By LUKE HILLMER
The UMW Department of Public Safety reported that there has been a substantial increase in on-campus rapes over the past three years.
According to the 2018 Annual Security Report, 2017 saw 16 reported incidents of rape on campus, compared to 11 cases in 2016, and eight cases in 2015.
This data is similar to that of other colleges. Christopher Newport University’s annual security report, for example, showed a similar trend, with a total of 33 instances of rape reported in 2017, over double the amount that was reported in 2015. University of Virginia’s security report also showed similar numbers with 16 reported instances in 2017, compared to 2015’s seven instances.
“It begs the question,” said UMW Campus Police Chief, Michael Hall, “is the problem actually any worse than it was in 2015, or have there been shifts in society that make… survivors feel more comfortable to come forward with their concerns, incidents, and stories of what has taken place?”
Hall was unable to definitively interpret the statistic.
“I don’t have the answer,” he said. “I think that the educational part that we’ve done with [Title IX Coordinators] Tiffany Oldfield and Marissa Miller [has helped]. The awareness of educational programs and the #MeToo movement has brought more people out and comfortable in telling their story. ”
Sophomore business administration major Darlene Nugysha agreed.
“I definitely think that people are becoming more comfortable in talking about it. It’s good that people are talking about it because that makes us more aware. People need to be more aware of what’s happening.”
Title IX coordinator Tiffany Oldfield said that the Title IX program has been working to encourage more people to report rape by increasing the program’s presence on campus. They recently moved into Fairfax House which is designed to be more welcoming to students. They are also working with professors to speak at guest lectures in classes and hosting new events on campus.
“If students are familiar with us and the work our office does, they are more likely to come talk with us,” Oldfield said. “Survivors often feel like they are alone after an assault; we are trying to make it feel normal and healthy to talk about relationships, trauma, and healing on campus.”
The security report also found that 15 of the 16 cases of forcible rape that occurred last year happened in a dormitory or other residential facility on campus. Michael Hall is open to the idea of increasing dorm security but is unsure if it is a viable solution.
“I would entertain suggestions, but a kickback on that is: how much liberty do you want to give up?” he said. “For instance with cameras, we put cameras up all around the exterior, but what about the interior? Do we put cameras in the hallways like in motel rooms? Now, I’m not necessarily an advocate for that. Right now we put locks on doors, we have swipe cards, but what else can we do?”
Junior Spanish and elementary education major Alyssa Wenklar said she was similarly unconvinced.
“This isn’t a problem that is unique to Mary Washington,” she said. “I’m moderately afraid of the outdoors at night, and I don’t really like to wander around much alone, but it’s difficult: if we have increased security inside of dorms that’s sort of an invasion of privacy.”
Freshman biology major, Trisha Fonseca agreed.
“I definitely don’t think cameras should be put in dorms, it’s a place of privacy, a home away from home,” she said. “But there should be some sort of rule applied because it’s shocking to hear that 15 out of 16 occurred in dorms. Maybe same-sex dorms will decrease it?”
Throughout the year, the Office of Title IX and the Center for Prevention and Education provide numerous prevention and awareness programs for both residential and non-residential students. This year, Title IX introduced a new bystander intervention program, called “Step Up!” to provide tools to the UMW community on how to safely and effectively intervene if they witness sexual violence.
“One of the problems with sexually-based crimes in residence halls is that it often happens behind closed doors, and people think that what happens behind closed doors is none of their business,” said Oldfield.“Bystander intervention tells people that it is their responsibility to keep an eye out for their fellow Eagles both on and off-campus. We hope that students will become more aware of the warning signs of potential abuse or violence and feel more comfortable helping or asking for help.”