as it does provide a look into the school’s handling of cases and provides context for what the administration’s proposed policy changes would be affecting. At some level, we are happy to see that many cases are being taken seriously. With the amount of disciplinary actions and severity of some of the punishments, we know at the very least that the school is responding to some serious accusations with more than a slap on the wrist. However, the problem remains that this set of statistics only provides a snapshot of a much larger picture; the overall picture only becomes visible with more data.

Take Knox’s Clery Act data, which was provided at the beginning of last month, for example. The college reported that for the 2013 calendar year there were eight sexual assaults that took place. Compare this to last week’s statement that “In the academic year 2013-14 the College received 20 reports of student on student sexual assaults.” The discrepancy between the figures could stem from a few different factors, including the difference in time periods and the fact that Clery Act data only accounts for crimes that occur on campus property and the surrounding walkways. Thus, even if the school complies to the Clery Act to the absolute best of its abilities, some sexual assaults (even those occurring between current students) will be excluded from the Clery data.

While the “watchdog” side of journalism – and in this case campus activism –feeds off of the abillity to look into instances where the school could be falling short of its obligations, the bigger issue at stake is just how difficult it is for survivors to file a report with the school.

Setting aside the vast amount of personal trauma that must be relived when formally filing for an investigation, the social stigma surrounding sexual assault isolates survivors, making it just that much harder to report. Thus, we feel an obligation to do what we can to ensure a culture that neither silences the voices of survivors nor fosters an obligation to come forward before an individual is ready. Statistics are crucial to this process. Providing more information on sexual assaults on our campus gives an unfortunately clear picture of how common a problem sexual violence is. Survivors are not alone on campus, yet the narrow restrictions of the Clery Act make it appear as if the problem is not as widespread. Additionally, we have pursued the outcomes of cases to give hope to survivors that some perpetrators are being punished. We publish, in our Campus Safety Log, when sexual assaults are reported and feel that the campus deserves to know what action has been taken by the school.

We will continue to push for more statistics in addition to remaining ever conscious of our reporting on sexual assault and related issues on campus. As always, we welcome voices that might be able to help us improve on this matter.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  clery act embers rape culture sexual assault statistics survivor transparency

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