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A look at data behind rapes reported at Maryland colleges in 2014

Students on the campus of University of Maryland, College Park.
Students on the campus of University of Maryland, College Park. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Four Maryland colleges reported seven or more rapes on their campuses in 2014, all of which occurred inside campus-run student dorms, according to federal safety data released about colleges and universities across the country.

The University of Maryland, College Park had the highest number of reported rapes on its campus of any university in the state in 2014, but the fewest per capita instances.

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The data on campus rape reports, available through a U.S. Department of Education website, provides valuable context as recent sexual assault cases have raised furors at many campuses nationwide.

Compared nationally, the College Park is tied in 20th for most reported rapes. A representative from the University of Maryland was unable to immediately comment.

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College Park reported 10 rapes on its campus in 2014. When compared to its enrollment size, college park had fewer instances than all other major schools in the state, with less than one rape reported per 1,000 students.

Mount St. Mary's University, a private Catholic university in Emmitsburg, reported eight rapes, the second highest in Maryland. A representative from the St. Mary's University was unable to immediately comment.

St. Mary's College of Maryland and Goucher College each reported seven rapes. St. Mary's College had the highest per capita rate of reported rape of any public university in Maryland, with about four rapes reported per 1,000 students.

Goucher College staff did not respond to phone calls, and St. Mary's College responded to questions by email.

"St. Mary's College of Maryland takes seriously its responsibility to provide a safe environment for its students," wrote Michael Bruckler, assistant vice president of integrated marketing and strategic communications. "We foster an atmosphere of respect, integrity and trust among students, faculty and staff so incidents are reported and responded to quickly and efficiently. St. Mary's College of Maryland has engaged in a variety of programs to educate, prevent and respond to issues of sexual misconduct including training, materials to increase awareness, and even a 24-hour crisis hotline."

Rapes reported

University of Maryland, College Park…..10

Mount St. Mary's University……………...8

St. Mary's College of Maryland………….7

Goucher College……………………….....7

Rapes reported per 1,000 students.

St. Mary's College of Maryland…………4.1

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Mount St. Mary's University…………….3.5

Goucher College………………………...3.3

University of Maryland-College Park…..0.3

Nationally, nearly 100 colleges and universities had at least 10 reports of rape on their main campuses in 2014, with Brown University and the University of Connecticut tied for the highest annual total -- 43 each.

The data reflect what victim advocates say is a positive trend: Growing numbers of students who may have experienced a sexual assault are stepping forward to tell authorities about incidents that in years past might have gone unreported.

"The fact that 43 incidents were reported indicates that we are building trust among our campus community members in how the university responds to reported incidents of sexual and gender-based violence," Brown spokesman Brian E. Clark said in an email.

U-Conn. spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the university "works very hard to cultivate a culture of forthrightness so this traditionally under-reported crime can be addressed and our students receive appropriate services and support."

Brown, a private Ivy League university in Providence, Rhode Island, has about 9,200 students, and U-Conn., a public flagship, has about 26,500.

Last week a former Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for sexually assaulting a woman outside a fraternity party in 2015. The sentence, far more lenient than what prosecutors sought, provoked public outrage and drew fresh attention to an issue that in recent years has roiled campuses across the country.

At Stanford, there were 26 reports of rape in 2014. At Baylor, there were four.

Having a low number of rape reports is not necessarily a sign that all is well. Baylor's governing board last month demoted the school's president, Kenneth Starr, and fired its football coach following an investigation that found the school had failed to respond effectively to reports of sexual assault involving football players and others.

"Universities need to stop trying to treat this as a PR problem, and treat it as the civil rights and public safety issue that it is," said Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations at the American Association of University Women. "It's happening on their campuses, undeniably. There's no use putting their heads in the sand."

This year, students and parents for the first time can obtain precise data on the volume of rape reports on each campus because of recent changes to federal disclosure rules. Previously, colleges were required to disclose under the federal Clery Act the number of reports of "forcible sex offenses," which cover a variety of crimes including rape.

Now rape reports are broken out as a separate statistic, with the definition of rape matching what the FBI uses for its Uniform Crime Reporting analysis: "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." There are important differences between this definition used for statistics and how various state criminal laws define rape.

It is also important to note that the totals in the federal data reflect only reports of rape, not the number of rape cases prosecuted through criminal courts or adjudicated through internal student disciplinary proceedings. Experts say that rape and other forms of sexual assault are generally under-reported.

The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation published in June 2015 a national poll that found one in five women who attended a residential college during a four-year span said they had been sexually assaulted.

Those findings have been reinforced by surveys at several prominent research universities.

Washington Post reporter Nick Anderson and Baltimore Sun reporter Jonathan Capriel contributed to this story.

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