Reported rape cases at OU have increased since 2016, but experts say this increase can be attributed to a variety of different reasons.
A recent Clery Act Statistical Summary revealed that the number of reported rapes at the OU Norman campus increased from 11 in 2016 to 25 in 2018. According to Gender + Equality Center Program Coordinator Bliss Brown, this change can be linked to increasing awareness and resources.
One reason for this may also be the occurrence of “a greater cultural dialogue” surrounding sexual assault, sociology professor Meredith Worthen said. Worthen is also an advocate for sexual assault survivors through her Instagram account Me Too Meredith, which allows survivors to anonymously post their stories to a public place.
“I mean, you can't even turn on the media of any kind ... in the news or a sitcom or a comedy special stand-up show — everyone's talking about this stuff,” Worthen said. “There's more of a likelihood that people won't just say, ‘Absolutely not, that would never happen,’ whereas 100 years ago, I think that was a pretty realistic reaction that you would expect to receive.”
Sarah Deer, a University of Kansas professor of women, gender and sexuality studies who has worked toward ending sexual violence against women for 15 years, said that professionals in this field are careful not to assume, but would attribute this increase in reports to more awareness as a society.
Due to increased awareness, survivors understand that they are not alone and can speak out about what happened, said Women’s Resource Center Rape Crisis Coordinator Courtney Foster. Foster works with volunteer advocates, specialized nurses and community partners to improve the response and services for sexual assault victims.
“I think we're also starting to understand, as a society, what sexual assault is,” Foster said.
Recent awareness of sexual assault is known socially by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but OU added to this by implementing mandated sexual misconduct prevention training in 2017 for first-year students. This training, called Step In, Speak Out, makes students more aware of resources like OU Advocates, a 24/7/365 crisis hotline and support system, Brown said.
“These improved educational efforts, coupled with streamlined communication between OUPD and the University’s Title IX Office, work toward ensuring accurate reporting across campus,” OU Media Relations Director Kesha Keith said.
The efforts of the university are important, especially with the high risk of assault cases on a college campus, Worthen said. Colleges can create situations like this through a “party-type culture” at fraternities and sororities that facilitate irresponsible drinking.
“Colleges are full of young people, and young people are more likely and are at higher risk for sexual assault because of ... the sort of lack of a safety net,” Worthen said, “the lack of thinking through like long-term consequences, the inability to sort of recognize what's going on or have somebody looking out for you.”
Another resource offered within the Norman community is the Rape Crisis Center, where assault survivors can receive help in the many ways, such as law enforcement connections, a change of clothes or an area for family and friends who are with the survivor, Foster said.
The Rape Crisis Center works with many Cleveland County agencies like the Gender + Equality Center, the Norman Police Department and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office to find ways to better serve victims and to give victims the correct resources.
An increased dialogue and awareness in a place where students are at a high risk for sexual violence may have a role in the increase of reports because it makes survivors more comfortable and more believed, Foster said.
“We start by believing victims,” Foster said. “(We tell them) that we believe them, even if the story sounds strange to us, even if we wouldn't make the same choices that the victim may, even if the perpetrator is a nice person that we really like ... because that is the number one fear of victims is that they won't be believed.”