Reports of sexual violence in on-campus housing at the University of New Mexico — including rape, dating violence and stalking — increased dramatically in 2019, according to the 2020 UNM main campus Clery Act report released last November.
According to the data, there were 17 reported rapes in on-campus housing out of 23 campus-wide in 2019, marking a 21% increase from the year before.
During the same period, reports of dating violence increased from 16 to 30, and stalking cases increased from 36 to 45.
Last week, the Daily Lobo sat down with a group of campus sexual assault advocates to talk about the work they're doing to reduce sexual assault cases on campus.
The New Mexico chapter of the Every Voice Coalition, an advocacy group dedicated to fighting sexual assault on college campuses, is served by UNM alum and co-state director Emily Wilks. Victoria Cooper, a UNM sophomore studying psychology, is the organization's public relations research chair.
The group is working with the New Mexico Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, and Wilks said the group "modge-podged a piece of legislation together" to address campus sexual assaults.
That legislation, called the School Task Force on Sexual Misconduct (House Bill 142, sponsored by Rep. Liz Thomson, D-Albuquerque), is being considered in this year's 60-day session of the state Legislature.
According to Wilks, the bill combines an "affirmative consent" bill from 2019 (that failed in the Senate 22-16) with an amnesty policy for minor violations, memorandums of understanding aiming for free access to medical or legal assistance and a requirement to establish a task force charged with administering a biennial "campus climate survey" for state universities and colleges.
"We know that 89% of schools in the country report zero cases of sexual violence, and we know that's not true," Andrew Echols, an elementary education junior at NMSU and the other co-state director of the Every Voice Coalition, said. "We know we get that statistic because a lot of people don't want to go to that first line of reporting, which is to the police."
Consistent with Echols' assertion, a representative from the Women's Resource Center agreed that the Clery Act data has historically been undercounted, even as UNM continues to report higher rates of sexual assault than most other universities.
"Seeing raising reporting numbers can be alarming, but in reality, it's what we want," Caitlin Rebecca Henke, a program specialist at the Women's Resource Center, said in an email to the Daily Lobo. "To us, it means that people trust that if they make a report, it will be taken seriously and something will be done about it."
Angela Catena, the UNM Title IX coordinator, said survivors of sexual assault at the University are reporting at higher rates than they used to and believes that UNM reporting rates are significantly higher than other institutions due to a 2016 Department of Justice consent decree.
The DOJ found that "in interview after interview, UNM students expressed reluctance to report sexual assault to UNM because they feared retaliation or because they lacked confidence in the University's response."
Echols said the uptick in sexual violence reports are likely more attributable to a national awakening about sexual assault bolstered by the #MeToo movement and a growing community of survivors who are supporting each other to feel more empowered to report their experiences.
The Every Voice team believes capturing more accurate data is a critical step toward decreasing campus sexual assault. Rather than relying on police report data, the proposed "climate survey" would be an anonymous survey of all students, they said.
In addition to creating a statewide task force, HB 142 aims to amend the statute that regulates sex education.
"I think there is such a lack of a conversation around sexual violence, what consent is and isn't, and having trauma-informed policies," Wilks said.
UNM's Grey Area sexual misconduct prevention training is an exemplar of the type of affirmative consent training that the bill would require.
"One of the things that we can attribute to an increase in reporting is actually the efficiency and effectiveness of our training in being able to teach our students how to identify red flags early on so that they can report it and receive help," Catena said.
Although faculty aren't required to take the Grey Area training, all undergraduate and graduate students are, and Catena contended that has made a big difference.
The coalition believes that affirmative consent education is an important part of the proposed legislation. Education, rather than punitive consequences for perpetrators, will do more in the long run to decrease sexual assaults, according to Echols.
"Every Voice's number one core value is that we are non-carceral," Echols said. "Nothing that we will ever do legislatively will ever have anything to do with punishment."
"In the previous version of this legislation — when it was just affirmative consent (training) — some of the concerns were the disciplinary actions ... and this bill has removed all of that," Wilks said. "In my eyes, it's only positive. It's an opportunity to educate and support survivors of sexual violence."
HB 142 passed in the House on a 58-7 vote on Feb. 28. Echols said he feels good about support in the Senate.
"I've had so many conversations, especially with the freshman senators, and they are in such strong support of this bill," Echols said.
UNM's annual campus safety reports can be found on the UNM Campus Safety website.
Lissa Knudsen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @lissaknudsen