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Bill would require sexual assault surveys by Md. colleges

ANNAPOLIS — Supporters believe a bill requiring Maryland colleges and universities to administer anonymous sexual assault surveys would shed light on the true number of incidents on campuses.

One in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college, according to a recent White House report.

Colleges are required to collect and share data about crimes under the federal Clery Act. However, reporting rates regarding sexual violence are particularly low, according to the January report.

Only 12 percent of students formally report sexual assault crimes, according to the White House report. Lack of sexual assault awareness on campuses or lack of knowledge of these resources and self-blame contribute to underreporting of sexual assaults, according to the report.

“This bill would bridge the gap between school data and reports from victims of sexual assault,” said the bill’s sponsor, Del. Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County.

Kelley Neil, a master’s student at the Johns Hopkins University, was a sophomore in college when she became a victim of sexual assault. Neil said she didn’t know it was considered abuse because she was in relationship with the perpetrator at the time.

“A victimization survey is necessary because it is so rare for survivors to report to school or police,” said Neil, who testified at a legislative hearing last week.

Lauren Redding, a University of Maryland, College Park alumna, said, “I think when you have accurate data, you can hold schools accountable… . You can ask the schools, ‘What are you doing to address sexual assault?’”

Redding testified that she was raped during her sophomore year in college. She said it took her six months before telling close friends and family. Redding said that she knows that there are many more sexual assault victims that remain silent.

However, opponents of the bill believe that the survey is not the best method to combat sexual assault on college campuses.

“The survey would do very little to address the root of the problem,” said Deb Moriarty, the vice president of student affairs at Towson University. “An anonymous survey does not help us get to a victim.”

Frostburg State University Police Chief Cynthia Smith said that universities already have sexual assault resource programs in place.

Opposition also said that approving the bill might be premature, given that President Obama recently launched a federal task force to address sexual assault on college campuses. They suggested waiting for the task force’s suggestions before implementing the survey.

-Melanie Balakit, CNS