This school year, Miami University is seeing a decrease in the number of sexual offenses reported by students, a downturn some administrators are attributing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There have been 27 reported sexual offenses — including rape, assault and stalking — and incidents of domestic and dating violence on campus since Aug. 2020, compared to 77 reported sexual offenses in 2019.
Of this year’s 27 reported offenses, students have only been notified via email about four by the Miami University Police Department (MUPD).
However, a campus safety bulletin is not always issued when a crime is reported.
According to the MUPD’s Safety Bulletins webpage, a campus-wide safety bulletin is issued if the incident “constitutes an on-going serious or continuing threat to the campus community.”
Sexual offenses are “considered on a case-by-case basis” because they are often reported weeks, months or years after the incident initially occurred.
Josie Carter, junior psychology major and president of Sexual Assault Survivors Support (SASS), noticed the decrease in safety bulletins from Miami, but she also noted the decrease in reported sexual offenses.
“I have noticed we have gotten less emails because last year, there were 40 cases reported in one semester, which is a crazy number compared to years prior,” Carter said.
The 77 total reported offenses in 2019 related to sexual assault, misconduct and interpersonal violence, including 24 rape cases, five fondling sexual offenses, two domestic violence incidents, eight dating violence incidents and 38 stalking incidents, according to the 2020 Annual Security Report.
Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jennifer Gilbert believes this decrease in campus safety bulletins and reported sexual offenses is due to a variety of factors, including COVID-19.
“I think COVID absolutely has an influence on how we behave, including sexual misconduct and sexual assault,” Gilbert said.
With the gathering and occupancy limitations and curfew, Gilbert believes “there’s less opportunity for people to take advantage of” others due to fears of COVID-19 and its consequences.
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Additionally, the percentage of students living on campus has greatly declined in response to remote learning, likely affecting the number of reported cases.
“[If] you decrease the number of people here, you decrease the number of potential instances [of violence],” Gilbert said. “None of the reporting structure has changed. Everyone still has access to all the reporting structures, the same staff [and] the same policies.”
Jaymee Lewis-Flenaugh, assistant Dean of Students and deputy Title IX coordinator, said it’s critical that students, especially those learning remotely, know many campus resources are still available to them, including those that allow them to report sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence.
She said the Title IX office remains focused on helping students involved in situations of sexual misconduct and interpersonal violence, regardless of the pandemic. Although it has shifted to virtual meetings, it continues to provide resources and support for students.
“Sometimes students may feel like they will get in trouble if they were at an event where they were not socially distancing,” Lewis-Flenaugh said. “That is not my priority. My focus is on what occurred and how to help point you in the direction of the next best step you decide on as it relates to the misconduct.”
Carter believes it’s important not to judge survivors’ experiences, regardless of whether or not they were drinking, hanging out “with the wrong people” or not practicing social distancing measures.
“Whatever the situation was, it needs to be said that it wasn’t your fault at all,” Carter said. “Taking that guilt away and being like, ‘What can I do to help you?’ That’s where it’s, again, [about] listening [and] being judge-free.”
Although Miami has experienced a decrease in reported cases, sexual assault and interpersonal violence remain relevant issues, especially on college campuses.
“More people than we realize have experienced something like this,” Carter said. “It’s not a specific Miami problem. This is a large problem within higher education. A lot of students are affected by [sexual and interpersonal violence]. More than we realize.”