For those who have been victims of sexual misconduct, "coming forward is not easy," University of Central Arkansas President Houston Davis said in an email to all students, faculty and staff members.
Writing after two reports of campus sexual assault in recent weeks -- one leading to the arrest of a student on a rape charge -- Davis said Wednesday that the school "must continue to encourage a campus environment that empowers survivors and bystanders to come forward during these times and provide resources to support them."
Campus crime data released by the six largest Arkansas universities show fewer than 20 sexual assaults reported in 2016 at schools with a combined enrollment of more than 80,000 students.
The totals may not reflect the full extent of campus sexual assaults, however, according to some researchers, advocacy groups and those on campus who respond to the reports.
"From what I understand, there are far more of these incidents that happen than are reported. I think that's nationwide," said Michael Hopper, a UCA campus police officer and department spokesman.
Federal law requires schools to publish annually by today a security report listing the number of crimes occurring on campus, including sexual assaults. The reports generally do not include off-campus crime totals involving students.
Anne Hedgepeth, interim vice president of public policy and government relations for the American Association of University Women, said that underreporting of sexual assaults should be a concern for colleges and universities.
"Students may wonder who they can go to, and they may be afraid to come forward if they don't know what will happen when they do," said Hedgepeth, adding that it's important for schools to educate students about what resources and support are available for victims of assault.
For 2016, UCA reported four sexual assaults, up from two the previous year. Hopper said the number of sexual assaults reported in 2017 so far is on pace to be close to last year's total.
The American Association of University Women, a Washington, D.C.-based group, last year analyzed 2015 campus data and found that 89 percent of college campuses disclosed no reported rapes, which Hedgepeth called a "red flag."
Hedgepeth cited surveys of college students showing a higher rate of sexual assaults. A survey released in 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice found that, for nine colleges included in the survey, on average 20.5 percent of undergraduate women said they had been sexually assaulted since enrolling in college.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the state's largest university with about 27,500 students and 5,700 living in campus residence halls, reported five rapes on campus property, down from seven a year earlier.
As part of a campus survey done by UA in February and March, students were asked, "Have you experienced sexual contact without your consent since you became a student at this school?" A total of 266 students answered yes, or 15 percent out of 1,772 who answered the question.
A total of 2,830 students participated in some portion of what UA called a confidential "campus climate" survey administered online, with women making up about 67 percent of the total number of respondents. Another survey is planned for the 2018-19 academic year, said UA-Fayetteville spokesman Mark Rushing.
The annual security reports, also known as Clery reports, typically are several dozen pages with information for students about options for reporting crimes and available resources, such as counseling.
Arkansas State University listed seven sex offenses in 2016, up from three in 2015.
"We believe that the fact that we have begun more education and an awareness campaign, that that has enabled victims to feel like they can come forward," said ASU spokesman Bill Smith.
After a reported sexual assault in February at an on-campus fraternity and the arrest of a student on charges of rape and aggravated assault, the university put "a pause on Greek life activities for several weeks," Smith said. Fraternity social activity has resumed, with the school since stepping up education efforts to prevent sexual assault, Smith said.
Three of the state's largest universities by enrollment -- Arkansas Tech University, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith -- listed no rapes. UALR listed a report of fondling.
Arkansas Tech, which has about 2,800 students in university housing, "engages in an ongoing process of educating its students, faculty and staff about sexual assault as well as the proper procedures and resources that are available for victims of sexual assault," Sam Strasner, an Arkansas Tech spokesman, said in an email.
Schools listed few violent crimes. UA listed five aggravated assaults in 2016. An aggravated assault is defined as an attack "for the purpose of inflicting severe or aggravated bodily injury" and often involves the use of a weapon, the Fayetteville campus's report states.
One of the cases involved a report of a vehicle speeding toward pedestrians, according to UA Police Department records, while in another, a student reported an assault after someone entered his room and discharged a fire extinguisher. Two cases involved nonstudents in woods off the main campus, while details were unavailable for another case.
Changes in federal law required colleges and universities to begin in 2014 including data on dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.
At UCA, stalking reports increased to seven in 2016, up from two the previous year.
Stalking often goes unreported, said Patrick Brady, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of West Georgia who has studied stalking and the response by police.
"A lot of times college students, they don't want to involve the police, they just want the behavior to stop," Brady said. He said students are more likely to turn to friends or family for help first.
The crime can be terrifying, Brady said.
"When universities are getting reports of stalking, it's generally going to be a very serious thing that's going on and the victim needs help," Brady said.
Olivia Cleveland, 22, said she was stalked while a student at the University of Central Arkansas but did not go to police.
"It just seemed like as a woman at UCA, if something like that happened to you, there wasn't that much you could do about it and there wasn't much use in going to the police about it," said Cleveland, who last attended UCA in 2016.
Told of the president's email message, Cleveland said, "I would like it not to just be a public declaration that doesn't have any backing to it, but I think it's a really good step forward to at least address it."
Metro on 10/01/2017
Print Headline: Colleges report fewer than 20 sex crimes