A female student reported being raped on campus on Jan. 12 and is choosing not to press charges, University of Richmond police said.
On average, 51 sexual assaults -- which in this case includes rape -- happen per year on campus, said Adrienne Murray, lieutenant of the university police. That number is based on a national survey that showed 27 out of 1,000 female college students are sexually assaulted every year. The dean's offices and university police use the survey to estimate the number of sexual assaults on campus because the incidents are severely underreported.
"If one of those went to court and were prosecuted, that would be a success for us," Murray said. "Rape is the most underreported crime on campus."
There's usually not enough physical evidence to prosecute a rape case, and it's difficult to get victims to come forward or testify, she said. Most victims report to the dean and only a handful report to the police, Murray said.
Victims do not have to prosecute a case if they make a report to the police department, Murray said.
"Ultimately the decision is the student's," she said. "We just want to be as supportive as we can be between the offices."
Said Juliette Landphair, dean of Westhampton College: "In essence, sexual assault among college women is vastly unreported because the women typically know the perpetrators, alcohol is involved and they themselves do not realize that what happened was, by law, a rape or sexual assault."
Landphair said 98 percent of assaults reported to her arrive too late to criminally prosecute.
Both deans tell police that a sexual assault has been reported to them, but it's up to the victim to file an official report to the police.
Police cannot pursue a case without facts and details from the victim. If a victim chooses not to press charges, the police cannot go further unless the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office chooses to subpoena the victim to testify, which does not usually happen, Murray said.
"We'd like to deal with more of these cases soon thereafter," Landphair said, because many victims want to prosecute when they realize they were victims of assault but by the time they are comfortable enough to tell someone about it, it is too late to gather evidence. Landphair also would like to know about assaults sooner because some victims have left the university because they do not want to deal with having to see their attacker on campus, making sexual assault on campus a retention issue.
During the 2007 to 2008 school year, eight women reported to the dean's office that they were sexually assaulted, Landphair said. Five of those women were freshmen. If the estimated number is correct, about 15 percent of victims reported their assaults. The estimate is probably conservative, she said.
In addition to students reporting sexual assault, 10 more reported being harassed and five reported being stalked.
Most of the incidents reported to Landphair involved alcohol, she said. A majority also reported that the assailant was a male Richmond student, and some reported that their attacker was someone not related to the university. Most said their attacker was a casual acquaintance.
Victims have also reported sexual assault to the chaplain.
The chaplain is not required to disclose information she is told unless the victims asks her to, said Kate O'Dwyer-Randall, acting chaplain to the university.
"I don't say anything unless they want me to," O'Dwyer-Randall said.
The police department collaborates closely with the dean's office to provide resources to victims who come to them, including access to medical care and counseling.
The Office of the Chaplaincy offers access to off-campus resources that O'Dwyer-Randall said she was not allowed to reveal.
As part of the Westhampton Center, Landphair said she hoped to be able to hire a staff member who would only handle sexual assault on campus, she said.
Currently, Westhampton College and the deanery have several resources and programs for prevention of sexual assault and support for victims.
"Take Back the Night" is an annual program that lets people at the university speak out and hear about experiences with sexual assault.
Among other things, the dean's office also published a booklet, "Saturday Nights," that contained stories, poems and letters from sexual assault victims as well as information on what to do if someone is sexually assaulted.
The Richmond College Dean's Office also has resources and programs. The first week of December each year is the White Ribbon Campaign, an event to raise awareness of and prevent sexual assault. The dean's office also has programs through its residence life staff and will talk to and help any victims, said Joe Boehman, dean of Richmond College.
"Our first duty is to the care and concern of the victim," Boehman said, "and our goal is to help them achieve a sense of choice and control, which is something that was taken from them in the assault."
Contact staff writer Stephanie Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org