By Andrew Schmertz
Laura Luciano has worked in the Victim Assistance Office of Rutgers University for 15 years. She says the university has made tremendous progress is bringing sexual assault out of the darkness.
“What we’re seeing now is that students are more willing to speak publicly about their experience and so that is creating a space where it’s not shameful any more, it’s not embarrassing. That survivors can come forward and say, ‘Yes, this has happened to me,'” Luciano said.
Still, the report from the U.S. Department of Education is eye-opening. It notes that there were 84 reported cases of rape among New Jersey’s four-year colleges in 2014, 32 of them at Rutgers –the seventh most in the nation. Rowan University reported seven and Ramapo, Stockton and William Paterson — six.
Patricia Teffenhart heads the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which works closely with the state university. She says the federal report actually shows that schools are doing their job better.
“We recognize that college campuses are a microcosm of society and we know that sexual assault and rape is the most under-reported crimes. So when we hear that students are feeling comfortable coming forward and disclosing, to us that says that there are campuses that are doing things right,” she said.
Rutgers says that the report doesn’t tell the whole story. While the total number of reported rapes is among the highest in the country, this campus is also among the largest campuses in the country. When you factor that in, the overall standing is much lower.
It works out to 0.7 attacks per 1,000 students.
In a statement, the university says, “Rutgers was appointed by the White House to develop a model for colleges to assess and combat sexual assault. For more than two decades, Rutgers University has been recognized as a national leader in sexual assault prevention and victim assistance.”
At Rowan University, advocates point out that the schools are educating their students that sexual assault impacts everyone.
“Sexual violence is a public health epidemic and really starts long before students come on campus. And it’s not just a female issue, it’s a male and an issue for LBGTQ communities,” said Amy Hoch, associate director at the counseling center at Rowan University.
New federal guidelines now require that colleges and universities report the number of alleged rapes on campus along with other types of sexual assaults. So the numbers may continue to go up — driving home the point that campus rape is no longer something that can be hidden away.