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State Board Of Education Member Questions Sexual Assault Figures

Florida Board of Education

A State Board of Education member is questioning the number of sexual assaults reported on state college campuses.

Rebecca Fishman Lipsey believes it is unlikely that, in the most recent data, there were only seven forcible sexual assaults reported by the 28-college, 400,000 student system. Those figures do not include crime data for the dozen schools in the state’s university system.

On Wednesday, Fishman Lipsey began the board meeting by handing out pages of state college system crime data.

"Notice anything unusual?" she asked

“It’s just a string of zeroes,” she said of the column tallying forcible sexual assaults. “Initially, for maybe half a second, my brain could go ‘Wow, how wonderful. There’s not a single rape at any of our campuses. That’s an incredible thing.’"

But Fishman Lipsey said she doubts the news is that good. She asked the Florida Department of Education to look into the accuracy of the figures.

“Is there a massive amount of underreporting or something that’s not enabling us to get a real picture?" she said. "Because I can say, without a shred of doubt, that there’s no way that [with] 400-plus thousand students, there’s only seven forcible offenses in the entire state. That’s not realistic."

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart noted most college system campuses are commuter schools. Sexual assaults are more likely to occur in college dorms.

“They may be more accurate than we recognize,” Stewart said, “because, remember, these are day schools,  unlike universities.”

Fishman Lipsey said she also wants the state to look into new technology to improve campus safety. Most schools relied on a series of telephones – marked by blue lights – to connect students with campus police during emergencies. But Fishman Lipsey said there are now smart phone apps available to instantly connect students with police.

Polk State College president Eileen Holden said federal rules require accurate reporting and did not question the figures. She said college presidents would talk about the issue when they meet this summer.