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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Annual Security Report shows changing crime rates on Medford, Boston, Grafton campuses

Officers from multiple police departments including Somerville PD and TUPD gather on the quad in front of Cabot Auditorium on May 9, 2016.

Content Warning: This article discusses sexual violence.

The Department of Public and Environmental Safety (DPES) released its Annual Security and Fire Safety Report on Sept. 30, breaking down reported instances of crime in 2016 on each Tufts campus. Reported cases of crime increased on the Boston Health Sciences campuses. On the Medford/Somerville campus, reported cases of rape decreased and fondling increased from 2015 to 2016. The overall crime rate on the Medford/Somerville campus did not fluctuate much, increasing from 147 crimes in 2015 to 148 in 2016.

The annual report is released in accordance with the Clery Act, a federal mandate requiring the release of such reports for all colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid. Crime statistics for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts were reported for the second half of 2016, July to December. Director of Public and Environmental Safety Kevin Maguire explained that the department will release the full 2016 data from the Fenway campus, where SMFA is located, in the future.

"For the six months we operated the SMFA in 2016 – July 1 – December 31, we reported the statistics in our current ASR, posted online," Maguire told the Daily in an email. "We’ll amend that report from the data we’ve received from SMFA Public Safety Administration ... but there were no reported crimes in any categories that were recorded by SMFA Public Safety Administration."

Maguire explained that the increase in reported crimes on the Boston Health Sciences campus can be attributed to revised guidance on areas of mandated reporting under the Clery Act. Crimes reported on the Tufts Medical Center property and nearby public property have been included in this most recent report because the U.S. Department of Education's 2016 Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting requires campuses to report crimes occurring on public property "within or immediately adjacent to campus."

Prior to 2015, rape and fondling were combined under the classification of forcible sex offenses. Maguire noted that the combined numbers of these crimes on the Medford/Somerville campus did not change significantly, but that it is difficult to pinpoint the cause of the changes for each category of offense.

"The reason for an increase of reported fondling cases from 2015 to 2016 (from 8 to 16) and decrease of reported rape incidents (17 to 6) is difficult to determine but may be attributed to increased efforts by the Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) clarifying the elements of these crimes and assisting survivors in reporting," Maguire told the Daily in an email.

OEO Executive Director Jill Zellmer added that another reason for this discrepancy is that cases that occurred several years ago were reported during recent years, and the Clery Reports reflect these past incidents, rather than just including incidents that actually occurred that year.

"Part of that was because of the rise of national attention on college sexual assaults in those years and part of that was our continuing efforts to encourage reporting — even in [alumni] — believing those individuals, and having systems in place to respond to delayed reporting," she told the Daily in an email.

Zellmer said that the university has also seen increases in general harassment reports on the Boston Health Sciences and Medford/Somerville campuses, along with increased reports of race/color, national or ethnic origin, gender and religion-based harassment on the Medford/Somerville campus.

"We believe this is also the result of the national climate. Most of those reports are from students who are experiencing this harassment from non-Tufts affiliates," she said. "We are tracking those very carefully and OEO, [the Tufts University Police Department] and others are working together to try to minimize those types of incidents."

Zellmer noted that trends in reported cases of sexual misconduct are comparable to those of similar university and college campuses. Maguire explained that DPES conducts comparisons to similar institutions to shed light on the overall state of campus crime.

According to Maguire, Tufts had lower rates in 2015 for violent crime than peer and aspirant institutions, with violent crimes including murder, sex offenses, robbery and aggravated assault. In 2015, Tufts’ Violent Crime index per 1000 students was 2.58, compared to a 2.71 average for peer and aspirant institutions such as Bentley University, Brandeis University, Babson College, Boston College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said. DPES uses a comparison tool provided by the Department of Education and an internal analysis process.

Maguire also noted that in 2015 Tufts' Property Crime index per 1000 students was 1.05, while the average for other four-year institutions with student housing in Massachusetts was 1.47. Property crimes include burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson, Maguire said.

The change in sexual offense incident reports on the Medford/Somerville campus follows an increase of reported cases of forcible sexual offenses from 2014–15. Maguire and Zellmer both attributed the prior increase in cases of forcible sexual offenses to increased efforts to encourage survivors to report incidents.

According to a reportby the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), four out of five cases of sexual violence go unreported to law enforcement by female students between the ages of 18 and 24. Zellmer said she believes that sexual misconduct training has increased reporting in recent years.

"This is the second year that all four undergraduate classes at Tufts have been trained in their first year at Tufts ... We know that training builds awareness and a discussion of all the issues of sexual misconduct," she said. "We want to encourage these discussions, too, because then when something does happen, people know what to do, how to respond and where to go for resources and support."

Zellmer told the Daily in a Sept. 25 article that she hopes that trends in reporting do not suffer based on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' rescinding of Obama-era regulations for sexual misconduct policy.

"Students at Tufts and around the nation now have an expectation that there will be programmatic support and responses to their experiences and reports," Zellmer told the Daily in an email. "We want to be sure that our community members are encouraged to report, know where to go to report and received the same or greater level of responses and support as they always have."

Erin Viola, an executive board member of Action for Sexual Assault Prevention at Tufts, explained that the reporting process can be daunting for many survivors of sexual assault due to several reasons, including fear of the assaulter and fear and a lack of understanding about the adjudication process. She noted that this greatly limits what the data can tell readers about the state of sexual misconduct at Tufts.

"The only way to get a more realistic number is if more people report, and that puts a lot of pressure on survivors to come forward," Viola, a sophomore, said.

She added that the report could go further to portray the limited nature of the statistics.

"I think [the report] needs to paint the real picture," she said. "There should be an asterisk next to the six reported rapes in 2016 that this is a fraction of what's actually going on and we know it's a fraction of what's actually going on."

Zellmer added that while OEO recognizes that survivors have many reasons for choosing not to report, she hopes OEO's efforts to reduce barriers to reporting will improve the university's overall understanding of the state of sexual misconduct.

"The more accurate the sense we can get of what happens on campus, the better we are able to target prevention, resources and support," she said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Annual Security Report did not include data for the SMFA for the 2016. In reality, the report included statistics from the second half of the year  (July to December) for the SMFA campus at Fenway. The Daily regrets this error.