One is too many, increase in reporting demands increase in victim protection

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By THE MULESKINNER STAFF

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Imagine being nervous as your night class ends; threading keys through the fingers of one hand, holding your phone, ready to call for help. Digging through your purse to put a finger on the trigger of your pepper spray, just in case. Then stepping out into the darkness, alone. For a while at least.

You feel a tingle up your back as you realize someone else is walking behind you. You feel relieved for a moment knowing someone is nearby. When you notice your company is a man, you feel nervous again. Then, guilty. Then, angry.

You don’t have any reason to suspect the man walking alone in the dark through the shadows of campus with you, yet you can’t help but feel vulnerable.

You’ve read the horrible news stories and posts your mom tagged you in on Facebook about how to protect yourself from predators. You’ve heard the statistic saying 1 in 4 college-aged women will experience sexual assault. Still, you’re angry that you have to experience this torturous cycle of worry, guilt and anger during a five-minute walk from class to your car or residence hall.

You shouldn’t have to. It’s not fair.

Public outrage against too lax of repercussions for perpetrators of sexual violence has grown in recent months as media followed the case of former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was accused of raping a woman by a trash can at a fraternity party in January 2015. He was charged with three felony counts of sexual assault and sentenced to a six-month jail term, but in early September he was released after serving only three months of his sentence.

Is it enough? Does three months – or even six – for sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster really show that campus sexual assaults are being taken seriously? The Muleskinner staff doesn’t think so.

We’ve heard about the bad treatment of sexual assault survivors on other campuses as well. CNN reported on Sept. 17 about five women at the University of North Carolina who feel their reports of sexual violence were not handled correctly by the university.

Delaney Robinson, a UNC sophomore, said she was raped by a football player on Valentine’s Day and has yet to see any resolution from the school. So she reported the rape to authorities on her own. She was told after she filed the report March 9, that UNC would make a decision by April 26, yet she still waits.

Robinson said school investigators asked her what she was wearing and what she drank the night of the attack, as well as how many men she’d slept with in the past. While they interrogated Robinson – the victim – the university encouraged the suspected attacker to continue playing football and even told him, “not to sweat it.”

That is ridiculous. It is not Robinson’s fault she was raped. It is never the victim’s fault. The fault lies with the rapist. Period.

A few weeks ago, CNN reported Canadian Judge Robin Camp asked a 19-year-old woman who was raped over a bathroom sink at a house party why she couldn’t “just keep (her) knees together.” He also said, “Young wom(e)n want to have sex, particularly if they’re drunk.”

Camp also gave some advice to young men after he acquitted the man charged with the rape.

“I want you to tell your friends, your male friends, that they have to be far gentler with women,” Camp said. “They have to be far more patient. And they have to be very careful. To protect themselves, they have to be very careful.”

These cases of women being hurt and scared by men who have little fear of consequences are sad and certainly troubling, but they didn’t happen at UCM so it’s easy to distance ourselves from them.

We want to distance ourselves from tragic situations, especially situations involving sexual assault.

We’ll admit it’s a problem for someone else at some other campus, but we don’t like to think about the fact that it is happening close to home. It’s a reality that we must face and even discuss if we want to make progress.

Rapes happen here. There have been four reports of sexual assault so far this semester, three of which were rapes occurring in September.

A 16-year-old girl reported she was raped Sept. 18 in North Ellis. The police report says the young woman was visiting her friend on campus when she was raped in a dorm room by an 18-year-old man. Neither of them were UCM students, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore it. And it doesn’t mean sexual assault isn’t happening to our students. A man reported a rape at the Fraternity Complex Sept. 25, and police talked to a woman in the emergency room at Western Missouri Medical Center.

The Annual Security and Fire Safety Report compiles crime statistics at UCM. According to the most recent report, there were seven reported cases of sexual assault at UCM in 2014 and six reported sexual assaults in 2015.

