Editor’s Note: This story discusses sexual assault and rape on campus.
The University’s 2023 Annual Security Report — a federally mandated disclosure of crimes committed on and around campus over the last three years — contained some stark findings: instances of reported rape in definable University locations increased from nine in 2021 to 30 in 2022, and most other sexual crimes saw increases as well.
“Any crime that affects our students and our campus community is concerning,” said David Honan, associate vice president of public safety. “We consistently work amongst ourselves within public safety, but also with our partners on campus, to try to increase education, increase prevention [and] make sure that people have spaces to report.”
Cornell, like all other higher education institutions, is required to report narrowly-defined crimes annually under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. This year, as in years prior, the Division of Public Safety released the 31-page report which details campus emergency procedures and reported crimes over the last three years.
Sexual and Violence Against Women Act Offenses
During the calendar year of 2022, there were 25 reported rapes on campus and five reported in non-campus buildings or property, which includes fraternity houses and other student organizations officially recognized by the institution. This is up from 2021, when there were seven reported rapes on campus and two reported in non-campus buildings or property.
Fondlings, dating violence and stalking all saw increases in 2022 compared to both 2020 and 2021 as well. Dating violence had the largest increase, with 40 reports on campus compared to only 10 in 2021 and 17 in 2020.
Part of this increase may be accounted for by the fact that students were fully in-person in 2022 as opposed to 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic reduced student activity, according to Peggy Matta, the Clery Act compliance administrator.
“In 2020, of course, nobody was around, I mean, very, very, very few people were on campus. And then in 2021, it was still — they weren’t fully back in the fall, and then in the spring, you had the option of either being virtual or coming back,” Matta said. “So what we’re seeing in 2022, that’s where we are fully engaged… as a university, with all the students back.”
While all students were virtual for the Spring 2020 semester after March 13, 2020, some students did return to campus for the Fall 2020 semester, though there were heavy regulations on student gathering behavior. However, by the Spring 2021 semester, more students were back on campus, and the Fall 2021 semester was described informally as a “return to normal” by many, with most students fully back in person.
Another potential explanation Matta gave for the rise in sexual crimes on campus is that the North Campus Residential Expansion — completed in Fall 2022 — added approximately 2,000 more beds to campus.
“We’ve got more students on campus, in residential facilities,” Matta said. “Everybody’s now back in full force, they’re now freely being able to go out and be out and get back together.”
Clery Compliance Coordinator Christopher Schmidt added that increases in sexual crimes in 2022 is not unique to Cornell, and that he learned from conversations with colleagues in other institutions that other universities are experiencing similar trends. However, many institutions have yet to publicly report their Annual Security Reports, as the reports are due nationally by Oct. 1.
The University provides the number of reports made for which a location could not be identified in addition to the sexual crimes reported on campus. The University made the institutional decision to report these numbers for full disclosure even though it is not a required category for reporting, according to Matta.
“A lot of times with these cases, the victim will come in and they don’t give any kind of geography. They don’t say where the incident happened,” Matta said.
There were 11 reported rapes for which a location could not be identified in 2022, along with one case of fondling, two instances of dating violence and nine stalkings.
The University also provides information about the number of sexual assaults that were reported in 2022, but for which no specific Clery Act sex offense was provided.
“Clery gives us very specific crimes that have to do with sex offenses, and those are the only ones they want to be reported on. So one of the things that we have come across is the fact that a victim will — most crimes of this sort are actually reported through the Title IX office. And when they do, the victim might report anonymously, and they say that they were sexually assaulted,” Matta said. “Because they say sexual assault, we can’t assume what it was, because there’s, unfortunately, a lot of different types of sexual assault that could happen. We can’t assume anything. So we can’t put it in a bucket.”
There were 29 reports of sexual assault in 2022, down from 36 in 2021.
The University provides resources for victims of sex crimes to get support and file reports. Cornell’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education website offers guidance on reporting crimes to either the University or law enforcement, tips on how to support a friend and information on becoming an active bystander.
“We know it’s difficult to report, but we’re here to support you and reporting opens the door to resources to support a survivor or victim, however they identify, in moving forward,” Honan said. “And from our public safety perspective, [reporting] may provide an opportunity for us to identify a perpetrator to take an administrative or a law enforcement action.”
Twenty-one of the 25 reported rapes on campus in 2022 were committed in residential facilities. On just Sept. 14 of this year, a victim reported that she was “forcibly raped by an unknown person” in a residential facility as announced by a Crime Alert email. The next day, the University released that the dormitory was Cascadilla Hall on the Cornell Police website.
“Usually it’s somebody that is either invited or has what we call tailgating or piggybacking into the residence hall. Our students are very open and hold doors open for people — we’re trying to educate a lot more about that,” Honan said. “But there’s a certain portion of acquaintance where the offender is known to the victim previously and then when they’re in a residence hall, or wherever, things take a turn for the worse.”
Honan said the University is adding two layers of ID card readers to most residential facilities, and Matta said video surveillance is actively being added to West Campus and North Campus dormitories.
“We have such a variety of buildings and their layouts,” Honan said. “Each building is looked at by our access control and our community engagement team for what the best security measures will be for those areas.”
Other Clery Act Crimes
The University is also required to report other crimes per the Clery Act. Notably, in 2022 there were 19 reported burglaries on campus, down 23 from 2021, and one case of arson, also down from six in 2021. There were also five reported instances of motor vehicle theft, two more than the year prior, and two robberies, up from zero in both 2021 and 2020.
Just between Sept. 13 and Sept. 24 of this year, there have been three reported arsons in two North Campus dormitories. Honan said these crimes are serious and the University is taking action in an attempt to reduce their frequency.
“It’s concerning. We saw an increase last year, [and] we’re seeing an increase this year. I’m not sure if students are aware that any destruction of any property by fire is considered arson. It’s a crime. And it’s also mandatory report,” Honan said. “We’re educating our partners across campus. I don’t think people really recognize that damaging like a poster by fire is arson, but it is… It’s really serious. And it’s really dangerous, and we need it to stop.”
Members of the Cornell Community may consult with the Victim Advocate by calling 607-255-1212, and with Cornell Health by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. The Tompkins County-based Advocacy Center is available at 607.277.5000. For additional resources, visit health.cornell.edu/services/victim-advocacy.
Clarification, Sept. 28, 11:21 a.m.: This article has been updated to clarify that Cornell Police released the name of the residence hall where the Sept. 14 rape occurred on their website the day after a campus-wide Crime Alert was sent.