More people are reporting sex assaults on campus, and that's a good thing

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The number of sexual violence complaints at college campuses has skyrocketed in the last five years.


According to newly released data from the Education Department, there were nine Title IX sexual violence complaints in 2009 and 102 in 2014. More than 50 have already been filed in 2015.

While the increase is startling, activists say it's also a good thing because it means more young women (and men) are coming forward to report abuse.

"An increase in reporting doesn't necessarily mean an increase in sexual assault," said Annie Clark, co-founder of student advocacy group End Rape on Campus and the lead complainant in a Title IX case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I think it just shows that more students know that they have the right to a safe education and a right to file a complaint."

As more schools undertake surveys of students to gauge the prevalence of campus sexual assault, she expects numbers to continue to rise.

"I don't think that's a bad thing," Clark said.

Rebecca O'Connor, vice president for public policy at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, an anti-sexual violence organization, agrees.


She noted that a similar increase occurred in the military when military sexual assault became the subject of much media and public scrutiny a couple of years ago and victims felt more comfortable coming forward.

"We see it as positive when survivors see themselves in the issues making headlines and know that there are people available to meet them wherever they are," she said.


What has some activists frustrated is the rise in the time in which the Department of Education is completing its investigations. The Office of Civil Rights, which handles the investigations, says it attempts to resolve all complaints within 180 days, or six months. In reality, it takes much longer. In 2009, the average length of an investigation was 379 days. In 2014, it was 1,469 days, more than four years.

"These figures still don't reflect even conservative estimates of the actual incidence of sexual assault and rape on campuses, and still the Department of Education lacks the resources to promptly investigate the few complaints against schools that are filed," Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a statement.


The numbers were made public after Gillibrand and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) requested them from the department. The senators, as well as campus advocates like Clark, have urged Congress to dedicate more funding to investigating the complaints.

Clark's case, filed in January 2013, is still unresolved.

"I think it's very unfortunate," she said. "It should not take that long."

Clark pointed out that, at four years, an investigation takes longer than a typical college career.


"It's more of a let's change the policy, let's change the culture, than an individual remedy at this point," she said.

But O'Connor thinks the investigation times indicate that the department is taking claims seriously. And Clark thinks there are signs of progress overall.


"I think we're definitely moving in the right direction," she said. "We're having these conversations in an open way…but there's still a lot more work to do."

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.