The Ugly Truth
Where there is a college or university campus, there is sexual assault
Sexual violence—it’s an unavoidable topic for anyone who even casually follows the news.
Last month alone there was the debacle of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings and his alleged sexual assault, the sentencing of Bill Cosby, and the many allegations against (and the subsequent firing of) CBS executive Leslie Moonves for sexual abuses of women.
Also in September, believe it or not, the U.S. Defense Department released a much anticipated, one-of-a-kind study that estimates the risk service members face at various military installations. Incredibly, the searchable database shows the average expected risk for men and women at individual military installations.
All of which is to say that we have come a fair way in some areas in dealing with sexual violence.
Yet on college campuses across the country, rape is widespread and far more common than other types of crimes on campus, according to experts.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reveals a chilling statistic on its website: one out of every four female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation.
In fact, we are currently in what college administrators and others call the “red zone” of sexual assault risk. The red zone is the period from the beginning of fall semester to about Thanksgiving break when sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses seem to spike.
More than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October or November, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a national anti-sexual violence organization.
Sarah Michele Kersey, a junior at Gonzaga University, considers herself a central point of contact for women survivors of sexual assault on campus.
“The fact that one in five women and one in 16 men will experience sexual assault on a college campus is absolutely unacceptable. Unfortunately, not talking about the issue contributes to the commonality of the problem,” Kersey wrote in a letter to the editor of the Gonzaga Bulletin, the University’s student newspaper, last November.
Last year Kersey appeared with two other young female students in a production called I Am Maria, a play produced by Gonzaga’s Center for Cura Personalis. Cura personalis is a Latin phrase that suggest individualized attention to the needs of the other or “care for the entire person.”
Although she says it is difficult to share her story of being sexually assaulted when she attended high school in Moses Lake, she has been outspoken about the issue on campus. She is an intern at the Cura Personalis Center at Gonzaga where she is tasked with promoting healthy relationships on campus.
Annual Security Reporting
The Clery Act* requires colleges and universities that receive federal funding to disseminate a public annual security report to employees and students every year in October. The report must include statistics of campus crime for the preceding three calendar years, plus details about efforts taken to improve campus safety.
Clery reports must also include policy statements regarding (but not limited to) crime reporting, campus facility security and access, law enforcement authority, incidence of alcohol and drug use, and the prevention of/response to sexual assault, domestic or dating violence, and stalking. Numbers for crime statistics are listed on each college or university website typically under campus safety and security.
The Clery Act is not the only campus safety legislation to which institutions must adhere. In the broadest sense, Title IX is a civil rights law that sought to end discrimination based on gender in educational institutions. It now includes sexual violence on college and university campuses.
Today, Title IX requires colleges and universities to “take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence.”
Clery Act reports for 2017 at two Spokane-area universities:
According to Taylor Jordan, Gonzaga Clery Compliance and Campus Security Team coordinator, there were two reports of rape and five reports of fondling on the Gonzaga campus last year.
Eastern Washington University
According to Jennifer Miller, EWU Police Clery Compliance officer, in 2017 there were six reported rapes and one report of fondling at EWU.
Stephanie Whaley, Gonzaga’s Title IX director, says the Clery Reports capture statistics that relate to criminal offenses on or around campus, including criminal homicide, rape and other sexual assaults, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson, as well as arrests and disciplinary referrals for violations of drug, liquor and weapons laws. The Violence Against Women Act amended Clery to include disclosure of statistics regarding incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.
Whaley physically takes reports from students who report sexually assault and reaches out to other students who may need support from her office.
“I discuss investigation options with students and I head up the investigation if there is one,” Whaley says. Whaley says it’s up to the student whether law enforcement is involved.
“We would likely do an investigation, but we don’t contact the police department automatically unless the student wants us to,” she says. “If they don’t want law enforcement involved, we work closely with them to provide what resources and referrals they need. We explore their support options.”
The types of support and/or resources depend on the case, but Whaley says her office refers students to Spokane’s Lutheran Family Services for services and works closely with every student.
