Perplexing trends in campus crime emerged as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation published its annual "Crime on Campus" study for 2013 on April 4.
Although the study shows that crime reported by Tennessee's colleges and universities decreased overall by 11.6 percent from 2012 to 2013, the individual category of "Sex Offenses — Forcible" crimes reported showed a 25 percent increase.
"It's really hard to say why we see what we see," said Josh Devine, public relations officer for TBI. "But that's just the story for this year. ... We haven't seen any exponential increase over the years."
Ashley Blamey, director of the Safety, Environment and Education Center at UT, said she is oddly reassured by 2013's results, citing the rise in sexual offenses reported as an indication of increased willingness to seek help from authorities.
"We want to see a rise in reporting, and we see that as the outreach efforts working," Blamey said. "Students are becoming more aware of options in reporting. ... That's one of the challenges, your statistics will grow with reporting."
According to data collected at UT in compliance with the Clery Act, reports of sexual assault on campus doubled from 2011 to 2012, increasing from 4 to 8 percent. Results of the S.E.E. Center Annual Health & Wellness Survey show an increased awareness of resources on campus for reporting sexual assault from 2012 to 2013.
Devine said an 11.6 percent decrease in crime but a 25 percent increase for one category is not uncommon, and the reports are often filled with mixed statistics. However, Devine said he feels the decrease in crime overall is still very encouraging.
"It's our hope that [colleges] take a look at that and double efforts to fight that kind of assault on campus," Devine said. "Our goal is solely to put the information out there."
The purpose of the "Crime on Campus" report is to give campuses a snapshot of crime in their area and help local law enforcement and university resources focus efforts on areas of crime more prevalent in their area. The report was first issued in 1989, after the Tennessee General Assembly required TBI to begin tracking crime on Tennessee campuses under the College and University Security Information Act.
"Colleges really take this information seriously," Devine said.
Blamey said UT uses statistics from a variety of resources to improve overall safety programing on campus. The majority of programs created at UT respond to national trends rather than statewide results, she explained. However, she said she feels the statistics published in the "Crime on Campus" study are not specific to UT or Tennessee, but represent the nation as a whole.
"UT is not outstanding," Blamey said. "Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime everywhere, period."
Devine, however, asserted the reports, although dependent on data compiled in Tennessee, should not be generalized.
"I don't think you can take these statistics and rank colleges about which is the safest and not safest," Devine said. "College campuses are located in really diverse areas... We would caution people against saying what state is what and what state isn't."
In the future, Blamey said she hopes to be more proactive in designing programs which raise awareness of sexual assault resources on campus.
In summer of 2014, the S.E.E. Center will begin the Volunteers Speak UP! 2014 Campus Wide Roll Out campaign to empower UT students, faculty and staff to speak up for each other.
"I really do think that knowledge is power," Devine said, "and it translates into initiatives and conversations that need to happen about more pressing issues of crime on university campuses."
To view the complete "Crime on Campus" report, click here .