Reports of sexual assaults at colleges are on the rise, attorney says

By Kyana Miller
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

Reports of sexual assault on college campuses are increasing at Maryland schools,  a policy attorney at the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault said Thursday.

Speaking at Goucher College, Chelsea Wiggins said 20 percent of women and 6.1 percent of men in college have experienced sexual assault.

Wiggins said that these numbers are often highly disputed due to the unclear definitions of what constitutes a sexual assault.

She said it is nearly impossible to get a sexual assault conviction in Maryland unless there is clear evidence of force from the accused or signs of physical resistance from the victim.

Wiggins said her group is working to introduce a bill in the 2017 session of the General Assembly to make it easier for the state to win a conviction. She said a previous effort in 2005 failed.

According to Wiggins, Maryland is behind the times when it comes to sexual assault laws but is slowly taking steps to rectify the situation. Wiggins listed four major pieces of legislation that come into play on campuses.

She said the U.S. Clery Act requires all schools to collect crime statistics, which must be released biannually. The first reports filed in Maryland went out in March 2015, she said, adding that  Goucher  has been doing this for up to four cycles before the Act went into effect.

“The point is to know what’s going on on campus,” Wiggins said. “If students don’t feel like the school is invested they’re less likely to report.”

Now that these reports are coming out and victims are being more protected, the victims are beginning to feel more comfortable coming forward, she said.

She said every school gets to write its own policies on how to handle sexual assault cases. However, she said new laws also protect victims from getting in trouble for misconduct in the circumstances of the assault.

Wiggins said early education is one of the most important ways to combat sexual assault. She said if students don’t begin hearing about consent until college then it’s too late.

According to the Baltimore County Police Crime Statistics, reported sexual assaults went down by 29.7 percent from 2013 to 2014, but Wiggins feels like there is still plenty of work to be done.

“With the lens on Maryland right now, it’s a great opportunity for us to make changes,” Wiggins said.

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