Sexual assaults go largely unreported: Santa Clara University and students talk disparity in numbers

The week of Sept. 19, Santa Clara University welcomed students back to campus for the first time during the COVID pandemic. 

Almost immediately, reports of sexual assault started.

"This is the highest rates I’ve seen since being at Santa Clara (Univ.)," said Abigail Alvarez, president of the SCU Student Government.

She said there have been more than two-dozen cases from Sept. 19-22. Most of the victims are underclasswomen, and most of the crimes occurred at off-campus parties.

"There were over 30 cases reported to the sorority presidents. And they decided, along with all of the fraternity presidents, to close all the parties," said SCU senior Griffin Garbarini. Added Alvarez, "There was also an unprecedented amount of drugging happening."

University administrators said the reported number of sexual assault cases is three, not 30. 

In an emailed statement, officials said, "We unequivocally condemn sexual violence of any kind, take all allegations seriously, and are committed to making sure students have access to resources and support."

The university has not addressed the disparity in numbers – their three reported cases versus the alleged 30 students say occurred. The difference could stem from the fact few cases are reported, which experts say is a common problem in this type of crime.

"I’ve been assaulted three times personally at this school. I’ve never once reported it," said SCU senior Sarah Zasso.

She said the alleged perpetrator in her case was a friend, who has since left the school. Zasso explained the reporting process can re-traumatize. So she, like many victims, moved on without telling anyone in authority.

"I’ve seen people go through Title IX, go through that formal process. And personally, for me, I knew that was a journey I wasn’t ready to take," said Zasso.

Campus leaders such as Alvarez are sounding a warning, and seeking additional steps the university can take to protect students..

"I think it can make a huge difference for bystanders, in teaching them what to look for," said Alvarez.

Many SCU students believe the university’s funding of a survivors advocate on-campus, coupled with a more aware Greek system, can help combat an old problem in this new era.