Categorizing Crime

Just the other day, at my home institution, employees, faculty and students received the following crime alert, under the subject heading “forcible fondling”:

Please note this message may contain information that some may find upsetting.
The University of Oregon Police Department has received a report from a UO student that on Saturday, October 6 at about 7:30 p.m., she was assaulted and forcibly fondled in the west parking area at Autzen Stadium. No description of the suspect was available.

With the onset of fall, and then the change back to standard time on November 4, it’s getting dark earlier. Certain perpetrators use decreased visibility with the darkness, as well as the anonymity of crowds at events, to target or offend others. Some perpetrators become bolder or more aggressive when intoxicated, and they may frequent events with a lot of drinking.

Anyone with information about this or similar incidents should call Eugene Police at 541-682-5111 or UOPD at 541-346-2919.

Updates regarding this incident, when and if available, will be posted on the UOPD website at


No action or inaction by a crime survivor makes that person responsible for his or her victimization. Perpetrators are responsible for crimes and their effects. The following suggestions may help reduce the possibility of experiencing a crime, or may improve opportunities to receive prompt assistance.
It is a crime to intentionally touch someone against his or her will, regardless of the situation.
Encourage friends to travel in pairs or with trusted companions, especially at night or in remote areas.
Use UO Safe Ride (541-346-RIDE ext. 2), call a taxicab, or contact UOPD for an on-campus escort (541-346-2919).
If you feel you or others are in danger, call 9-1-1.
To report suspicious, illegal or unusual activity on campus, call UOPD at 541-346-2919. For emergencies or if you see a crime being committed, call 9-1-1.
For students, a range of support services are available through the Office of the Dean of Students, 541-346-3216;
For students, personal counseling and other support services are available through the University Counseling and Testing Center, 541-346-3227 (available 24 hours);
For students, medical and sexual assault examination services are available at University Health Center, 541-346-2770;

For employees, the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, 541-346-3123, and Office of Human Resources, 541-346-3159, can assist in connecting to resources.

Other community resources available are Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS), 541-343-7277 (24 hour crisis line) or 541-484-9791, Womenspace, 541-485-8232 or 541-485-6513 (24 hour crisis line), and White Bird Clinic Counseling, 541-342-8255 541-687-4000 (24 hour crisis line).

Don’t get me going about the fact that a good number of these incidents (including a kidnapping) happened after football games. However, I was encouraged to see that they’d finally included some language aimed at perpetrators (although it’s still a mystery to many of us as to what happens if someone is charged with sexual assault on this campus).

I’m most curious about the increasing use of the legal category “forcible fondling,” which is a subcategory of sexual assault (caveat: not a lawyer). I believe that it’s a by-product of Clery Act provisions, as far as I can tell (sexual assaults are divided into two categories by the Clery Act: forcible and non-forcible) and I suspect the increasing use of the phrase owes to Joe Biden’s Dear Colleague letter.

Don’t get me wrong: we all know that sexual assault on college campuses remains an under reported crime, mainly because universities are not at all responsive to those who would report these crimes (c.f. both Virginia Tech and Penn State — case studies in this regard). But of all the verbs that could be used to describe this kind of sexual assault, why “fondle,” as in to handle tenderly, lovingly, or lingeringly or to show affection or desire by caressing? What genius came up with that category?



One response to “Categorizing Crime

  1. This seems like a topical study – though the “effects” methodology here is one I usually find questionable, at least it is looking at systemic effects

    I see your point about fondling – though it rolls off the juridical tongue easier than “unauthorized heavy petting.” I’m also struck by the use of the term “forcible.” After the debacle over the Ryan bill’s provisions on “forcible rape” (aka “legitimate rape”), I didn’t realize that was a legal term of any validity. I suppose the problem is when you apply “forcible” to something like rape in order to describe the difference between statutory and other forms of rape, but the concept created bleeds into the already dominant suspicion of the victim.

    In any case, I was also heartened by the statement about the perpetrators owning their actions and their effects. As I read it, I also thought they might have a number for potential perpetrators to call – a forcible fondlers anonymous group or something. The connection you hint at with sporting events (and which the study above implies) seems to suggest that there is a cultural programming that makes this seem appropriate. I don’t know enough about the programs established around sexual or domestic violence, but it seems like we know enough to start doing some more preventative care rather than waiting until the virus has truly taken over.

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