National report: majority of campus crimes go unreported
Two out of three crimes on college campuses are not reported.
The National Crime Victimization Survey, released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in December of last year, found that only 34 percent of violent crimes on campuses were brought to the attention of college security or local police in 1995-2000. Eighty-six percent of sexual assaults and rapes were not reported.
According to Bruce Boucher, Bowdoin's Director of Security, students may be less likely to report crimes for a number of reasons.
"Sexual assaults are probably reported less because 99 percent are acquaintance-type assaults, where the victim knows the attacker," he said. "The victim may feel guilt and doesn't want to get the person in trouble."
"[It] is something we struggle with each year," Assistant Director of Security Louanne Dustin-Hunter said. "Women often feel like they are somehow responsible for the act. There is the embarrassment, shame; a whole host of emotions that might cause women to not want to report the crime."
According to the survey, non-strangers committed 74 percent of the rape and sexual assaults against college students in 1995-2000.
"Though it is is true that underreporting of sexual assault is a national problem, I think Bowdoin students feel especially concerned about their loss of privacy and dignity if they report," said Karin Clough, director of the Women's Resource Center at Bowdoin.
"Non-reporting, however, only allows perpetrators to feel invincible, makes survivors feel more isolated and ashamed, and allows the community at large to feel that 'nothing like that happens here.'"
In incidents of other crimes like theft, Boucher said that the stolen items' value is a factor. "Fifty dollars in cash taken from a senior citizen is different than $50 to a stockbroker. It depends on the circumstances."
Dustin-Hunter theorized that hectic schedules also affect the reporting rate. "The more minor crimes are underreported because students are very busy," she said. "Reporting incidents to Security and/or the police takes time. There is also the possibility of having to testify in court."
According to Security, there were few unusual incidents to report. Campus crime statistics for 2003 were on par with previous semesters.
"The fall was comparable with recent years," Dustin-Hunter said. "We have been trying to get more information out to the student body, so it may seem like more has happened this year...we try to put out security alerts as often as necessary."
Boucher indicated that crime statistics for Bowdoin compare with the ones presented in the BJS study. "We fit into the profile," he said.
Bowdoin also measures up with other small liberal arts colleges in New England. A comparison of 2000-2002 crime statistics for Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Hamilton, Middlebury, and Williams showed that Bowdoin had-by far-the lowest number of incidents associated with liquor on campus. Burglary, sexual assault, and vehicle theft numbers were similar.
Despite the relatively flat level of campus crime, Security continues to encourage members of the Bowdoin community to report incidents. "Once someone has been made a victim, it could be a continuing trend. If we can warn the rest of the community, we want the information," Boucher said.
He said that Security is more concerned with obtaining facts in a timely manner than with a victim's identity, and that crime reporting can be completely confidential. "It's called 'blind reporting,'" he said. "If people don't want to leave their names, they don't have to."
"I strongly encourage any student who has been assaulted to report to the dean's office or Security and to seek appropriate medical care immediately," Clough said. "It is crucial for students to understand their options and to receive the support they need and deserve.
"At the very least, I hope students will use the anonymous report forms found at the dean's office, the health center, the Women's Resource Center, and inside every student handbook so college officials will be aware of incidences of assault, and may be able to do more to prevent [it]," she continued.
Mary Pat McMahon, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, asserted that students should not hesitate to report incidents in which drinking was involved. "It's not about the alcohol," she said. "Our primary concern is someone's health. We would much rather help sort things out-it isn't about punishing someone. We do everything we can to be confidential with a person and work with students to get them some resources."
In efforts to stay on top of campus trends, Bowdoin's security team cooperates with other schools. "The campus security directors of all the colleges in Maine meet once a month," Boucher said.
He also meets monthly with security heads from Colby and Bates. "We share information and see what's going on, if there are any trends we can compare," he said.
Effects of the murder of Colby student Dawn Rossignol last year were felt in Brunswick. Boucher said that call traffic increased as community members and parents expressed concern, and participation also rose in the Rape Agression Defense (RAD) classes offered on campus.
"We have seen an increase in interest since the abduction and murder at Colby," Dustin-Hunter said. "We are actually doing a RAD class for Colby right now. They do not have an active program, so we offered our services."
Security does not expect any significant deviations from normal campus crime rates in the spring term. Interestingly, Boucher said that the weather-something on the minds of many these days as frigid temperatures continue-affects the kinds of crimes committed. "Right now, people are in their rooms more, so you see less theft," he said. "Once it warms up, we expect to see more theft because people are outside moving about and more active."
Boucher added that Security is moving into the newer realm of emergency-scenario planning since September 11.
"We're doing a lot more risk management," he said. "We're doing systematic analyses of situations so that when we determine something to be a risk, we can put procedures into place."
"Each individual department on campus has been broken down to look at specifics; what different things we would do based on the threat level," he said. "For instance, the Office of Communications has expanded its capability to get information to parents and students through the web. With the capabilities we have now, it is much easier to reach a large audience faster by using the internet on campus. We have developed a system to get messages out."
The advent of information technology has also spawned a new concern for Security: computer crime. "People on campus have been harassed through email and instant messaging," Boucher said. "We have had some problems with people from the local community coming on campus to use Bowdoin's computers to commit computer related crimes."
In those cases, Security works with Bowdoin's Information Technology (IT) department. "Our policy is that if someone uses a computer as a method of commiting a crime, we apply specific parts of our network policy to address this improper use," Boucher said.
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