Campus Sexual Assaults Produce Different Sets of Numbers

Official and unofficial data reflect different realities

By Sara Lamberson

Indiana, Pa. — Every year, hundreds of Indiana University of Pennsylvania students rally against on-campus sexual violence during Take Back the Night. The annual event – held this year on April 15 — is organized by The Haven Project, a campus counseling program for students, and The Alice Paul House, an Indiana-based organization that provides assistance to victims of abuse.

During the event, students speak publicly about their experiences with sexual assault.

“I am always amazed at students’ strength in sharing so that others can understand these crimes,” Malinda L. Cowles, associate director for IUP Health AWAREness and interim executive director for the Center for Health and Well-Being, said in a Feb. 16 telephone interview.

However, student concerns about sexual assaults on campus do not correspond to official reports of these crimes.

Student concern is high. A 2002 campus survey conducted by the Center for Student Life and an IUP marketing class found that 87 percent of students said sexual assault was a concern. Two-thirds of those surveyed reported knowing someone who had been sexually assaulted.

That same year, however, only seven cases of forcible sex offenses were reported to the university police.

From 2001 to 2007, 38 incidents of forcible sex offenses were reported on IUP’s Indiana campus, according to the U.S. Department of Education Web site. The annual reports show no pattern over the years, only a fluctuation in single digits.

But the reports of on-campus sexual offenses for any given year at IUP do not correspond with the number of sex-assault victims who seek help from the Alice Paul House.

The organization helps 350 to 400 sexual-assault victims each year, according to sexual and domestic violence expert Melodee D. Medsger-Gett.

“When you think about how many days there are in a year, that is a big number,” Medsger-Gett, the organization’s prevention education specialist, said in a Feb. 19 phone interview.

Students who seek counseling services but do not go to the police are not reflected in the official statistics, according to Cowles. Federally required crime reports compiled by all colleges and universities do not accurately reflect the number of sexual assaults that occur, she said.

Ninety percent of all sexual assaults on campus go unreported, Cowles said. “People usually don’t come forward until a significant period of time after the crime has been committed,” she said.

In on-campus assaults, students usually go through the university judicial system. The process usually includes filing a complaint about the alleged assault with the university police, Cowles said.

Depending on the outcome of the judicial process and the severity of the crime, the perpetrator is expelled or suspended, said Cowles.

The victim almost always knows the perpetrator, she said. And the knowledge doesn’t stop there.

“A lot of students know other students who have been sexually assaulted,” Cowles added.

Education is the best way to prevent sexual assault on campus, according to Cowles and Medsger-Gett. Take Back the Night is one educational outlet.

It is an “eye-opening experience,” said Medsger-Gett.

Men have become increasingly involved in these types of programs, according to Cowles.

In recent years, one-third of IUP Take Back the Night participants have been males, said Cowles. When Cowles began working with university students 20 years, it was the “rare man” who was involved with this type of program, she said.

Zack J. Wiley, 22, senior biochemistry major, participated in Take Back the Night in fall 2008 because some of his Alpha Phi Omega brothers and sisters did.

“That’s not to say I’m against awareness of sexual assault, but honestly, I don’t think I would have gone on my own,” he said in a March 25 e-mail interview.

Men are not as involved in these programs because “it’s not our fight,” said Wiley.

Cowles said men are needed in the fight against sexual assault.

“Engaging men in this program makes for a safer campus,” Cowles said. “It is such a common crime in this country that we don’t even recognize it.”

Sara Lamberson a senior majoring in journalism at IUP, is from Wallingford, Pa. 

Sexual assault defined

U.S. Department of Education defines sexual assault is defined as “any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent.”

Source: U.S. department of Education, 2005 Handbook


IUP’S Haven Project

This program, established in January 2005, funds education about stalking, sexual assault, and dating and relationship violence. The project offers advocacy, counseling and outreach.


For more information, contact:


Malinda L. Cowles

IUP Health AWAREness

Suites on Maple East
Suite G-59
901 Maple Street
Indiana, Pa. 15705

Phone: (724) 357-4799



The Alice Paul House

This organization has been helping abuse victims in Indiana County for 28 years.

The Alice Paul House offers individual and group counseling, victim advocacy, a safe shelter and a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault other violence-related crimes.


The House is funded by donations and by the Department of Public Welfare through the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and the United Way.


For more information, contact:


The Alice Paul House

(724) 349-4444





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