“Students seeking support might say something happened to me or … just that they’re seeking help,” she says. “We help people connect and have a conversation on how they want to move forward. We keep track of every student who comes through office.”
RAINN reports that nearly 70 percent of victims don’t inform the police and that a mere 25 percent of reported assaults eventually result in an arrest. And that number is on the conservative side—one study by the ACLU shows 95 percent of sexual assault victims don’t report to police.
Whaley says the numbers are “right up there with most underreported types of crime. I would say we’re no different than other universities. And our numbers have been average for those reporting percentage wise,” she says.
Sarah Kersey says she remembers the fear and shock she felt after she survived the assault.
“It’s overwhelming,” she says. “You don’t know what to do. You don’t expect this to happen to you.”
Kersey says she didn’t tell anyone right away.
“I didn’t tell my parents until a couple of months after it happened. There was a lot of shame involved and I didn’t want to hurt them,” she says. “My parents have always been supportive of me, and I knew it would hurt them and I didn’t want to do that to them. My parents have a healthy relationship, and we’ve always been a normal family. We have a golden retriever for God’s sake.”
Kersey is vocal about her struggles today, but says it’s incredibly hard for any sexual assault survivors to talk to others about the crime.
“People I’ve talked to who have survived sexual violence typically say they don’t report because of fear of retaliation, a lack of faith in the justice system, uncertainty regarding how to define what happened to them (many times it’s several days after the assault until they understand what had happened and felt as if it was too late), and the uncertainty of where and who to go to for help,” she says.
“But I think it’s worth it and it’s how I reclaim what happened to me. It’s taking back my story on my own terms. I like being that figure on campus and that people know it’s happened to me and people can talk to me,” she says.
“So I get to do more work all year on spreading awareness about sexual violence, telling my story, doing events to make sure others can share their stories too, and preventing sexual violence,” she says.
“Gonzaga has been a great place to find myself and share my story and I’ve received so much love and support from those experiences that its overwhelming and mind bending.”
Today she says she is happy to tell her story because it starts a conversation and helps others deal with the uncomfortable tension “of where you don’t feel like you have the right to say what happened to you.
“While we are seeing a shift in society’s willingness to believe victims of sexual assault, there will still be the people out there who will disregard, silence and continue to hurt survivors. Survivors will still be scared into silence, disregarded and made to feel as if they deserved the pain they had to go through,” Kersey says.
Experts say although survivors of sexual violence suffer psychological consequences, they may reason that the costs of reporting—e.g., loss of privacy, humiliation, having to testify to police or at a college disciplinary hearing—outweigh any potential benefits. Additionally, women of color, women who are raped by an acquaintance or family members, and women who were using drugs or alcohol when they were assaulted are generally less likely to report the crime to police, research shows.
Whaley says she sees a lot of self-blame.
“And on campus—survivors in one way or another—they may know the person and even have to go to class with them,” she says.
“Sexual assault is a very complex issue, and alcohol is a strong contributing factor in cases that I’ve reported for this age group.”
Gonzaga provides sexual assault awareness training for each incoming student, Whaley says, as well as several other programs on alcohol use, mental health issues, sexual assault and healthy relationships. Other workshops and programs provide even more in-depth intervention skills to work in groups on case studies and work through what could happen in a variety of situations and what to do in those situations.
“We also have a bystander intervention program and workshops throughout the year. We really encourage people to step in and step up to do something and to help someone,” Whaley says.
*Clery Act: Jeanne Clery was 19 years old when she was raped and murdered in her college residence hall. Her parents, Connie and Howard Clery, learned that standards for campus crime reporting simply did not exist in 1986. So the Clery family put transformative change into motion on the state and national level: they lobbied for revolutionary policy change that eventually led to the Jeanne Clery Act, and formed a nonprofit organization that would help colleges and universities understand the Clery Act and how to maintain safer campus environments. Today, Clery Center remains dedicated to guiding institutions to implement effective campus safety measures focused on sexual violence, dating violence, fire safety, hate crimes, hazing and other forms of violence and crime.
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