Shedding Light on Sexual Assault Awareness


Photo by Bethany Spitzmiller

This graphic depicts the number of reported sexual assault cases at the University of Central Missouri from 2010-2020. According to UCM Public Safety, five of the rapes reported in 2014 occurred in 2012 and one in 2013. Three rapes reported in 2016 occurred in 2015, and eight fondling reports were made by a single victim and occurred separately over two months. Graphic by Bethany Spitzmiller

  Warning: This story mentions sexual assault, which could be triggering to some readers.

  According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, 13% of all college students experience sexual assault. As April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, officials from the University of Central Missouri talk prevention, reporting and misconceptions.

  If a student at UCM experiences sexual assault they have the option of reporting the incident to Title IX, Public Safety, the local police, or faculty or staff, who are mandatory reporters, or the student could talk about the incident to designated confidential areas, such as the University Health Center or Counseling Services and not have it reported. Students have the right to decide who they talk to about the incident, but each group responds to the incident differently.

  Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sexual discrimination, including sexual harassment, sexual violence and other forms of sexual misconduct. Heather Jennings is a Title IX investigator and deputy Title IX coordinator at UCM, and she focuses on responding to reported incidents.

  “We walk with students through whatever their experience is and then provide options on the investigative side,” Jennings said. “At very minimum, we make sure every student is connected with resources.”

  Jennings said she feels Title IX is important because of the role it plays in helping keep students safe. Rick Dixon, Title IX investigator and deputy Title IX coordinator, said the distinction between roles and responsibilities is strict when responding to a sexual assault report.

  “We can’t provide support services and then turn around and be the investigator too, so we have to refer things out to the appropriate people,” Dixon said.

  Suzy Latare, manager of Outreach, Access and Community Health, oversees work related to sexual assault prevention on campus. She commended the Title IX office and its staff. 

  “Our Title IX office is consistently head and shoulders above other comparable universities, and even larger universities, related to the kind of positive feedback that students give about the process, about how in compliance the office is with what is required at the federal level, and frankly just how fair the process is,” Latare said.

  Latare said it’s important for individuals to broaden their worldview and understanding of who is affected by sexual assault. Latare said one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding sexual assault is that it only happens to straight, white cisgendered women.

  “It happens to people of all genders, all gender identities, all ages, all abilities,” Latere said. “There is some pretty strong data to show that it does happen more frequently to people who identify as women, however, it is harmful to promote that message alone.”

  Latare said she doesn’t think that sexual assault is a widespread problem at UCM, but is a problem in our society as a whole. 

  Daniel Othic, assistant director of Police Operations at UCM, said that Public Safety works with Campus Community Health on some of their sexual assault prevention programs. Othic said Public Safety does as much as they can with prevention and in response to an incident. 

  “That initial part is about that survivor, making sure they’re getting what they’re needed,” Orthic said. “The criminal aspect at that time isn’t as important as making sure they’re getting the mental and psychical assistance they need so then what we’ll do is we’ll recontact or follow up with that victim a day or two later.” 

  Othic, a 22 year veteran of Public Safety, said he believes UCM has a safe campus. 

  “I have two daughters that go to school here, and if I didn’t think it was safe I wouldn’t have sent them here. I went to college here, my wife went to college here. If you were to sit back and look at what our crime statistics are to other campuses they’re going to be very similar, if you’re going to look at them to other communities, you’re going to see we’re like any other campus we have crime here, it’s not a complete safe zone,” Othic said.

  If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence, contact 911, Public Safety at 660-543-4123 or the Title IX office at 660-441-4855.