BALTIMORE – Sexual assaults dropped slightly on the state’s public college campuses in the last school year, falling from 21 to 16 reported cases.
The number is “serious, but not epidemic,” said officials of the 13-campus University System of Maryland, who presented the numbers Friday to the university’s board of regents.
Almost half of the assaults were reported at the University of Maryland College Park, the biggest campus in the system. Six campuses reported no sexual assaults for the academic year that ended last May.
“It’s about the same as last year,” said Joan Marionni, assistant to the vice chancellor for university system academic affairs.
But Marionni said her report did not include assaults on students that occurred off campus. And others said Marionni’s numbers may not represent the actual number of incidents, since not all assaults are reported.
“There is really no way of knowing how many occur,” said Nancy Harris, who counsels rape victims on the College Park campus. “I have no idea how many are occurring. Nobody does.”
The university system categorizes rape as sexual assault I, while sexual assault II covers all other assaults, down to unwanted touching. Only six of the 16 incidents in the latest report were rape cases.
Harris said many victims do not file reports because they don’t realize an assault occurred or they are afraid of coming forward.
While campuses have invested in emergency phones, locks on dorms, security escorts, surveillance cameras and other preventive measures, Marionni said lax student security may have caused some incidents.
“The biggest problems are the residence halls. Students like to leave the doors propped open, and anyone can come in,” she said.
The College Park campus reported seven assaults, four of which were rapes. Towson University reported three assaults and Bowie State University reported two assaults.
Frostburg State University recorded one rape last year and the University of Maryland Baltimore County reported one date rape for the year. At the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, there were two reports of sexual assaults.
No sexual assaults were reported at the seven other institutions in the system.
“Generally, most of the institutions have been quite successful in limiting the numbers,” Marionni said. “The reports are not staggering when compared to the public at large.”
Cpl. Mary Brock, spokeswoman for the College Park campus police, said many incidents are not reported because of the length and stress of the legal system.
“It’s a lengthy process, and I can see why some people might want to avoid it,” she said.
But she urges victims to come forward.
“Whenever I do a sexual assault awareness presentation, I always tell the audience that even if they might not follow the process through, it’s still a positive step towards their own recovery,” Brock said. “How many more people are not taking that positive step?”