Although we’ve had four reported sexual assaults this semester alone, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll outpace previous years. Hopefully no more acts of sexual violence will happen for the rest of the year, but the numbers don’t look promising so far – especially if there are cases going unreported. The Annual Security and Fire Safety Report only accounts for cases reported to police.

Statistics from the Missouri College Health Behavior survey for the 2014-2015 academic year show a much higher number of sexual assaults than what is reported.

Amy Kiger, director of the UCM Office of Violence and Substance Abuse Prevention, said a random 5 percent of all UCM students, freshmen through graduate, are sampled and the anonymous responses are projected onto the entire UCM community.

The survey asks students, “In the past year, have you ever experienced nonconsensual sexual contact against your will?” A total of 4.2 percent of UCM students answered yes. Enrollment at UCM for fall 2015 was 14,395 students. So, if we project 4.2 percent to the 14,395 number, we can estimate that around 605 students experienced nonconsensual sexual contact sometime within the 2014-2015 school year.

The figure seems daunting, but UCM is actually below the state average. There are 21 campuses who take the survey and, on average, 4.3 percent of students at Missouri institutions said they’d experienced nonconsensual sexual contact in the past year.

The number is different again when the question is phrased differently. If students are explicitly asked if they experienced sexual assault in the past year, 2.2 percent say they had.

Kiger said some people don’t realize what happened to them was sexual assault or find the wording too harsh, which is why 4.2 percent of students will report having experienced “nonconsensual sexual contact” in the past year, while only half of that percentage will say they experienced sexual assault in the same period.

“That’s why it’s important for us also to continue education about what sexual assault is,” Kiger said.

It is also important to consider that while numbers may be increasing for reported sexual assaults, it might not mean more are occurring. Perhaps more are being reported because victims feel more comfortable telling someone what happened to them than they have in the past.

Holly Weiss, a violence prevention specialist in the VSAP office, said she thinks media and public outrage against sexual violence is making some people feel more comfortable reporting sexual assault.

“I think for the first time ever, people are angry about what’s been happening, and so it has brought to light that this is not OK,” Weiss said. “People who normally wouldn’t have a voice on it are now having voices, and I think that it’s now giving some people the voice to finally say something.”

The “Dear Colleague” letter released by the Office of Civil Rights in April 2011 said a National Institute of Justice report found that about 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual assault while in college.

Women aren’t the only group subject to sexual violence. The same report found that 6.1 percent of males were victims of sexual assault during college.

UCM’s 2015/2016 planner and handbook says the statistics on sexual violence are deeply troubling, and the impact on students can be devastating.

The handbook defines sexual misconduct as including sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual violence and dating or relationship violence, and says all of them are prohibited at under Title IX.

Education about sexual violence is crucial, and we need to be a campus community that takes care of women who have been victims of sexual assaults. We don’t need to disregard them or diminish their pain in any way.

We need to stick up for victims who have been hurt, and support them when they take action.

A man named Vitalii Sediuk assaulted super model Gigi Hadid Sept. 21 in the street in Milan. He grabbed her from behind and picked her up. Hadid responded by elbowing him and using her fist to defend herself until he released her. Some publications have said Hadid was too aggressive and the man was “just a fan” or “just a prankster.”

“Honestly, I felt I was in danger, and I had every right to react the way I did,” Hadid said. “If anything, I want girls to see the video and know that they have the right to fight back too, if put in a similar situation.”

Hadid shouldn’t be forced to defend herself in the first place, and certainly not a second time against media and a culture that glorifies offenders and criminalizes victims.

A similar public display of disrespect happened at UCM’s Audrey J. Walton Stadium Aug. 26 during the Warrensburg High School football game.

A high school girl was assaulted in the stands of the main seating area while she was sitting with her mother. It’s truly disturbing that offenders are so unafraid of repercussions for their actions that they feel comfortable assaulting a girl at a football game in front of a crowd.

So what is UCM doing to combat a college culture that mishandles victims, and an internet and media dialogue that discourages self-defense? A lot, actually.

