With Sexual Assault Awareness Month coming up next week, The Scout would like to remind students of the resources available to them regarding sexual assault.
Safety alerts and underreporting
The Bradley University Police Department sent a safety alert email March 6 about a female student who reported being sexually assaulted in an on-campus residential building the day before. BUPD received another report of sexual misconduct March 8.
BUPD Chief Brian Joschko said the March 6 safety alert email was sent because officers believed there was still a threat to campus, but the March 8 assault didn’t warrant a safety alert because there was no continuing danger.
“There’s been more light shed on the fact that suspects typically have committed more than one sexual assault … and the fact of the matter is, if that threat hasn’t been mitigated, then there is still a threat to campus,” Joschko said. “The one reported [March 8] happened in November 2014, so there was no safety alert because it wasn’t reported in a timely fashion.”
The two reports brought the number of reported campus sexual assaults to seven so far for the 2015-16 academic year (Aug. 1, 2015 – July 31, 2016), which Joschko said suggests rape is underreported at Bradley.
“What we know is that there are, based on at least national research and statistics, most likely more sexual assaults that are occurring on Bradley’s campus that are just simply not being reported,” Joschko said.
Anne Hollis, director of the Center for Student Support Services, said all sexual assaults her office receives are reported to the police, but some harassments or non-consensual touching are not.
Hollis agreed with Joschko that assaults are underreported at Bradley, and she said a significant number of underreported assaults involve alcohol.
“I think people just feel such a large amount of guilt, like maybe they shouldn’t have drank that much or whatever,” Hollis said, “But it doesn’t matter how much you drank. It doesn’t matter what you were wearing. None of that matters. The fact that you were unable to give consent is what the violation is.”
For every 1,000 women attending a university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year, according to a Department of Justice research report. Bradley has about 2,244 female undergraduates.
“Some of the things that I’ve been seeing lately is that people don’t understand what happened to them is a violation,” Hollis said. “In their mind, what happened to them is not bad unless it was penetration. If it’s anything less than that, they don’t feel like they have a right to feel violated, when that isn’t the case.”
Once a victim reports being sexually assaulted, whether to an administrator or police officer, the criminal process doesn’t automatically start.
“The state’s attorney office could move forward with prosecution without a willing victim, but that’s really not done very frequently and for a lot of really good reasons,” Joschko said. “It’s normally left to the victim to guide that process. So, if the victim isn’t interested in pursuing, unless there’s some extreme extenuating circumstances, we try to honor that request as absolutely best as possible.”
If a victim reports to a Bradley official, the employee is required to alert police that the sexual assault happened, but they aren’t required to give police any specific information.
“We encourage people to report to university police so we can provide them with all the different resources that are out there and available to them,” Joschko said. “Anything from counseling to student support services … outside resources like the Center for Prevention of Abuse is one of the resources that we work very closely with.”
Joschko also said he thinks it’s important to report to university police so officers can make sure they go to a hospital and receive the right kind of medical attention.
“[A sexual assault nurse is] somebody that’s been through this process before,” Joschko said. “It’s not the first person that they’re performing this exam on, so they can answer those types of questions that a police officer might not be able to answer.”
Joschko said because sexual assaults are traumatic and emotional, survivors often don’t know how they want to proceed and may wait days before reporting and deciding to move forward with prosecution, which can make it difficult if days pass without evidence being collected.
“Once that evidence is lost, it adds another layer of difficulty to proving the criminal case,” Joschko said. “We are able to collect that evidence and send it off to the crime lab, and we can test it and hold it. There’s a lot of things we can do with it, but if we are never there to collect it in the first place, we may have evidence that goes away.”
According to Hollis, if her office hears about an assault in some way, whether by faculty member or Resident Advisor, the office is required to reach out to the student.
“The university has a responsibility to meet with that student and make sure they understand what their rights are,” Hollis said.
However, Hollis said coming to her office does not mean that person has to start the judicial process.
“Sexual misconduct violations are about power, and there was a time in that person’s life when they didn’t have power over a situation,” Hollis said. “What we don’t want is for them to feel like they don’t have power again by tripping a system they didn’t want … whether they come in on their own or we do an outreach and they come in, it’s really to talk about what all of their options are.”
These options include documenting the assault or harassment, talking to the harasser about social cues and boundaries, issuing a no contact order, filing university charges and counseling, among others.
“The university will follow up to whatever level the victim wants us to,” Hollis said. “If they don’t want to do anything at that moment but come back the next day, that’s fine, we will start whenever they are ready, if they are ever ready. They could come back two years later and say, ‘I want to move forward,’ and we would start then.”
Hollis said her office would be required to start the judicial process if: the assault involves a minor, a weapon was used, there were multiple perpetrators, the incident involved a repeat perpetrator or location or there are ways to learn about the incident outside of that reporting, so if the incident was captured on video or security cameras.
“I have not in my three years seen any of those happen,” Hollis said. “We have been able to respect everybody’s wishes when they come in and say, ‘I just want to document this.’”
Hollis stressed that she is available to talk to students outside of her normal office hours.
“I really want students to know we are here for them whenever they are ready for us to be here for them,” Hollis said. “This office and this experience does not have to be formal, and it doesn’t have to be scary. I will meet them whenever they want to be met to provide those resources for them in an environment that feels safest to them, whatever time of day that is.”
Joschko said he hopes with the additional attention that’s been given to sexual misconduct by national media, more survivors will come forward and report, but these crimes aren’t often reported right away for a variety of legitimate reasons.
“They are intimate crimes and incredibly sensitive crimes,” he said. “Sometimes victims blame themselves. Sometimes victims don’t even realize that they were assaulted.”
According to Hollis, there will be online training required for all students starting in the fall to educate them about their rights, Title IX, the Campus Safety Act and more.
“We are working really hard to get to a point where every student understands [their resources and options], but we aren’t there yet,” Hollis said.
Hollis said the university is working with a company now to create the online interactive quiz, which will take students through different scenarios and give them advice based on their answers.
“I hope to get to a point where I can say, ‘Yes, I am confident that [students] all know of their resources,” Hollis said. “We are working on it, and sexual assault awareness month is April, and we have a lot of events – a lot of education – scheduled.”
Student Senate has also been working to make sexual assault resources something that more people know about, according to Student Body President Sarah Handler.
“I think people who are aware [of the resources] usually have a reason to be aware of them,” Handler, a senior industrial engineering major, said. “Until it happens to you or someone you know, [it’s something] that people don’t really know where to find it.”
According to Handler, Senate proposed a resolution to add a statement to professors’ course syllabi to explain Bradley’s Title IX policy, which outlines what actions university officials take when someone reports a sexual assault to them.
“It’s a pretty common practice at a number of universities, and it really just serves as a reminder not only of your resources, but it reinforces that Bradley is a campus that does not condone sexual assault,” Handler said.