Breaking the Silence: Rise in reported sexual assaults at ODU may signal progress

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The names are now infamous: Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey.

The #MeToo movement began last year in Hollywood, and since then, empowered victims have been toppling the careers and lives of powerful men.

As the movement gained momentum, breaking the silence about sexual assault expanded far beyond Hollywood, New York and D.C.

It’s everywhere, and it’s right here.

Prompted by a search warrant uncovered in Norfolk court, 10 On Your Side pulled crime logs from Old Dominion University’s police department, and found that reports of sexual assault spiked.

Police took 10 reports of sexual assault on and around campus in 2016.

In 2017, that number doubled, to 20 reports. This year, ODU police officers have already taken at least eight reports.

While that seems concerning, ODU Police Chief Rhonda Harris and victim advocates see it as a sign of progress.

“I know people typically see that as a negative thing, but it’s actually not,” said Kirsten Pine, chief program coordinator of the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, which provides victim advocates. “I don’t want to see a campus that has zero reports.”

In Pine’s view, a campus without reports of sexual assault is a campus that’s not responding to a problem.

“We like to see an increase in sexual assault reports, because typically that is victims [being] more comfortable coming forward,” she said.

Because Pine works closely with ODU, 10 On Your Side spoke to two other victim advocacy organizations that are not affiliated with the school,  Transitions Family Violence Services and The Center for Sexual Assault Survivors agreed that if ODU is seeing higher levels of reporting, it is likely school officials are doing the right things to educate students and empower victims to come forward.

To explain the increase, Harris points to years of officer training and work by the university to educate students about how they can prevent or intervene to stop sexual assaults from happening.

“At ODU, this is something we touch students with as soon as they show up,” she said. “We’re talking to them about sexual violence, we’re talking to them about bystander intervention and the buddy system.”

While Pine credits the university’s efforts, she points to one major factor in the sudden spike in reports from 2016 to 2017: the #MeToo movement.

“The #MeToo movement had a huge impact on sexual assault victims and their ability to come forward and talk about what’s happened to them,” she said. “Community-wide, we are seeing that increase across the board.”

The #MeToo movement may also contribute to a rise in delayed reports, which began show up in ODU’s crime logs last year. From 2014 through 2016, ODU did not handle any reports from previous years. In 2017, the department handled four. One that went unreported in 2017 is already among 2018’s reports.

“I think it helps women – young women, in particular – in knowing that they’re not alone, that their experience is maybe not that different from someone else’s experience,” Harris said.

Harris hopes that eventually, sexual assault will no longer plague students. In the meantime, however, she urges parents to be proactive.

“Please talk to both your sons and daughters about this. This is big,” she said. “The country is changing in how we relate sexually and how we’re meeting people and what those interactions are. We’re not going to change that, but how can we interrupt that to make sure people make good decisions and how, when they get to a place where they’re uncomfortable, how can they get back out of that?”

While the scope of this investigation focused on ODU because it is Coastal Virginia’s largest public university, 10 On Your Side requested reports of sexual assault from other Virginia campus police departments, and did not find consistency across schools in the rise of reports.

 

Enrollment

Sexual Assaults Reported:

2016

Sexual Assaults Reported:

2017

Sexual Assaults Reported:

As of 5/30/2018

Old Dominion University

24,375

10

20

8

James Madison University

21,836

11

3

4

University of Virginia

22,805

24

16

14

Virginia Tech

34,440

18

27

7

Victims of sexual assault who need support can utilize the YWCA’s 24/7 Crisis Hotline: 757-251-0144.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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