UCM Public Safety sponsors free, nationally recognized self-defense Rape Aggression Defense programs for women, men and kids. The class specifically for women provides realistic self-defense tactics, and teaches about awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance.

Public Safety also has the Student Assistant Foot patrol and Escort Team. SAFE team members are uniformed students who patrol campus at night and walk people to building entrances or to their vehicles when called. They are available seven nights a week during the regular academic year from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. and extended times on weekends.

Public Safety also has several ways to report crime. People can, of course, call 911 to report suspicious activity to Public Safety, but they can also call 660-543-4123, the TIPS Hotline at 660-543-8477, or text the DPS Text Line at 660-422-2632.

Some people may have noticed several emergency phones across campus have been removed. Scott Rhoad, director of Public Safety, said they were not used often, and most crime today is reported using a cell phone. He said there are still some emergency telephones across campus, and Public Safety uses the Campus Eye app, which can be used to anonymously report crime to Public Safety, and can even include photos. Students are also able to call a 24-hour Advocacy Hotline.

While there are still plenty of avenues for reporting, it’s troubling that the emergency phones are being removed for lack of use considering they’re meant to be a preventative measure.

We shouldn’t determine their value based on the amount of people who use them. We should have them available if needed and pray they never are.

According to the 2015/2016 planner and handbook, UCM maintains comprehensive policies, procedures and practices consistent with UCM’s obligations under Title IX. The handbook says, “Sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence and other forms of sexual misconduct, will not be tolerated.”

UCM has a Title IX office that investigates sexual assault complaints. The office investigates formal complaints, but information is kept private and is only shared as necessary with investigations, witnesses and the accused individual.

There are avenues to report instances of sexual violence without filing a formal report.

If a student wants to keep details of an incident confidential, their on-campus options for people to talk to include the university’s counseling center, the University Health Center, VSAP and the Office of Mentoring Advocacy and Peer Support.

The handbook says, in all cases, personal information is only shared as necessary with as few people as possible, and all efforts will be made to protect privacy. Weiss said she has only been working at UCM since May, but what she has seen so far at UCM has been positive.

“I’m a person looking from the outside in, I would say that UCM is working toward providing everything they (sexual assault survivors) need, and actually doing it very well compared to other institutions of similar sizes,” Weiss said.

She said UCM has a large Title IX response team to handle cases.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve never gotten the feeling that UCM would not help the students,” Weiss said.

She said she would say the opposite is true, and that every Title IX team member she’s met with made it their goal to help students and faculty in the best way possible.

As an institution, UCM is providing options for reporting, preventing and helping sexual assault survivors. VSAP is also reaching out to students to help strategically intervene through the Green Dot program.

“Its main goal is to empower students to be the ones to change the culture,” Weiss said. “I really think that that’s something that UCM is trying to move toward. Not just having programs that help reduce violence, but having a culture that doesn’t tolerate violence.”

Weiss said if the institution pushes that value, and then employees work to educate so that others understand that value, it’s going to reduce the chance that violent situations will occur at all. She said we’re proactively pushing the value that violence is not tolerated and everyone can do their part to stop it.

UCM President Chuck Ambrose is also doing his part to change campus culture. He was recently a guest speaker at a national summit on violence prevention for college campuses.

UCM is certainly not perfect. Of course there are some things that could be improved. The lighting around campus is very low in some areas, which can be frustrating, and sometimes frightening. Also, the SAFE Team could be more responsive.

One of the Muleskinner’s own editors had an experience where she called for a SAFE escort late at night and no one came to pick her up.

Despite these – and surely other – problems, UCM is getting many things right when it comes to standing up against sexual violence.

Still, 605 instances of sexual assault are too many. Ten are too many. One case is one too many.

UCM staff, faculty and students need to continue to be intolerant of violence in any form, but especially sexual violence against women.

We can be national leaders by refusing to treat sexual assault survivors as disposable. We can set an example by encouraging and supporting the prevention of sexual assault, and taking care of our survivors instead of blaming them. But it starts with the individual.