Part of the campus of Champlain College in Burlington, VT. [Champlain College]

Champlain College’s Sexual Assault Numbers Mimic Vague National Trends

by Z Ivan Miller and Katherine Albertson

“We have to change the culture that allows the abuse of women and men, and it must be clear that no means no, and when consent cannot be given it is assault, it is a crime, period.”

Those are the words of Vice President Joe Biden, who has recently been on a tour of college campuses with pop-star and activist Lady Gaga in support of the “It’s On Us” initiative. The program, which also features the tagline “1 is 2 many,” is to bring awareness to the number of sexual assaults perpetrated on college campuses throughout the country.

More than six years ago, Vermont’s Seven Days ran a story about local higher-education institutions underreporting the number of sexual assaults on campus. Six years later at Champlain College, the ratio reported has not changed.

Statistical estimates, based on studies by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Department of Justice, show that on a campus of 2,100 students, where 798 identify as women, it is likely that more than 160 persons in total have been a victim of some kind of nonconsensual sexual contact.

Under the Clery Act, all colleges and universities who participate in federal financial aid programs are required to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. Champlain College has reported a total of four instances of sexual violence since 2012.

The Champlain College handbook, in accordance with the Clery Act, defines the parameters of sexual violence under the section titled “Sexual Misconduct” as including sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. It also outlines the operating procedure after an instance of reported “Misconduct” in which, “The College determines responsibility for such conduct through its own procedures and standard of proof (that is, by a preponderance of the evidence), not through the procedures or standards of proof employed in the criminal justice system.”

Reporting such instances to campus public safety and local law enforcement authorities is recommended and all college employees have the obligation to report sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, dating violence or stalking to the Title IX Coordinator. However, “counselors are not required to report crimes for inclusion in the statistics that they learn of in the course of their counseling work with clients,” according to the 2015 Annual Campus Public Safety Report.

The College is also required to keep logs of offences reported to them, or that they are aware of, accessible to students and the public. Also under the Clery Act is the requirement of timely notification to students or employees about serious threats or crimes that fall under the Act.

In September of 2015, the College’s Security Crime Log has two recorded instances of rape, one in Pearl Hall on the 9th, which is still labeled as an “Open Incident,” and one in Bankus Hall on the 20th, which has been closed and referred to “Judicial Review.” In both cases, students on campus were not made aware of the action through email, which usually acts as the main source of alerts and campus-wide communication.

“We go in and gather names, dates, and so forth,” said Tony Calacci, Assistant Director of Campus Public Safety at Champlain College. “We will get counselors involved if necessary. After the information is gathered, it’s up to the Title IX coordinators, together with the victim, to drive the rest of the process.”

Leslie Averill, vice president of student life and Title IX coordinator, said, “Every single student leader group, faculty, staff…everybody will be receiving additional education, awareness education, resource education, and possibly most importantly, a student advisory group has been formed.”

Additionally, in a move that Averill said puts Champlain ahead of the curve, an email was sent out to the whole student body containing a survey about the College Climate and sexual assault. The survey was based off the national survey created by the Association of American Universities. All students received the email and of the 2,100 undergraduates, 280 completed the survey, 13% of the campus population.

Thirty students reported an incident of non-consensual sexual contact, which is 10.8% of those who took the survey. The national average reported by colleges that are a part of the AAU is 11.7%.

Danelle Berube of the Student Accounts office at Champlain commented that, “Our response rate was a little bit lower than other institutions, we were in the range but some schools chose to incentivize their surveys and we did not do that.” However, she said the results seemed to match recorded trends. “It’s very in line with national stats. It’s very often someone you know as opposed to that stranger-danger, Law and Order: SVU sort of scenario.”

Berube also commented that it was important to report the results of the survey in order to maintain and strengthen the trust between the administration and the student body. “The response rate was 13% and if we don’t come back and show people how we are acting on that data, then we’re not [going to] help build that culture of trust. The next time we issue the survey we would like to have more than 13% of students take it, not only does that give us better information, but for me, that’s also an indicator that folks are engaged.”

In the data published from the report, it showed that the majority of students did trust the resources provided by Champlain, and that they believed if an incident were to take place and that incident was reported, the college would take it seriously.

Averill agreed that the responses, even if there weren’t that many, are vital and that there is an obvious disconnect between the resources and the use of those resources. “Only 13% of the student body responded and that’s not a lot,” Averill said, “however, that’s something and it tells us that our students know how to help or believe they know how to help their friend but they’re not necessarily using our resources. But they claim they know how to get to our resources and they have trust [them] but they’re not necessarily using them. So next year how do we make sure our students who know of our resources have trust in [them].”

Of those who reported non-consensual sexual contact, 85% were women.

The Campus Climate Survey Executive Summary that was sent to all students after the data had been collected, reported that, “The vast majority of incidents (85%) involved individuals that students knew prior to the incident.”

The administration intends to continue using the Climate survey. In addition, the campus uses the See Say Do Campaign as a tool to address on campus sexual assault and to educate students.

See Say Do stands for “…noticing an event, identifying it as a problem and then taking responsibility and deciding how to help.” The campus provides tools under this campaign on their website, which includes lists on how to react to different situations and how to tell if the situation is an emergency. The campaign also instructs students how to not be a bystander, and gives a list of intervention tactics.

Champlain has also created a student advisory board, who assisted in compiling the data and presenting it in a way that was comprehensive for students.

“They got an advanced look at the survey data,” Berube states, “and they have spent some time talking about how this informs what they as a group do and where they focus attention for next year.”

The dissection of these statistics on a national scale has been the center of much debate. Overall, most experts agree that exact numbers are difficult to project, with some estimating that reports should be much higher, while others point to the inclusion of things like “unwanted kissing” with inflating the ratio. This problem is compounded by discrepancies between anonymous reports and those that actually file a complaint with the authorities.

Emily Yoffe writes in an article titled “The Problem With Campus Sexual Assault Surveys” which says that at Yale, about 60 percent of the female undergraduates completed the AAU survey, a total of 1,721 women. “Of those,” she writes, “Yale says 14.3 percent, or 246 women, said they experienced nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching during the 2014–2015 academic year. But also according to Yale, which makes public all reported complaints of sexual assault in a semi-annual report, only 14 undergraduates reported to university authorities having experienced any kind of nonconsensual sexual encounter during that same academic year.”

While it’s true that Champlain College comes in below Yale and slightly below the AAU average, it’s clear the convoluted classification of statistics and the prevalence of anonymous reporting means that those numbers, both here and nationally, are not accurately represented. Until campuses and organizations find a way to better group and report these numbers, it’s likely that these vague trends continue with little answers to offer.

I’m Z Ivan Miller — writer and graduate of Champlain College’s Professional Writing department. My work has appeared in Broken Records Magazine, Auditory Spectrum, and in publications associated with Champlain College.

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Katherine Albertson — journalist and graduate of Champlain College’s Communications program.