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UNC crime report shows decrease in stalking, increase in sexual assaults

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A UNC Police car sits outside of the UNC Public Safety building on Friday, March 24, 2023.

Content warning: This article contains mention of sexual assault and violence. 

UNC's annual security and fire safety report shows increases in cases of rape, domestic violence, fondling and motor vehicle theft on campus and in residence halls from 2020 through 2022.

Other crimes, like stalking and drug-related arrests, were reported fewer times in 2022 than the year before. Liquor law disciplinary referrals had the highest number of offenses, with 151 on-campus instances. Arrests or referrals related to liquor laws made up more than 45 percent of all crimes reported on campus in 2022. 

The report includes statistics from the past three years in accordance with the Clery Act, which was passed in 1990 to mandate universities that receive federal funding to publish an annual security report. The report must include campus crime statistics for the three preceding years, in addition to resources and details on how the campus is working to improve security.  

Defining crime

Carissa Hessick, UNC law professor and director of the Prosecutors and Politics Project, said that when explaining what impacts crime rates, there is no “simple, causal story to tell.” 

While some crimes seem to be affected by economic factors, she said other crimes are circumstances of opportunity or culture.

According to UNC Media Relations, it's “difficult to pinpoint" a single reason crime rates may be increasing.

“The number of crime incidents, including rape, fondling, and dating and domestic violence, can vary from year to year due to many factors,” Media Relations said.  

When considering fluctuating rates, Hessick said it is also important to discuss the definition of “crime,” which varies by reporting systems. 

Holly Lovern, a gender violence services coordinator in UNC’s Violence Prevention and Advocacy Services Office, said the Clery Act presents specific definitions of the crimes featured in the report. But, Lovern said people may have personal “working definitions” that may not line up with other specific interpretations — especially for issues like sexual assault and domestic violence.

For example, under the Clery Act, UNC defines sexual assault as any sexual act "directed against another person without the other person’s consent." This definition includes rape, statutory rape, forcible fondling and incest. 

For first-year Mil Laursen, sexual assault is "any unwanted sexual contact." 

"I think the definitions are fluid and I think it's up to the individual who went through it," Laursen said. "Anything that's not consensual should be considered assault."

Lovern said the use of varying definitions for offenses makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of how communities are being impacted. 

Reporting crime

Violence impacts students across campus, Lovern said. However, statistically, she said LGBTQ+ and female-identifying students, as well as Black, Indigenous and other students of color, are more likely to be at risk.

Students who experience one type of crime are often at an increased risk for polyvictimization, or experiencing multiple types of victimization, she said.  

Lovern said she has seen reporting increase in recent years, something to consider when looking at increasing rates of crime.

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She said students may feel increasingly comfortable talking about their experiences or using resources provided by the University, like safe.unc.edu.

“Folks don't think necessarily the rates of violence are changing or increasing, but that the rate of reporting and speaking out and disclosing experiences is increasing,” she said.

Thirteen percent of both undergraduate and graduate students experience rape or sexual assault through “physical force, violence or incapacitation," according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

RAINN reports that one in five college-aged women impacted will receive assistance from a victim services agency and only 20 percent of female student victims will report the instance to law enforcement.

“I think it's going to be hard to get a truly accurate picture of what this looks like anywhere, not just our campus, but anywhere,” Lovern said. “But I think, too, when we think about college campuses, there is such a unique kind of spotlight and focus on how schools are responding.”

Campus response 

Laursen said while they were aware UNC released statistics on campus crime, they wished the information was more widely advertised and accessible to students.

“I think it would help me address the institution a bit more if they were actively trying to be more transparent about crime fear,” they said. 

To improve campus safety, UNC recently installed security cameras at the entrances of residence halls. UNC Police is also installing new license plate readers on campus following recent lockdowns. 

Lovern said it’s important to address issues of crime and violence as a “community issue."

“I'm not in those spaces with folks in the moment, but their friends are, their peers are, people that they know or don't know, they can really approach that from that peer-to-peer level,” Lovern said.

As a person assigned female at birth, Laursen said they think a lot about walking alone on campus at night. 

While they feel safe expressing themself at the University, Laursen said they do not feel safe physically. In addition, they said recent lockdowns and protests at the University led to the “very real realization” that anyone could walk onto campus with a weapon. 

@l_rhodsie 

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com


Lauren Rhodes

Lauren Rhodes is the 2024 university editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant editor and senior writer for the university desk. Lauren is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and political science with a minor in politics, philosophy and economics.