Colleges Across the Valley Turn Attention to Sexual Assault

By: Anna-Lysa Gayle Email
By: Anna-Lysa Gayle Email

Harrisonburg, Va. (WHSV)-- President Barack Obama is giving a newly created task force 90 days to make recommendations on how to prevent and better respond to sexual assaults on college campuses.

A new White House report shows one in five women have been raped or experienced an attempted rape. That report also shows that many of the incidents happen on college campuses.

Charity O'Connor is the president of James Madison University's Campus Assault Response Group, an organization that helps sexual assault victims.

"I think it's really nice to know that someone is out there supporting college campuses and realizing that it is as big as a problem as it is," said O'Connor.

Eastern Mennonite University is also concerned with crime on its campus. Its leaders are looking into ways to decrease sexual assaults.

"One of the big things they're doing is they are beginning to also include an interest in domestic assault," said Eldon Kurtz, supervisor of campus security at Eastern Mennonite University.

"Just coming forward is a big step for anyone, so I think that kind of means a lot to them," said O'Connor.

Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities are required to record annual crime statistics. WHSV took a look at each of those numbers to see how they matched up. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of sexual assaults at Bridgewater College did not change.

"Bridgewater College takes very seriously the safety of all if its students. Our hope is to continue to decrease the already small number of incidents occurring on campus through education and support to our student body," said Abbie Parkhurst, a spokeswoman for Bridgewater College.

Neither did Mary Baldwin College, which reported none during that time.

"We are proud of our record of zero incidents on campus in recent years but cannot be complacent and need to be ever vigilant. Sexual assault is a serious issue from which no community can be immune," said Crista Cabe, a spokeswoman for Mary Baldwin College.

Eastern Mennonite University saw a decrease between 2011 and 2012. James Madison University reported an increase in the number of sexual assaults from 2011 to 2012.

"James Madison University remains focused on ensuring a safe environment for all of our students, faculty and staff. This is a topic that our campus takes very seriously and is proud of the superb record of providing a safe place for our students to receive an excellent education. Our campus community is consistently encouraged to look out for one anther and to take seriously the shared responsibility we all have to keep our campus safe. Throughout every academic year, JMU provides training, education and resources to assist our campus community in staying safe, making good decisions and in taking personal responsibility for those decisions. Anyone who is a victim of a crime or someone who witnesses a crime is urged to contact law enforcement immediately. Those who want more information about the resources available at JMU, please visit http://www.jmu.edu/pubsafety/," said Don Egle, a spokesman for James Madison University.

"A lot of assaults aren't reported, and so I think you have to take every statistic with a grain of salt, because you don't know for every one reported, you don't know how many go unreported," said O'Connor.

The White House said that is part of the problem they are trying to fix.

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