GVSU sees largest decrease of reported on-campus rapes among Michigan public universities

GVL/Hannah Zajac -- Grand Valley Students walking to class & enjoying the fall scenary on 3 Oct 2017.

Hannah Zajac

GVL/Hannah Zajac — Grand Valley Students walking to class & enjoying the fall scenary on 3 Oct 2017.

Arpan Lobo

Grand Valley State University saw the largest decrease in reports of on-campus rape among public universities in Michigan from 2015 to 2016, according to university crime statistics. The federal Clery Act required public institutions to release campus crime statistics Sunday, Oct. 1.

Nine out of 15 public universities in Michigan saw increased reports of rape in 2016. Michigan State University saw the largest increase in reports, as the East Lansing-based university reported 85 reports of rape in 2016. However, 63 of those reports occurred from the case surrounding Dr. Larry Nassar, a former MSU employee who was fired after accusations of rape during his tenure at the university. Because the accusers came forward in 2016, all of the disclosures were accounted for that year.

Eastern Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University, University of Michigan-Flint, Ferris State University, Saginaw Valley State University, Lake Superior State University and Michigan Technological University were the other institutions to see increased numbers of reported rapes from 2015 to 2016.

It is worth noting that for GVSU, the Clery Act only required reports of instances that occurred on the Allendale and Pew campuses. Any incidents that took place outside of the campuses, such as in any apartment buildings west of 48th Avenue or in between Allendale and Grand Rapids, were not accounted for.

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of disclosures. However, those disclosures are not occurring on the Clery geography around the campus,” said Capt. Brandon DeHaan of the GVSU Police Department. “The software that Title IX uses to track these particular incidents has been increased.”

This means that while GVSU has seen an increase in the amount of disclosures, the majority of those disclosures are occurring off campus. 

Before the current sexual assault reporting software was implemented in 2016, there was a greater likelihood of duplicate reports being filed. The majority of university employees are considered “responsible employees,” meaning that they are required to file reports of sexual assault to GVSU’s Title IX office. If a victim of sexual assault were to disclose the incident to multiple people, more than one report of the same assault could be created.

“Some of those reports may not contain personalized information,” DeHaan said. “So it’s very difficult to be able to track and determine whether or not an incident has been reported by someone else.

“Part of the software is much more robust now. … We’ve been able to identify some of these duplicate reports.”

According to GVSU’s 2017 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report (ASFSR), there were 15 reported on-campus rapes in 2015 and three in 2016. Four of the incidents that were reported in 2015 actually occurred in 2014, however.

“That doesn’t mean that in 2015 the number that we had reported out (contained) duplicates in there,” DeHaan said. “I cannot explain whether there are duplicates or not. What I can say is that we’ve identified duplicates, and we believe the (new) software is there to help eliminate those duplicates.”

DeHaan believes GVSU’s impetus on educating students and faculty on sexual assault may have played a role in the decrease.

“Sexual assault is the most underreported of all criminal activity,” he said. “My sense about this, with the advent of updating and training surrounding campus security authorities, as well as university initiatives to go out and afford education to our campus community, specifically our students, I have to believe that there’s been some type of impact in the education component.

“We know that based on education, you can begin to change the paradigm surrounding any type of issue, including sexual assault. I cannot empirically say that because of the education component that we are seeing a reduction, but one has to suspect that to be the case.”

While the Clery Act does not include disclosures and reports from incidents that occurred off campus, DeHaan does find that the GVSU community’s response to the issue has been positive.

“Our community is responding,” he said. “Our community is responding by indicating that when there is a disclosure, that information goes to the appropriate venue, which is Title IX, and that the victim survivors of those particular instances are beginning to receive resource information.

“I think that’s really what the important thing is here.”

Theresa Rowland, the Title IX coordinator at GVSU, echoed DeHaan’s sentiment on reporting disclosures.

“We continue to encourage reporting,” she said in a previous interview with the Lanthorn.  

The Title IX office website includes options for reporting incidents. DeHaan believes that GVSU has taken the right steps to combat sexual assault on campus.

“Again, what could happen next year, I don’t know,” he said. “But I am in a position where I think the education component has perhaps the most important part, and that’s the reason why the university has responded by offering this education component to not only faculty and staff but also to students here on the campus.”