Not a single forcible sex offense was reported at Franklin & Marshall College in 2010 or 2011.

In 2012, according to statistics, there were 11 reports of forcible sex offenses at F&M; seven were reports of forcible rape.

The spike may seem alarming, but is actually a positive development, according to sexual assault experts and victim advocates.

It suggests that F&M is improving its climate for reporting sexual assault, they say.

It also suggests that the college’s climate was in need of improvement.

“Any school, including F&M, with zero sexual assaults reported for multiple years should be a red flag,” said Annie E. Clark, a co-founder of the national organization End Rape on Campus. “With what we know statistically about campus rape, there is no way one college had zero reports of on-campus sexual assault for multiple years.”

Earlier this month, it was revealed that F&M is being investigated under the federal law known as Title IX for its handling of sexual assault and harassment reports.

On the eve of the revelation, F&M President Daniel Porterfield sent an email to students assuring them that F&M’s policies and practices aligned “closely with the new federal guidance, and in some respects, place us at the forefront of colleges implementing many of the programs that the federal government has charged schools to pursue.”

But it can be “daunting” for a sexual assault victim to pursue justice through F&M’s judicial process, said one recent graduate, who asked that her name be withheld.

Other students and recent graduates said they were troubled that F&M hadn’t shed any light on why it was being investigated.

“Clearly, it’s because someone is unhappy somewhere,” said Arissa Brown, a recent graduate who served as co-chair of the Alice Drum Women’s Center at F&M.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights said it couldn’t release information about an ongoing investigation.

And F&M has been guarded in its response to this matter.

Julia Ferrante, the college’s spokeswoman, said she had been designated to speak on this issue, and she answered numerous emails and phone calls from Lancaster Newspapers.

But Dr. Lawrence Bonchek, chairman of F&M’s board of trustees, declined to be interviewed, explaining in an email that “our comments on this matter are being coordinated by our Office of College Communications.”

And Lancaster Newspapers’ request to interview the administrators charged with Title IX compliance at F&M was denied.

Even most of the students interviewed asked that their names be withheld because of the issue’s sensitivity in the F&M community.

Interviews with those students, and with advocates working in the sexual assault field, pointed to the college’s areas of strength in dealing with sexual violence — and possible problem areas.

Few reports a ‘red flag’

F&M has its own police department but serious crimes, such as sexual assault, are handled by Lancaster city police.

 The city police and the college have worked “pretty well” together, “especially in the last few years,” said Capt. Kent Switzer, of the city police’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“There’s certainly more cooperative effort,” he said. “Keeping the lines of communication open has been a really effective measure.”

Still, the number of forcible sex offense reports at F&M over the past few years was low.

Forcible sex offenses include those in which the victims were drunk and incapable of giving consent.

Under the federal Clery Act, colleges must disclose crime reports on campus, and at off-campus facilities owned by student organizations, such as fraternities.

“Penn State’s numbers have skyrocketed since the [Jerry] Sandusky case, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all,” said Kristen Houser, of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, or PCAR.

The reality, Annie Clark and others said, is that rape is endemic on college campuses.

According to the National Institute of Justice, 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual assault, or attempted sexual assault, in college.

Men are victims, too, but less often; the figure for men is 6.1 percent.

If a college claims to have received no rape reports at all, it means the college is either “intentionally under-reporting,” or its climate is such that “no one wants to come forward,” Clark said.

'Dear Colleague'

F&M formed its Sexual Assault Response Team more than a decade ago, spokeswoman Ferrante said.

In 2006, it convened a task force “to review policies and procedures,” she said. The college launched an awareness campaign and created a student group now known as Men United Against Sexual Assault.

“For the past decade, we have voluntarily and proactively continued to review and revise our policies with the guidance of attorneys, industry experts and the [U.S. Department of Education’s] Office of Civil Rights,” Ferrante said.

In 2011, the Office of Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague” letter advising colleges to strengthen their Title IX efforts to combat sexual harassment and violence.

In response, F&M’s task force became the Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

And the college revised its reporting policies “according to the new guidelines,” Ferrante said.

Reports spike

As of January 2013, any F&M  faculty or administration member who becomes aware of possible sexual harassment or misconduct must report it.

Counselors, clergy and health service providers are considered confidential reporters: At a victim’s request, they may withhold identifying details. But they still must make a report.

Faculty members are encouraged to note their status as mandated reporters on their course syllabuses “as a way of raising awareness about the college’s resources for reporting,” Ferrante said.

Faculty members also have been instructed “in how they may support students who wish to report confidentially, either by escorting them to counseling services or connecting them with the [college’s] 24-hour hotline,” Ferrante said.

The spokeswoman said the college’s renewed focus on preventing and reporting sexual assault may have led to the 2012 spike in forcible sex offense disclosures.

Eleven reports in 2012 is “a start,” Houser said.

F&M’s student population numbers about 2,400.

Why victims don’t report

Sexual assault is “woefully and chronically under-reported” on many campuses, Houser said, a point also made in a recently released report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

“Victims don’t report to anybody for a variety of reasons,” Houser said, but mostly, “They don’t trust that they will be responded to with compassion, belief and support.”

And their fears are rooted in the “good, solid evidence” they see all around them, of victims being harassed on social media, or being told to consider the consequences for their assailants, Houser said.

Of the 11 forcible sex offense reports disclosed by F&M in 2012, “all were investigated by the college,” Ferrante said.

