Sexual assault on rise at UCF
Sexual assault is a growing concern among college students as the number of cases reported are going up nationally.
From 2011 to 2013, sexual assault reports jumped 61 percent at top colleges around the United States, Aljazeera America reported.
At UCF, the numbers are increasing as well. In 2014, there were 14 forcible rapes, compared with 11 in 2013 — a 27.3 percent increase.
One in five women will be sexually assaulted while attending college, the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice purports in a statistic that has been cited both by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
While the numbers appear to be going up on a crime that is statistically underreported — only 20 percent of victims report their assault to police — the question that begs to be asked is: why?
Coretta Cotton, senior victim advocate at UCF Victim Services believes the numbers are being driven by education.
"I think it may be that people are becoming more aware of how to get help," Cotton said.
Victim Services' main goal, Cotton said, is to make sure victims know what resources are available. Education is at the heart of the operation.
"If someone comes in and they're a victim of sexual assault we'll make sure they know what their reporting options are. If they want to report to the police, even if it didn't happen on campus, we can contact Orange County PD or whatever jurisdiction it happened in," Cotton said.
Another possible culprit of rising rates is apathy. USA Today reports that after two months at college, students are less likely to intervene in a sexual assault.
"We need to teach people not to be afraid to defend other people," UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said. "If you see somebody that's in crisis, you need to have the courage to either get them help or to call the police and let us deal with it."
A strong police presence on campus, he added, can make all the difference.
"It does make a difference so that we don't have those sexual assaults like Orange County or Orlando and some of the other places have where people are snatched off the sidewalks," he said.
Beary emphasized the importance of friends looking out for one another when they go out.
"You don't leave your friends behind," he said. "If you knew how many sexual assault cases that we've seen where people go out as a group and all of a sudden somebody gets left alone and they're intoxicated, they're impaired, nothing good is going to come out of that."
Marelena Cruz, board president of Never Stand Alone — a non-profit organization that focuses on healing for victims of sexual assault — believes UCF is doing a good job educating students on sexual offenses, but students just aren't interested.
"I saw an article a couple of days ago where the Recreation and Wellness Center held an event regarding these kinds of issues, and no one showed up. I just think it's difficult to get people to care about a cause until they are personally affected by it," Cruz said.
One group that is particularly under fire at colleges around the country is the Greek community.
A Penn State fraternity is accused of posting photos of nude women, some apparently unconscious, on a private Facebook page. The University of Wisconsin-Madison terminated a fraternity chapter last week after an investigation found it engaged in hazing that included excessive underage drinking and sexualized conduct, according to the Burlington Free Press.
A Harvard University study found that 4 out of 5 fraternity members are binge drinkers, compared to 2 out of 5 for other students.
"The majority of the cases we see, alcohol or drugs are involved in almost all of them, and that is the common theme woven throughout almost every sexual assault case that we see involved in our students," Beary said.
While alcohol consumption puts students at a higher risk of sexual assault, attitudes about sexual assault in the Greek community also differ highly from those of the rest of the student population.
A widely cited 2007 study found fraternity men are three times as likely to commit sexual assault compared with their unaffiliated peers. They're also much less likely to consider non-consensual sex as rape, according to USA Today.
Through modules all UCF students are required to take, as well as programs held by UCFPD and Victims Services, education may be able to prevail if students are ready to listen.
"You know someone who's been through it," said Porschia P. Montford, co-founder and chief operating officer of Never Stand Alone. "People don't even care to recognize how serious it is and how close to home it is."
Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at email@example.com.