Sexual assault on the rise in recent years at WCU

For college students across the United States, sexual assault on campus is always a matter of concern and at Western Carolina University, it has been on the rise in recent years.

According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

Sexual assault has become a regular topic in the media and public spaces in recent years, but this doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue.

Many have noted this as a “tipping point” on gender violence. Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment a social trend passes a threshold and starts to spread like wildfire.”

Approximately 450,000 have signed the pledge for It’s On Us, a program dedicated to college sexual assault prevention. Students have hosted over 3,000 It’s On Us events on 575 college campuses nationwide. 

Take Back the Night, a worldwide movement to stand against sexual violence is hosted by WCU annually as a method to gain awareness of these widespread issues.

“Tipping points don’t inevitably result to systemic change…,” says Caroline Bettinger-Lopez from the University of Miami’s School of Law, in her paper titled “Developing a National Plan of Action on Violence Against Women and Gender Violence: A Human Rights Approach.” 

According to Bettinger-Lopez, a coordinated and systemic national response to violence against women and gender violence in the United States is needed to create lasting change.

Western Carolina University’s Policy 116 states it must comply with the Clery Act. The Clery Act requires colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance to gather information about crimes on or near campus and publish policy statements concerning campus safety.

Under the Clery Act, WCU is required to release an Annual Fire Safety and Security Report.

The chart below was compiled to showcase sexual assault (which includes rape and fondling) statistics recorded by Western Carolina University’s Annual Fire Safety and Security Reports from 2011-2021.

Graph created by Andrew Schuler.

The drastic rise in fondling incidents in 2014 was partially due to 20 incidents occurring over one semester between one perpetrator and one victim

WCU saw a surge in on-campus/residence hall incidents in 2019, with 15 rape incidents and 47 fondling incidents throughout the year. In 2019, the 47 incidents consisted of 20 incidents occurring over one semester between one perpetrator and one victim.

2018 was also notably high in terms of sexual assault incidents on campus, with 26 individual cases in total.

COVID-19 could be considered a defining factor in the increasing number of sexual assault cases in 2019 at WCU. However, research from BioMed Central concluded that the number of sexual assault victims seeking urgent care went down by 33% compared to before COVID-19 and the number of sexual assault victims who didn’t seek urgent care during the pandemic is inconclusive.

Despite this, the number of rape incidents on WCU’s campus began rising before COVID-19 in 2015 and continued until 2020.

Over the last decade, the average annual number of sexual assault incidents on campus was 17. In 2020, it fell to 11 incidents. 

WCU’s University Policy 129, also known as Title IX Sexual Harassment Policy, or Title IX, is a federal civil rights law under The U.S. Department of Education. According to the WCU Title IX  website, it aims to:

  • Prohibit discrimination based on sex in any federally funded education program or activity.
  • Protect all members on campus who experience sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, interpersonal violence (including dating and domestic violence), stalking, or discrimination based on pregnancy. 

The Title IX coordinator is ultimately in charge of overseeing all gender discrimination and sexual harassment reports.

For more information about daily crime reports or the Annual Fire and Safety Report for WCU, please contact the WCU Police Department at 828.227.7301 or visit WCU’s website under ‘Campus Operations and Finance’.