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DEAR READER: Tracking coverage of crime in Columbia and on campus

Friday, November 29, 2013 | 9:45 a.m. CST

Dear Reader,

In August, I wrote about two issues the Missourian would concentrate on during the fall and winter: Crime in Columbia and sexual assault on college campuses.

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A progress report:

Sexual assaults on campus: In September, Samantha Sunne reported that in all of 2012, just two students faced punishment from MU’s Office of Student Conduct. A sexual violence prevention center on campus received 92 reports. MU Police: 14.

In themselves, the numbers don’t mean much, but for a university of some 32,000+ on-campus students, they are suggestive. Using a national, peer reviewed study, Sunne showed the number of women on campus who had some sort of unwanted sexual contact could be as high as 5,000.

Reasons for low reporting were depressingly familiar: legal barriers, public backlash toward victims, willful ignorance by men of what constitutes rape, student privacy rules, and a “culture of secrecy.”

In October, the Missourian outreach team’s Nate Anton followed up with a summary of this and other recent articles. The “Let’s Talk” piece included questions intended to promote discussion about the issue. The first question — “what is sexual assault” — was jarring to me. It seemed so basic, and yet reports show that, as Anton wrote, “legal terminology, medical jargon and college culture are often not in alignment on basic definitions and perceptions.”

Last week, a three-page flier was published on the Missourian’s Facebook site with graphics highlighting statistics and including Anton’s questions. Again, the purpose is simple: to get people on campuses talking.

Next week, the outreach team will distribute copies by hand. Lead editor Joy Mayer also has sent the flier to various groups on campus in hopes they too will make copies or donate money or time for widespread distribution.

Crime in Columbia: The Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence has been a focal point of the discussion in town. Reporter Tim Maylander has done a good job of tracking the task force as it figures out just what to tackle.

At this month’s meeting, Second Ward City Councilman Michael Trapp was quoted as saying: “I’m more convinced that this is a chronic issue rather than an immediate crisis.”

Numbers would seem to back that sentiment. Reporter Dani Kass found that assaults, robberies, burglaries and larcenies had all declined this year, at least through September. However, forcible rapes were up from 28 in the same period in 2012 to 40 this year. And there were five homicides, more than any time since 2005.

There are 15 people on the task force. Thirteen agreed to video interviews with Missourian reporters. The videos give a glimpse of these members, why they agreed to serve and what they think needs to be done. Look for the special report early in December.

Tom


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