LSU students protest in front of the Football Operations Center in — demanding stiffer punishment for athletic executives who sat on sexual misconduct allegations. (Photo by JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
Between LSU, Southeastern State University, and UL Lafayette — the three biggest public universities in Louisiana with over 68,000 students enrolled between them — just 12 cases of sexual assault were reported in 2020.
But experts and advocates say those numbers don’t reflect reality.
The vast majority of sexual assaults on Louisiana college and university campuses aren’t being reported, sexual assault victim advocates said — due to “concerns about not being believed or supported.”
About one in five women in higher education nationwide experience sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Health’s Office on Women’s Health, however, Louisiana colleges and universities are reporting sexual assault at a much lower rate.
LSU — despite having over 34,000 students enrolled last year — reported five cases of sexual assault in 2020. Louisiana Tech University — which had over 11,000 students enrolled last year — reported just one sexual assault case in 2020. ULL — which has over 19,000 students — reported none last year.
LSU also had four cases of fondling last year, while Louisiana Tech had one and ULL had zero.
“The numbers in the Clery Report are accurate. We understand that not all victims of sexual violence report incidents to the police,” Tonya Oaks Smith, the spokesperson for Louisiana Tech said.
In 2019, LSU had 22 reported sexual assault cases. Louisiana Tech had one and ULL had five.
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But experts say you can’t read too much into individual campus sexual assault statistics, even if they accurately reflect reporting. Universities with few or no reports of sexual assault are not necessarily safer than those with higher numbers of reported cases. In fact, experts say the opposite is often true.
Schools with a very small number of sexual assault cases reported can be places where students have lost faith the school will take sexual assault seriously, so they don’t bother to report misconduct at all. If a larger number of sexual assaults are reported on a particular campus, it can mean that the university has done a better job of encouraging students to come forward about misconduct, according to experts.
Julia Broussard, Tulane’s interim assistant provost for Title IX, said one of the reasons universities’ reported sexual assaults are fewer than the amount that are happening is also because universities are only required to report crimes that happen on campus, on property controlled by the university or a student organization, or on public property immediately adjacent to campus — according to the Clery Act.
The numbers will not, for example, include a sexual assault of a student that occurs off-campus “even if that assault is reported to the university.”
“[These] numbers only offer a partial picture of sexual violence on a college campus,” Broussard said.
Lack of accountability is one of the main reasons so few sexual assault victims report the crime, said Morgan Lamandre, an attorney with the Sexual Traume Awareness and Response (STAR) organization.
Many victims don’t believe anything will come of them reporting their sexual assault. Only about 30 percent of rapes are reported to the police, said Lamandre, who represents sexual assault victims on college campuses.
“Even less [reported sexual assault cases] lead to an arrest. Even fewer lead to somebody being prosecuted,” Lamandre said. “And by the time you get to somebody who’s actually convicted, very few people even serve any time in jail.”
The prevalence of sexual assault at Louisiana universities has gained more attention in the last year. A USA Today investigation revealed multiple LSU administrators were aware of rape and abuse allegations against star athletes and former LSU football coach Les Mile, but didn’t report them to police or the university office in charge of investigating sex-based discrimination on campus, as required by federal law and university policies.
LSU has not fired any of its employees for overlooking the alleged sexual misconduct, angering students and professors.
Angelina Cantelli, president of Tigers Against Sexual Assault, a student-run organization at LSU, said that the national spotlight on LSU, as well as “people who have already been through the process saying they had a bad experience at LSU,” has led to trust issues between victims and the university.
“There are a lot of people who’ve experienced sexual assault on campus who are still hesitant to report,” she said.
“You see what happens when victims do report… people automatically assume that either you’re lying, and even if they aren’t lying, then somehow it’s somehow their fault for being raped,” Cantelli said.
The process of going through the criminal justice process and reliving the event “is so traumatic, that people end up not reporting,” Lamandre said.
Jennifer Hunt, an advisor for Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline & Education, a Tulane University anti-sexual violence student group, said colleges and universities can help victims feel safer in reporting sexual assault by investing in “survivor support literacy for all members of the community.”
“Survivors are much more likely to report their assault and access short- and long-term support resources if the first person they disclose their assault to provides a supportive, affirming response,” she said.
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Tulane — which had about 12,500 students enrolled last year — reported 25 cases of rape and seven cases of forcible sexual fondling in 2020.
Broussard said that Tulane’s latest climate survey revealed that “the incidence of sexual assault on campus is higher than the number of sexual assaults reported to the university.”
Over 40 percent of undergraduate women and 18 percent of undergraduate men at Tulane had been victims of sexual assault, according to the climate survey done in 2017.
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