DPSS reports increase in sexual misconduct, hate crime reportage in 2017

Monday, October 1, 2018 - 9:27pm

The Division of Public Safety and Security at the University of Michigan released their annual Security and Fire Safety Report Monday morning, showing an increase in sexual assault cases reported to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and in hate crimes reported on campus. The report includes campus safety information, available emergency services, safety tips, University policies and state laws that pertain to members of the University community.

The report also includes three-year statistics of crimes reported on campus, dating back to 2015. One of the notable trends in the report is the increase in reported sexual assault cases to SAPAC. While the number of reported sexual assault cases declined, the number of reported sexual assault cases to SAPAC increased from 125 in 2016 to 179 in 2017. Additionally, DPSS saw an increase in reported on-campus domestic violence cases, from three in 2016 to 15 in 2017.

Deputy Chief of Police Melissa Overton, DPSS chief information officer, pointed to the #MeToo movement as a possible reason for the uptick in reported sexual assaults and domestic violence cases. #MeToo movement went viral in October 2017, when women from across the world sought to create solidarity between sexual harassment and assault survivors and highlight the widespread presence and persistence of workplace sexual violence. Stories shared by survivors of sexual violence from all backgrounds helped ignite a demand for change in our society.  

“That, of course, shed a lot of light on the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace, which then, in turn, would make people feel more comfortable in coming forward with it,” Overton said of #MeToo.

The Office for Institutional Equity reported similar data on sexual misconduct in their report in early September. According to OIE, sexual misconudct filings rose by 27 percent compared to last year.

Overton also pointed to further DPSS involvement in the community as another potential reason for the rise in these reported cases.

“We also have worked with the community quite a bit to educate and make more resources available, which may have increased awareness about reporting options,” Overton said.

DPSS also recorded an increase in reported hate crimes on campus from eight cases in 2016 to 19 in 2017. The rise is especically significant in comparison to 2015, when two hate crimes were reported. Overton suggested the rise in hate crimes could be explained by a heightened level of social injustice awareness following the 2016 presidential election.

“We also think that following the 2016 elections conversations about social injustice were brought to the forefront, particularly on college campuses,” Overton said. “We believe that that has resulted in increased awareness, and in turn, more hate incidents have been brought to the attention of the DPSS.”

Overton also noted many college campuses have seen a similar rise in reported hate crimes since 2016. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported the number of hate crimes on college campuses had risen to 1,250 from an average of 970 in the four years prior.  

The report also showed small declines in reported drug and alcohol-related incidents. Drug violations and arrests decreased from 362 in 2016 to 278 in 2017, while liquor law violations decreased from 1,603 in 2016 to 1,556 in 2017. 

While Overton said DPSS and University policy towards drugs and alcohol has not changed, increased DPSS involvement with the student community may have had an impact on the decline.

“We are not handling it any different, our posture, student conduct’s posture, related to drug offenses have not changed,” Overton said. “However, we have also done a significant amount of enhanced engagement, education, and harm mitigation efforts. We have one police officer that is solely dedicated to alcohol and other drugs and we work very closely with the community: fraternities, sororities and other student groups within the university.”