Friday, February 3, 2023

Reports of sexual assault, stalking at UNCW continued to rise in 2021

UNCW (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON — The latest numbers from UNCW’s annual security report show reports of on-campus rape, fondling and stalking increased in 2021. 

At Monday’s UNCW’s Board of Trustees meeting, Amber Grove, UNCW’s director of Title IX and Clery Compliance, presented the report. It catalogued data from the last three years.

READ MORE: Campus visitor sexually assaulted at UNCW Friday night: Police

From 2020 to 2021, incidents of rape increased from eight to 14 instances. Fondling reports were on the rise, though less extreme, inching up from five to seven. In both sets of statistics, the majority of reports occurred in residential facilities. 

The most significant increase occurred in on-campus stalking: 29 instances were recorded in 2021 compared to 18 the year prior.

Grove explained one of the Title IX office’s reasoning behind the increase. 

“The thing we’re seeing trend-wise is that, because these students did not have the same sort of growing-up experience or the maturation process, we’ve seen a lot of different communication challenges around consent,” she said. “They have not had the social development that our other students have had before they got here.”

Teenagers that entered dating age during the pandemic may not have as much practice reading body language or communicating their boundaries, according to Grove. 

Adding to the mix is the increased use of dating apps among Gen Z college students, where intentions and parameters can be even less clear. 

“They’ll [think] ‘Oh, well, I’ve matched on Tinder and we’re meeting up late at night. You know what that means?’” Grove said. “Well, OK, you could conceivably imply that, but you’ve never had a conversation with this person about what their expectations are.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic could have manipulated the numbers in another way as well. More students returning to on-campus living situations in 2021, potentially contributed to the influx of reported cases. 

Still, the statistics are higher than 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic interrupted life for everyone, including college students. Both years numbers include: 

  • 11 rape, six fondling, 12 stalking in 2018
  • Seven rape, three fondling, 13 stalking in 2019

Numbers in Annual Security Report have not necessarily been deemed crimes. UNCW uses Clery definitions for reporting, which are broader than the ones found under North Carolina state law. 

The Clery Act is a 1990 federal law that requires all higher learning institutions that participate in federal financial aid to disclose information about crime around campuses.

For example, the Clery definition defines stalking as two or more acts that make a person fear for his or her safety or cause emotional distress. The suspect does not have to be informed that the behavior is unwanted, as required under state law.

Also, one act can be counted as stalking and dating violence if the two people involved once dated each other.

Dating violence and domestic violence cases have decreased — the former from 10 to seven reports, the latter from two to zero.

Reports can be removed only if an investigation, whether by the Title IX office or the police department, finds the incident doesn’t meet the definition of what the report stated. 

Grove told PCD the Title IX office has implemented and reinstated more initiatives to target the increase of cases across campus. 

With a return to pre-pandemic onboarding of incoming students, the Title IX office works with students during orientation to educate them on safe practices. Transfer students also have to take an online module before  registering for classes.

Grove said the office has shifted its outreach program to address problems the office is seeing — how to set boundaries, ask and provide consent, and speak up on behalf of someone else. The office also reaches out to residence halls to offer programs and employees a prevention specialist that coordinates programming on interpersonal violence. 

“We’re always trying to find different ways to connect and get folks sort of trained up on these issue areas,” she said.

UNCW currently offers multiple avenues of assistance for victims of sexual assault. The UNCW Police Department offers self-defense classes. Students can file reports through the Title IX office to get help reaching justice through informal or formal processes. The Collaboration for Assault Response and Education (CARE) office offers students confidential counseling and emotional support and accompaniment to medical support, court and the Title IX reporting process. All three organizations take reports and offer preventative programming to the campus community. 

In her presentation, Grove said addressed the benefits the office would experience with added manpower.

“We could do more prevention if we had some more bandwidth,” she said in the meeting.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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