The Vermont Cynic

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A look at college sexual assault reporting

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In 1987, Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her dorm room.

Filled with grief, Clery’s parents took to Capitol Hill to change the laws regarding how colleges report these heinous crimes. Her parents believed that if they knew Lehigh had criminal activity, they would not have sent their daughter there in the first place. They wanted to see the creation of a law that mandated universities to report their crimes, according to clearycenter.org.

Thus, the Clery Act came to fruition.

To this day, sexual assault is an ongoing problem on college campuses.

“Between 20 and 25 percent of women will experience a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career,” Campus Safety Magazine stated.

In 2015, UVM police services reported 19 rapes in total, including 16 on-campus, and three reported on a non-campus property.

Though these rates are significant, many victims don’t tell anyone about their assault.

According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “rape is the most under-reported crime; 63 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.”

Posters of how to report sexual assault plastered the walls of all bathrooms in the Davis Center, courtesy of SGA and Students Against Sexual Violence.

Confidential reporting includes revealing your assault to a CAPS counselor, Campus Victim’s Advocate Judy Rickstad or a member of clergy, SGA Vice President Tyler Davis said.

“I wanted to understand where exactly students feel failed by the [reporting] system,” Davis said.

“So, we put out an easy-to-read document where students could decide which means of reporting suit their needs best.”

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest national network, “Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional and physical effects on a survivor; effects that are not always easy to deal with.”

“Justice can mean different things to different people, and reporting a crime to law enforcement is an individual decision,” according to RAINN’s website.

The SGA/SASA educational poster helps survivors go through the reporting process in a way they feel most comfortable, whether that means going down the avenue of a counselor or that of law and investigation.

The Clery Act states that institutions of higher education are required in the United States to disclose campus security information including crime statistics for the campus and surrounding areas, according to clerycenter.org.

Following the report of a crime, there are only 60 days to respond to the incident and move forward, Rickstad said.

“So, the first things I check into is: are they safe in the moment?,” she said. “Have they had any physical exam, if they have been assaulted, sometimes it has happened months  ago, but it can also happen over the weekend … so it’s important to see.”  

Most people on campus are mandated reporters, Rickstad said.

Responsible employees include UVM police services, a chair, director or dean of an academic unit, faculty members and personnel with oversight responsibilities for students and coaches, according to UVM’s sexual harassment and misconduct policy.

“There is an obligation that they report the assault, whether it’s sexual assault, stalking or domestic violence,” Rickstad said.

Survivors of sexual assault who decide to tell a professor or a resident adviser often do not know that they are required to report it.

“We want to avoid this kind of triggering by educating students about confidential versus non confidential reporting,” Davis said.reporting

Some students choose to tell their stories, while others opt not to.

“I don’t usually have them tell the story unless they want to,” she said. “Like sometimes, I am the first person they talk to and so they do want to tell their story, which is fine with me. I don’t want to revictimize them by having them tell the story repeatedly.”

The informational posters were placed in bathroom stalls and above urinals.

“We wanted to put this in an intimate setting because of the nature of the information,” Davis said. “Students may not want to be staring at [the poster] if it were in the hallway.”  

“I would say our campus handles sexual assaults properly, due to the fact that the rest of the student body is quick to receive information about a sexual misconduct,” junior Melanie Johnson said. “The CATS report is helpful and it’s reassuring that law enforcement here is taken seriously.”

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A look at college sexual assault reporting