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UK Blames Student Newspaper For Decline In Sexual Assault Reports

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LEXINGTON, KY (LEX 18) - According to a recent court filing, a University of Kentucky official blames a recent decrease in sexual harassment and assault reports on the student newspaper. 

In the affidavit filed this week by the University, 59 people reported sexual assault or harassment to the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center last fall.

The University said in that same time period this year, 21 fewer people came forward. Intervention program coordinator Ashley Rouster said in the court filing that "new students to the VIP center have asked pointed questions regarding who will find out their reports and specifically fear their story might appear in the paper."

In a statement sent out to students Monday, University President Eli Capilouto made similar comments, pointing out how the University is trying to protect the privacy of victims seeking assistance.

"The decline in the number of clients at the VIP Center underscores the chilling impact that news reports are having on the willingness of victim-survivors to come forward," Capilouto said. 

Editor-in-chief Marjorie Kirk said she's experienced quite a different trend with sexual assault victims. She said more have contacted her than ever before. 

"I think it's the victims know that there's questionable behavior going on at the university and they probably just have more distrust in that option," Kirk said. 

Kirk believes that distrust in the University is leading victims to the media. 

"I think what victims are realizing now is that there's other places they can turn and still get anonymous representation or protection, and have control of their story," Kirk said. 

Several journalism groups criticized the University's actions, saying they won't stand up in court. One pointed out that these students are examples of true journalism. 

"They've done nothing wrong," said John Nelson of the Society of Professional Journalists Bluegrass Chapter. "What they have done right is that they have exposed the way the university handles situations."

LEX 18 asked the University of Kentucky for past statistics of reported sexual assaults. A spokesperson provided numbers from fall 2013 and 2014, which showed a decline of 28 VIP clients. The University says the decline is due to a change in how UK handled Title IX complaints and investigations. 

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