Only two complainants requested a hearing before F&M’s sexual misconduct hearing panel.

And two “proceeded to the criminal process,” Ferrante said.

In one case, the charges were eventually dropped.

In the other, the victim did not want to participate in a criminal investigation, said Switzer, of the city police.

The college investigated the remaining reports “and assigned accommodations and/or sanctions without a hearing,” Ferrante said.

She declined to say what those accommodations or sanctions were in those cases, but said that in the past, cases have resulted in expulsion or suspension.

In some cases, living arrangements were changed, so the victim and assailant would have no contact, “or we would ensure the individuals [were] not in classes together,” Ferrante said.

Rape and alcohol

“It’s important to understand that in most cases, sexual misconduct on college campuses involves two people who know each other,” the F&M spokeswoman said.

“In general, many Title IX reports are harassment complaints that arise from unwanted contact or communication, often after a previous relationship.”

In other cases, she said, “alcohol may be involved and the individuals are not able to give consent. Alcohol often is involved in cases of misconduct, and this is one of the reasons colleges and universities have redoubled our efforts to educate students about the importance of responsible consumption and also the definition of consent.”

Said Houser, of PCAR: “We have to stop acting like it’s college party life that causes sexual assault.”

Research, and interviews with offenders, “tells us what thousands of victims know — alcohol is used strategically by assailants to lower their own inhibitions, increase victim vulnerability, and as an insurance policy because they know the public will blame alcohol instead of them,” Houser said.

“When alcohol has been a factor in a sexual assault allegation, too often people think, ‘He’s probably nice college boy who had too much to drink and made the wrong choice,’ and that's exactly what offenders expect us to do.”

She points to an Internet meme that states: “Alcohol doesn’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape.”

F&M’s Title IX coordinators

In August 2012, F&M named David Proulx, the vice president for finance and administration, as its first Title IX coordinator.

Janet Masland was named the  deputy Title IX coordinator.

She had been director of Sexual Misconduct Services since the previous year.

She continued to hold on to that role, too.

Guidelines issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights state that a college’s Title IX coordinator “should not have other job responsibilities that may create a conflict of interest.”

Alison Kiss is the executive director of The Clery Center for Security on Campus.

Kiss said that the best practice is for a college to designate a Title IX coordinator who has no other significant responsibilities, so there’s no conflict — or even a perception of a conflict.

As an article on the website Campus Safety noted, “because of the Clery Act’s complexity and the volume of work it requires,” a Title IX coordinator should have the time to “prioritize compliance with the law.”

Proulx also serves as treasurer for the college’s board of trustees.

Masland is also the director of student health and wellness education.

And she’s a nurse-practitioner, who works several hours a week at the campus’s health center.

“It sounds like there could be a potential [conflict of interest] here, especially in the confidentiality realm,” said Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center.

F&M denied this newspaper’s request for an interview with Proulx and Masland.

Too many hats?

In her role as nurse-practitioner, Masland is considered a confidential reporter.

If a victim reports being assaulted, but asks Masland, the nurse-practitioner, to keep her name  confidential, Masland is able to honor that request.

If that student comes to Masland, the deputy Title IX coordinator or director of Sexual Misconduct Services, Masland is mandated to report all of the details of an assault — including identifying details.

“If somebody is designated as a Title IX coordinator or deputy, that role becomes part of what they do,” Kiss said. “They should not take that hat off.”

Students at F&M said they respect the work Masland does.

“She is definitely concerned about the students, and she looks after their best interests,” said one student, expressing a view echoed by others.

But Houser, of PCAR, said Masland’s multiple roles, and multiple levels of reporting responsibility, could be confusing to students.

“How would a student know which role will take priority?” Houser asked.

Ferrante said “the college is very confident that we are well aligned with the requirements of title IX.”

“We feel that the other responsibilities of our Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinator are a good complement to their Title IX roles.”

A small school's climate

F&M’s students and recent graduates describe a campus where — despite efforts by the faculty and administration — there still may be a “social stigma,” as one put it, to reporting sexual assault.

As one recent graduate put it, “When you have such a small school, you can’t even show up at a party without everybody knowing” — let alone a college judicial hearing.

F&M President Porterfield earned praise for his efforts to improve the culture for assault victims.

“President Porterfield is very open in talking about the ways that F&M is trying to make it easier, or at least less traumatic, for victims of sexual assault to come forward,” one recent graduate said.

Students and recent graduates also gave positive marks to the college’s counseling services.

But some said survivors might prefer the anonymity of seeking help off-campus.

Ferrante said the number of the YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention & Counseling Center — designated the local rape crisis center by PCAR — is posted on bathroom mirrors and elsewhere around campus.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault suggests that colleges do more than just provide the number of local rape crisis centers.

It suggests that colleges form partnerships with those centers.

In February, Millersville University began providing space on campus for a sexual assault counselor from YWCA Lancaster to meet with sexual assault survivors.

The YWCA counselors are trained in trauma-focused care, said Cheryl Gahring, chief program officer for YWCA Lancaster.

She said the arrangement gives “students a little breathing room. We don’t know who their professors are. We don’t know the players. We are there specifically to support the sexual assault survivor.”

Staff Writer Paula Wolf contributed to this report.

Suzanne Cassidy is a Lancaster Newspapers reporter. She can be reached You can also follow @SuzCassidyLNP on Twitter.