By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Bucknell University documented nine forcible sex offenses in its 2012 Clery Act report, all taking place on campus and in student housing facilities.
The number is higher than those reported in 2011 and 2010, when the Lewisburg school documented five sex offenses on campus each year, including three in student housing in 2011 and two in student housing in 2010.
But the increase, experts in the field say, is a positive sign in the math that constitutes sexual-offense reporting.
In fact, a higher number would be even better, said Kristen Houser, vice president of public relations for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Enola. Statistically, one in four college-aged women experience sexual assault or an attempt.
“If you look just statistically at that number and the number of students enrolled at a school, it tells you any number is under-reporting of what’s happening on campus,” Houser said. “We know that to be true just talking to rape crisis centers” or even victims of assault 20 or more years later.
In campus sexual assault reporting and recording, higher numbers mean more victims are coming forward in what they believe is a better, safer environment for them to do so, Houser said.
Bucknell has made a better climate a priority, Houser said, noting she is familiar with the school’s efforts on sexual assault prevention and has heard positive things about it.
For instance, the school is known for its work with Transitions, a Valley rape crisis center, she said, and has conducted surveys that found high rates of assault or attempts that were not reported.
“We work very closely with Bucknell,” said Susan Mathias, executive director of Transitions, which provides programs and services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes in Union, Snyder and Northumberland counties.
Transitions is part of the campus community response team, Mathias said, that includes the Buffalo Valley Regional Police, Bucknell’s Public Safety Department and Tracy Russell, director of the Women’s Resource Center.
“It speaks very highly for Bucknell to do something about this,” Mathias said, noting particularly the Justice Department grant of nearly $300,000 the school was awarded a year ago for sexual assault prevention measures.
“I would like to see that expand to include all of Union County.”
“It’s encouraging,” Mathias said. “There’s plenty of work to be done. There are sexual assaults occurring. There hasn’t been one conviction in the county in very long time. It’s not just a matter of it happening on campuses.”
A higher number of reports indicates “a broken silence and people talking about it,” said Allison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus in Wayne.
Where to go, how to get help, victims are “coming forward and being treated fairly and equitably.”
Kiss explained a Clery Act report has four categories for crime occurrences: on campus, student housing facility, non-campus building or property and public property.
“On campus” includes student housing, and 2012, Bucknell reported nine forcible sex offenses on campus. All the events occurred in student housing facilities, so that column also lists nine incidents.
“Non-campus” property can include places where classes are held off-campus or in private student housing, and “public property” includes parking lots, sidewalks, parks and anything around the parameter of a school, Kiss said. There are zeroes in those columns for Bucknell’s 2012 report.
It is impossible to determine what factors made for the increase in numbers from 2011 to 2012, but “I’m hopeful the increase in reported offenses is an indicator that we’re making progress in creating an environment that encourages victims to come forward, which would be a positive step,” Bucknell spokesman Andy Hirsch said.
“That’s the one kind of PR we hope to get out there: Higher numbers are not necessarily a bad thing,” Kiss said.
Unreliable sources have tried to rank institutions based on the numbers, “and it’s misleading,” she said. Rape, in fact “is the most under-reported crime in the general public as well as on a campus.”