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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published October 21 2010

Sexual assault a ‘hidden’ crime on college campuses

Hundreds of sexual assaults may be going unreported each year on local college campuses.

Statistics in Fargo-Moorhead university police reports show about two to three sexual assaults occur on each campus per year.

“We are certain that it’s a big underestimate of what’s actually occurring on campus,” said Sarah Dodd, recently hired by North Dakota State University to work on sexual assault prevention.

A 2000 Department of Justice study shows that nearly 3 percent of female college students are victims of rape or attempted rape during a nine-month academic year.

For a school NDSU’s size, that would be as many as 200 rapes or attempted rapes, Dodd said.

NDSU added the sexual assault prevention position to get a better handle on the statistics locally and to raise awareness.

On Wednesday, Dodd led a brown-bag discussion with students, faculty and staff about what they can do to prevent sexual assault.

Minnesota State University Moorhead has a similar position dedicated to educating the campus on sexual assault and working with victims.

Campus crime reports don’t tell the whole story about sexual assaults on college campuses, said Lynn Peterson, MSUM’s coordinator for sexual assault services.

The numbers in the reports are for assaults that occurred on campus. Assaults often happen at off-campus parties or when a student goes home for a weekend, Peterson said.

MSUM had three sexual assaults reported on campus last academic year. But Peterson worked directly with 10 MSUM students who were rape victims.

In addition, many victims don’t report assaults for a variety of reasons. They may not want their parents to find out, they may blame themselves, or they may think no one will believe them, Peterson said.

“It’s still a really hidden kind of crime,” she said.

Typically the incidents involve someone the victim knows, and alcohol is often involved, Peterson said.

Many students have misconceptions about what it means to give consent, and alcohol blurs that even more, she said.

“Sex without consent is against the law,” Peterson said.

Cassandra Nordman, a junior at NDSU who attended Wednesday’s discussion, said she knows at least five NDSU students who have been victims.

Nordman said she’s heard them blame themselves, saying they dressed inappropriately or they “didn’t say no hard enough.”

NDSU sophomore Emily Eltgroth said one solution may be to educate students about communicating with their partner about what they expect from a relationship.

During Wednesday’s discussion, Dodd encouraged students to speak up if they see a situation where an assault may occur or if they hear people making jokes about sexual assault.

“In order to really change behavior, what we really need to do is change the norms around sexual assault,” Dodd said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590