University responds to new White House sexual assault report

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The report encourages colleges to be more transparent and aggressive about preventing sexual assaults

By Eleanor Roy, Editor-in-Chief

 

The White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President released a joint report this month about sexual assaults in the country, and created a new task force charged with finding ways the federal government can combat such crimes. A significant part of the report is dedicated to sex crimes on college campuses, which it describes as “a particular problem” for universities in the U.S.

The task force’s report, expected to be released within the next 90 days, is supposed to outline ways that the federal government can better educate colleges to handle sexual assaults, increase transparency within colleges about these crimes and create more awareness about higher education institutions’ sexual assault track records. It will also discuss the culture of rape and assaults, along with ways that the government can hold colleges accountable if they do not investigate these crimes properly.

According to multiple university officials, Stetson will not likely see very many changes in the way that it handles reports sexual assaults, because it already follows federal and state laws regarding the handling of such crimes.

Colleges that receive federal funding in some form already are required to comply with certain federal laws and congressional acts regarding campus safety and crime reporting. These include Title IX, the Violence Against Women Act, the Clery Act and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.

According to Michelle Quinones, associate director of Community Standards for the university, Stetson already complies with all Title IX, VAWA, SaVE and Clery requirements, and will receive guidance for any mandated changes after the task force concludes its report.

Public Safety Director Bob Matusick said he thinks that the way the university handles these crimes when they’re reported not only meets state and federal laws, but is also safe and effective for the victims of such crimes.

“We’re in great shape as far as I’m concerned, from a university standpoint,” he said. “I think the process that we use is very good. I don’t know what other universities do, I just know from me being a law enforcement officer and previously in charge of investigations with the Sheriff’s Office, I know what I think we need: to make sure that we work collectively with the victim, to make sure that we protect the victim, get the resources that the victim needs, and then we’re able to move forward.”

Dean of Students Rosalie Carpenter is also the university’s deputy Title IX coordinator for students, and handles most of these types of cases when they come through the university.

“We are right in accordance with this,” Carpenter said of the pre existing federal laws and guidelines. “So there’s nothing new right now that they’re offering. The task force may have results that do that, and of course we’ll be compliant.”

“This is something we always keep on our radar,” Carpenter said. “It’s not flashy, we don’t advertise it. But it’s something that we constantly keep up on and address our policies on.”

As noted in the White House’s report, sexual assault is a unique problem on college campuses. According to the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study, one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, but about 88 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported to authorities, another study says.

Four Stetson students reported being sexually assaulted since last January, according to Public Safety.

While there is no way to actually know how many students were victims of a sex crime and chose not to report it, if Stetson follows the same statistical trend as the rest of the nation’s colleges, that means that there could be between seven and eight other students who were sexually assaulted last year and didn’t report it.

Carpenter said she thinks the reasons vary for why students don’t report assaults.

“Most of the cases are not aggressive, what we see in the movies, like jump-up-out-of-the-bushes assault,” she said. “A lot of the situations that occur on college campus nationwide are a result of unclear expectations of consent,” like when a student gives consent for one sexual act, but not another.

“So I think that sometimes they go unreported because students feel that they had some level of responsibility for what happened. They blame themselves a little bit. I think there’s fear of not being believed, especially if they were drinking or under the influence. I think there’s fear of social isolation, especially on a small college campus. I think there’s fear of people finding out and being somehow embarrassed for that for some reason.”

Matusick said that he also doesn’t have an idea of how many students end up not reporting their own rapes, but that he does not think that sexual assaults are as big of a problem at Stetson as other schools.

“So, is it a problem? I’m sure it’s a problem everywhere. Is it an out-of-control problem? I don’t think so, here,” Matusick said. “But I do think there are issues here and I would dare say there are probably unreported sexual assaults that happen here at Stetson University, as well as any university. And why they’re unreported? I don’t know, because we’re going to do everything we can to protect that person.”

Carpenter said that these are reasons why students need to feel protected and secure in any university’s reporting system.

“Feeling comfortable and feeling safe are direct impacts for students’ choice to report or not,” she said.

 

Requirements for colleges who receive federal funding:

  • The Clery Act requires colleges to report all crimes–including sex crimes–in a daily crime log and an annual report, as well as give timely warnings about threats to student and faculty safety.

  • Title IX, a federal law, requires colleges to prevent sexual assaults from occurring and to swiftly respond when it occurs.

  • The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act requires that stalking, domestic violence and sex crimes be reported on crime logs and reports. It also creates minimum benchmarks for institutional investigations, and requires that colleges provide education programs about these crimes to their students and faculty.

 

Statistics about sexual assaults on college campuses:

  • One in five women are raped while in college (2007 CSA Study).

  • Eighty percent of female rape victims were under 25 years old when it happened (2010 NIPSVS)

  • Most college women are sexually assaulted by someone that they know rather than a stranger, especially in incapacitated rape cases (2007 CSA Study).

  • Fifty-eight percent of incapacitated assaults and forced rapes reportedly took place at a college party of some sort (2007 CSA Study).

  • Students who survive rapes are more likely than other students to have higher instances of depression or post traumatic stress syndrome, which can severely affect dropout rates (2007 study by the Medical University of South Carolina).

Process of reporting a sexual assault at Stetson:

  • The university receives notice that a student may have been the recipient of unwanted behavior, like a sexual assault.

  • This notice can be either directly from the student, or indirectly from another source, like a friend, Public Safety or an Residential Assistant.

  • Public Safety, Rosalie Carpenter, the DeLand Police, a representative of the counseling center and a victim’s advocate all meet to have the student tell his or her story and give a written statement. This is also where victims are informed of their legal rights and all of the resources available to them.

  • Stetson then calls in witnesses, etc. involved in the story. If the alleged assailant is not a Stetson student, then the DeLand Police will handle those investigations.

  • Based on the investigation, Stetson will then decide if anyone’s actions violated the school’s Community Standards in any capacity. If they do, a hearing will ensue.

  • After the hearing, both the victim and the alleged assailant have the chance to appeal the Office of Community Standards’ decision.

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