The number of reported sexual assaults of university students in Oxford has increased five-fold since 2008, according to crime reports from the University Police Department. Though the cause of the increase is not known, some officials say an increase in survivors reporting the assaults and not just an increase in incidents contributed to the rise.
During the past 10 years, 143 sexual assaults have been reported to UPD, with the highest rates on campus occurring at Crosby Hall and Stockard Hall.
“Our main focus is training to make sure that people know what their resources are on campus, that they can report to Title IX (or other resources),” Title IX Coordinator Honey Ussery said. “Seeing an increase in numbers is not necessarily a bad thing.”
The years of increased reporting coincide with a concerted effort to encourage dialogue about and end the stigma surrounding sexual assault. At the center of this effort is the student organization Rebels Against Sexual Assault, which was founded in 2015.
“I think the increase in reporting is good, and I think that’s because the university has been doing a lot trying to prevent sexual assault on campus and (because) the culture around reporting has improved,” RASA President Colleen Fay said.
The university’s process of promoting openness in reporting and discussing sexual assault has bleen a long one. Lt. Jeremy Cook, who has been with UPD since 2009, said the number of programs reaching out to students to prevent and track sexual assaults has risen since he joined the force.
“In the past, we may have only had four or five (reports) per year, but there were way more happening. People just weren’t coming in and reporting it because they may have not trusted the police,” Cook said. “We want to tell them, ‘Hey, come talk to us. You can trust us.’ We need to know when it’s happening because we want to get the perpetrator off the streets if we can.”
UPD has offered sexual assault prevention training and personal safety tips, as well as self-defense training for students, since Cook joined the force. These programs have changed over time to attract more students and become more effective, according to Cook.
Since RASA was founded, there has been an increase in programs across campus to encourage reporting. These include UPD partnering with RASA, housing, Rebel Patrol, SafeRide and the LiveSafe app.
“We’re always looking for different ways to partner with people,” Cook said. “If they say, ‘Hey, can we do this with you all?’ we never turn them down.”
The numerous partnerships have worked, according to Cook.
“Victims were coming in willingly to talk to us, even if they didn’t want to press charges,” Cook said. “They were coming in willingly just so we could have our numbers, so the numbers look more like our population.”
Going forward, Ussery hopes to decrease the number of actual assaults.
“Over time, we’d love to get the number to zero,” she said. “But if it’s happening, we want to make sure that we get those resources to our students.