On Kentucky college campuses, sexual assaults go under-reported in official tallies

University of Kentucky police reported 12 sexual assaults on campus in the 2013-14 school year. The University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University each reported one.

That same year, 67 people came to the UK Violence Intervention and Prevention counseling center to say they'd been victims of sexual assault. At U of L's Prevention, Education and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community center, there were 43. The WKU counseling center saw 21 victims.

The first set of numbers was posted by the U.S. Department of Education as part of the Clery Act, federal reports that use campus data to tell the public about crime on campus. But the official tallies are missing a big part of the picture about campus sexual assault. At Kentucky's public universities that track both sets of data, the gap yawns wide.

"It is a very small slice of what is really going on," UK's VIP Center Director Rhonda Henry said of the Clery reports, which were required in a 1990 law after the 1986 rape and murder of Lehigh University freshman Jeanne Clery.

The counseling center numbers were collected by the Herald-Leader through open records requests to all eight public universities. (Private schools are also required to report crime data to the federal government.) Some universities, like Murray State University, say their counseling center is not required to compile sexual assault numbers, and therefore does not.

However, not even the larger numbers paint a complete picture, given that most experts estimate one in every five college women will be sexually assaulted during their college years.

The gap highlights how complicated the issue of campus sexual assault is and why, despite national attention in the past two years — including a White House summit that led many universities to update their regulations — it's such a difficult problem to solve.

Clery reporting by the police includes only those crimes that take place on campus. The VIP Center and other college counseling centers help anyone, whether the crime took place within the confines of campus or anywhere else. Center counselors guarantee confidentiality and merely explain to victims what their options are.

Most of those victims choose not to report the crime to campus authorities or the police. Nationally, about 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, and that number may be even higher on college campuses.

One reason that so few victims go to campus police or other authorities is because many of them know their attacker, and they worry how they will fare in front of authorities or a school's administrative hearing process. That's despite federal data showing that only between 2 percent and 8 percent of all rape accusations are false.

"There is a huge problem with under-reporting," said UK Vice President of Student Affairs Robert Mock. "Many of them believe the system doesn't believe in them."

One Transylvania University student, who had contacted the Herald-Leader and other media outlets, did report her assault by another student, but says she wouldn't do it again.

"I would say it's not at all surprising that people don't report," the student said. "I had an awful experience at my school and I understand why people wouldn't go through it." (The Herald-Leader does not typically identify sexual assault victims.)

She said that after she reported her experience to the Title IX office, university officials told her not to speak of her experience to anyone, and, before she complained, were going to hold a hearing with her assailant in the room.

Transy officials declined to speak about the student's case, but spokeswoman Michele Sparks said Transy is in compliance with all the new Title IX requirements.

"We are very clear about this and try to be there for our students," she said.

Sparks said the student's hearing was the first one since the new Title IX policies have been put in place.

According to documentation provided by the student, the hearing panel found the accused student to have violated the school's harassment policy.

The U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, which investigates Title IX discrimination complaints, including sexual violence on campus, is now investigating more than 100 universities, many of them prestigious, for how they have failed to deal with issues of sexual assault.

Those processes are highly opaque, with many schools citing federal student confidentiality laws to prevent the release of any detailed information. At UK, for example, an open records request on the number of hearings and the types of punishments for sexual assault offenders between 2011 and 2014 was turned down because there have been less than five and UK officials said the small number might allow for student identification. They did reveal the school had held seven in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The University of Louisville released that it held two hearings last year, and two in 2014-15. At Murray State, however, where police reported 20 sexual offenses in the past two years, no one appears to know how broad the problem is outside the parameters of Clery reporting.

"It's hard to get a grasp on the problem, when no one knows how often it happens or how often it's punished on college campuses," said Gretchen Hunt, attorney for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, the coalition of 13 rape crisis centers in Kentucky.

"Numbers are what we're all wanting, along with more qualitative data," Hunt said. "We don't know the outcomes on college campuses — that's been the hardest information for anyone to get."

'A lot more incidents than we see'

Eastern Kentucky University's numbers come from a survey, which reflect even higher numbers — possibly those students who never report an assault to anyone, even a counselor.

From July 1, 2014, through April 30, a total of 157 students, or 28 percent of those surveyed in a confidential counseling center intake form, answered yes to the following question: "someone had sexual contact with you without your consent (e.g. you were afraid to stop what was happening, passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, asleep, threatened, or physically forced)." That might include before college as well.

EKU's Title IX coordinator, Sarah Zeigler, said Clery reporting is very different from a confidential reporting option.

"I think it is useful for the public to know about under-reporting," Zeigler said. "There are going to be a lot more incidents than we see on a Clery report."

There are numerous reasons people don't report these crimes to officials.

"It's especially not unusual on a college campus, where you have to live where your rapist lives," Hunt said. "You get the feeling that harm comes to those who report."

