"Rape on college campuses is a very, very underreported crime," said LuAnn Rolley, who heads the University of Vermont Women's Center.
Rolley works with student survivors of sexual assaults.
According to UVM's recent security report, the number of alleged rapes more than doubled on campus between 2011 and 2012. A dozen were reported last year, five in 2011 and eight in 2010.
"We worry about the number. That 12, I don't know, that's pretty low," Rolley said.
Despite UVM's educational and outreach efforts to encourage rape victims to come forward, Rolley says fear, shame and stigma lead to the underreporting.
"Imagine having to tell three, four, five people that you've experienced sexual assault, that you've been a victim of sexual assault," Rolley said.
"Oftentimes there are no witnesses, sometimes there's physical evidence, but oftentimes the question comes down to consent and then you might be looking at a he said, she said scenario," Cathleen Wilson said.
Wilson runs a Burlington counseling and advocacy center for victims of sexual violence. HOPE Works says it served 56 UVM students in 2012 for sexual assault.
"From our perspective, one is too many," said Annie Stevens, the vice provost for student affairs at UVM.
We sat down with officials from UVM to sort out the numbers. Stevens admits rapes go unreported.
"This is a horrible, horrible thing that happens on every college campus and we want all of our students to be safe," Stevens said.
UVM is required to inform police about allegations of rape, but victims decide if their names are released.
Of the 12 rapes reported last year, nine were made anonymously. The university does not follow-up on those cases.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: So, there's nothing the university can do?
Annie Stevens: There's no more information or data that we can go on to pursue that any further.
Stevens says UVM can't identify the victims or alleged perpetrators.
Jennifer Reading: Could that mean that there are nine rapists on campus?
Annie Stevens: There could be. And we know that we follow-up on every one that gets reported to us as long as we have the information available.
Rolley says she worries about those nine anonymous victims.
"What happened to them?" Rolley asked. "Who is the perpetrator? Was it a stranger? Was it someone they knew? Is it someone on this campus?"
So, what happened to three alleged rapists UVM can track?
Stevens says in one instance, the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations took over the case. UVM says the victim does not believe her attacker was a student. In another case, the student's report was forwarded to police, but the victim dropped the complaint and did not name her alleged rapist. So, UVM could not tell us if the accused is a student. And in the third case, the alleged student attacker was found not responsible by an internal UVM review board. That student no longer attends the university and did not graduate.
At the university, student victims choose whether their alleged attackers are investigated by police or the school.
"In these cases, often victims feel like all the control has been taken away from their lives. And so to be able to give victims options of how they wish to see that resolved, I think that's absolutely fair," Stevens said.
UVM's affirmative action office handles these internal reviews. The committee investigates campus policy violations, consent and alcohol consumption, ultimately deciding if the accused student rapist is responsible. A disciplinary committee then doles out punishment including counseling, housing and scheduling changes, suspension and expulsion.
In the last six years, 34 UVM rape cases have been handled internally. The university expelled 18 student rapists and suspended eight more. Three were referred for counseling, two received educational sanctions, two were acquitted and one case remains unresolved.
"Throughout the years we've worked with a lot of college students who have gone through internal processes within their college community to find justice, and I would say that a majority of the victims that we've worked with have not been satisfied with that process," Wilson said.
Advocates call these internal reviews imperfect and rife with conflicting interests.
"The perpetrators of these crimes are also students within their schools and I think that they are in really hard position to determine what happened in that case and take remedies. I mean, that's why we have a criminal justice system," Wilson said.
And they warn these unidentified, mystery rapists borne from anonymous complaints are an alarming public safety concern.
"We know that sexual violence is a crime that perpetrators don't just commit once and oftentimes they commit a lifetime of crimes," Wilson said. "So, if you have one victim, chances are that perpetrator is going to commit that crime again and again and again throughout their lives. And if they are not held accountable for that crime, then we're all at risk."
Advocates applaud UVM's work to increase awareness on campus about sexual assaults and say the university's reported numbers are likely higher than other area schools because of its outreach efforts. Advocates warn parents and students to be highly skeptical of colleges and universities that report zero rapes annually on campus.
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