The independent news organization of Duke University

Breaking down the breakdown

let's talk sex

Often, the statistic that one in five women will be sexually assaulted while attending college is met with eye rolls and a belief that this must be an exaggeration.

It’s easy to see where this misconception comes from. Despite Duke University’s undergraduate population of 6,639 students, student conduct received only 124 student sexual misconduct reports during the 2015-2016 school year. However, remember that 90 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses are not reported, allowing for explanation of this low number.

Looking further into the Sexual Misconduct Review for the 2015-2016 school year reveals an even greater crisis: lack of completion of these misconduct reports. Out of only 124 student sexual misconduct reports, 101 reports were closed without investigation. These reports consisted of 22 reports against non-Duke students, 11 reports that ended with a request to not proceed from the complainant, 29 reports that had insufficient information for an investigation and 12 reports in which the complainant asked only for a no-contact directive with the accused.

Of the reports that actually were able to proceed to investigation, five students withdrew from the university before receiving sanctions, two students were still waiting for the results of the administrative hearing and 16 students had gone through an administrative hearing to determine responsibility.

After narrowing down the reports from 124 to the 16 that reached an administrative hearing, 10 of these hearings resulted in sanctions. Six resulted in a finding of insufficient evidence to find the student responsible. Of the 10 students found responsible, five students received disciplinary probation, one student was suspended for three to six semesters and four students were expelled.

The fact that only 16 of 124 reports reached an administrative hearing is shocking. Perhaps the difficulty of taking a report all the way to an administrative hearing is one of the deterrents influencing why only 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported.

I am not the only one who has seen the breakdown that this report shows. There are students and student-run organizations on campus dedicated to supporting survivors, preventing assaults, and improving the way in which Duke handles sexual assault cases. Jessica Van Meir, a Trinity senior, is one such student.

In the fall of 2014, Van Meir was one of the first students to take a service learning class titled “Telling Stories for Social Change: Confronting Sexual and Domestic Violence at Duke and in Durham.” This class attempted to tackle the problem of sexual assault at Duke. Through the class, the group We Are Here Duke was formed, which has expanded from a group within an academic course to a club open to all students who are interested in gender violence activism on Duke’s campus.

Van Meir, a co-president of We Are Here Duke, has been with the group since its founding in 2014. Along with Duke Support, an organization that supports survivors of sexual assault and gender violence on campus, We Are Here Duke currently is creating a map of locations where Duke students have been sexually assaulted. The organization is collecting data anonymously through a survey that will ultimately be turned into a public display of sexual assault on campus. The survey has already received 40 responses and Van Meir has hopes that once the map is displayed publically, more people will feel compelled to add the locations of sexual assaults.

Along with her involvement in We Are Here Duke, Van Meir also founded Duke Students Against Gender Violence (DSAGV), an organization dedicated to fostering the coalition of all campus groups that work against gender violence. This organization is currently working on a campaign to improve the safety and experience of Shooters II Saloon. A survey will soon be distributed to students asking for stories from Shooters in order to assess safety. DSAGV plans to present these stories to Kim Cates, the owner of Shooters, to discuss ways to improve safety.

This particular campaign idea was conceived after a student emailed Cates and Larry Moneta, Vice President for Student Affairs, explaining the story of a friend’s assault at Shooters and the harassment she faced while trying to intervene. DSAGV hopes to be able to work with Cates in order to make Shooters a safer place for everyone.

“I get the sense that the majority of students understand that [gender violence] is a problem and position themselves against sexual assault,” said Van Meir. “We definitely need more people actively engaged in activism in order to address it.”

Activism is exactly what Duke and other college campuses need in order to combat gender violence and sexual assault. Without the impassioned students who work tirelessly for organizations such as We Are Here Duke, Duke Support, DSAGV and others, the dismal prospects outlined in last year’s Sexual Misconduct Review will remain the common trend.

Delaney Dryfoos is a Trinity sophomore. Her column, “let’s talk sex,” runs on alternate Wednesdays.