Getting better data is part of a national conversation, said David Perry, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

"The conversation is ongoing with policy makers about making sure we report in one unified way where our statistics mean the same things," he said. "But also we're looking at how do you create an environment where victims feel comfortable and empowered enough to come forward?"

Creating a safe place

One of those spaces might be UK's VIP Center, a brightly lit space in the basement of Frazee Hall, filled with tables for chatting and rooms for more serious talk.

Director Rhonda Henry knows all too well the reasons that students don't report sexual assault — alcohol and a known perpetrator, which can bring ambivalence about reporting the crime. National headlines tell numerous stories of universities that appear to be more concerned about protecting their reputation than in punishing student assailants, places where officials have even talked students out of pressing charges.

"That has been shocking, how many prominent schools have failed to protect their students," Henry said.

She offers a safe, confidential place for students to talk about their traumas, independent of the university. Henry offers them the choices, going to police, or going to university administrators for a hearing, or both.

"I want to see every perpetrator go to jail, but that may not be the right choice for the victim," she said.

The VIP Center was recognized by the White House for its efforts to stop sexual violence and held up as a model of campus prevention.

Henry gives credit to former UK president Lee Todd and Carol Jordan, then-director of UK's Center for Research on Violence Against Women, who in 2004 released some shocking data about women's safety on campus. More than a third of women surveyed said they had been victimized in some way on campus, and a mere 2.5 percent of rape victims had ever reported the crime. In 2007, the reporting rate had gone up to 9 percent.

"That was a turning point," Henry said. "He did not try to hide that information."

Part of UK's response was the creation of the VIP Center. But despite its recognized success, only two other schools in Kentucky have such independent specialized centers, U of L and NKU. At all other schools, victims go to the regular counseling centers.

NKU recently used a federal grant to establish the Norse Violence Protection Center, said Ann James, the school's Title IX coordinator.

"Not only does it create a dedicated space, it sends a message to the community that we have this place that you can go if this happens," she said.

She said one additional worry for students is social media, which can provide more trauma if the story gets out.

"We do fear for that retaliation," she said. "Although if a student retaliates they can face additional charges."

Making changes on campus

Nationally, the White House task force has pushed numerous changes in both prevention and due process. In addition, an amendment to the Clery Act will expand reporting beyond campus, and require more detailed numbers of assault, domestic violence and stalking.

UK, for example, is now requiring an online training program called HAVEN, which students have to complete before they can register for classes. Officials are also doing a new campus safety survey.

They've also tightened up the hearing process. If a student brings sexual misconduct charges against another student, it automatically kicks a 60-day process through the Student Affairs and Title IX offices. Those administrators will investigate the claims and hold hearings with testimony from both sides (although the accuser and accused do not have to face each other.)

Hearing officers could order a no-contact order between a victim and assailant, or expel a student if they feel there is enough proof of the crime.

The burden of proof is 51 percent. This puts it at odds with criminal courts where there must be proof "beyond a reasonable doubt," which brings its own set of problems.

For example, last year, UK football player Lloyd Tubman was accused of rape in a UK dorm. His case followed two tracks, one through the criminal courts and one through the university hearing. UK would not comment on the hearing's outcome, although Tubman is no longer enrolled at UK and his mother told the Herald-Leader she was disappointed in the student hearing.

Later, the Fayette County grand jury declined to indict Tubman in the case.

UK's Mock, who was commenting generally on the two-track system, not on the Tubman case, said "that is going to happen over and over again. "The two tracks will start at the same time, but they won't finish at the same time and they may not have the same result."

Schools are also looking at better education programs. One of the most popular programs is called Green Dot. It was created by former UK researcher Dorothy Edwards, and is aimed at bystander prevention efforts. For example, if a student sees a friend who is too drunk to walk but is leaving a party with someone she just met, they could intervene directly or get help somewhere else.

This approach takes the pressure off victims, and puts it on the whole community, which will help change the culture, experts say.

In that vein, UK and many other schools have changed their policies on "no means no" to "yes means yes." Such affirmative consent policies mean "an unambiguous and voluntary expression of willingness, permission, or agreement to engage in specific sexual activity throughout a sexual encounter." That means anyone who is impaired cannot consent.

"This provides more clarity," Mock said of UK's policy. "Someone is agreeing to participate as opposed to just declining an opportunity. There's a greater level of consent and understanding."

Many survivor advocates say they see improvements, thanks to the push by the White House and other high profile groups. But at the VIP Center, one of the counselors, Alexandra Fields, says she thinks the topic needs to be more in the open in order for more students to feel comfortable about coming forward.

There's still an attitude of "if we ignore it, it will go away," she said, "I think sometimes for students that's what it is, and I think there's also some fear and intimidation that if we speak up and speak against it and share our true feelings, then we're not going to have support."