Universities and colleges are stepping up efforts to curb sex crimes. Every year, parents send their kids off to colleges and universities so they can pursue a higher education. But all too often, students become victims of violent crimes -- a parent's worst nightmare.
9&10’s Lynsey Mukomel has a special report on sexual assaults on college campuses.
“Don't drink too much while you're out, that will cause you to make bad decisions.”
We asked college students what they thought about sexual assaults, how to prevent it and how it's talked about.
“The travel in packs is a huge one for girls, think everything through,” says Deangelo, a Central Michigan University student.
“If I'm going out in a skirt, that shouldn't deem that I'm going to be someone that can be taken advantage of easily,” says CMU student Katie.
Ferris State University student Jacob Giola adds, “Don't be a bystander, so if you see a girl that is obviously being drugged or not competent you should step in and help her.”
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.
“Most date rapes, most sexual assaults happens by people you know rather than you don't know,” says OASIS clinical director Angela Cook-Hoekwater.
In 2014, Ferris State University handled eight sexual assault complaints, which includes rape and fondling.
Central Michigan University handled 14.
There were no sexual assault investigations at Lake Superior State University in 2014.
Universities readily admit their numbers aren't accurate.
“We are aware that there's more than that. The other piece with sexual assault, in general, nationwide is that it goes under reported,” says Kevin Carmody, Ferris State University Title IX coordinator.
“We recognize that there's still a fair amount of under reporting happening on campus,” says Katherine Lasher, Civil Rights and Institutional Equity at CMU.
Victim blaming is one reason these crimes are under reported. It’s part of a societal problem called rape culture and you may be feeding into it without even realizing it.
“Rape culture is the idea that it's acceptable for sexual assault to happen, and that women do certain things that asked for it,” says Cook-Hoekwater. “Usually it has to do with they were drinking, or they were wearing the wrong clothes, or they were you know, walking down the street when they shouldn't have been.”
Angela Cook-Hoekwater is the clinical director for OASIS, a family resource center that also helps assault survivors. She says conditioning that begins at an early age is another reason assault seems to be an accepted norm.
“We’re taught that boys will be boys and girls are supposed to always be nice and smile and always be gracious and things like that, which leads to this problem,” says Cook-Hoekwater.
So what are universities doing to prevent these violent crimes?
“There's no one program or one magic bullet that's going to end this, it's gotta be a series of things,” says Carmody. “This is all of our issue, this is not just a male issue, this is not just a female issue, as we've been told for a long time.”
Both Central and Ferris students complete online awareness programs. They also have support and advocacy groups on campus.
Plus, Central's gone even farther.
“They have five trained police officers that are trained specially to handle sexual misconduct, they do a fantastic job,” says Lasher.
We wanted to know what universities do to students found guilty of sexual assault.
Out of the eight complaints Ferris handled last year, three students were expelled and one student was suspended. The other complaints were either unfounded, not pursued or the suspect was not a student.
Requests for the same information from Central were denied.
But the university insists they have strict sanctions.
“For sexual assault, it's only suspension or dismissal,” says Lasher.
But are all these programs and punishments enough to stop this from happening to college students?
“I think we do a great job addressing our students when they walk through the door and make sure they understand bystander intervention, our new policies and procedures,” says Lasher.
Carmody adds, “If you ask me you know, if we're doing enough, as long one person is experiencing sexual assault I'm not sure it'll ever be enough.”
In an effort to dismiss the crisis of campus sexual assault, some rape deniers have attacked the findings of our film and some of the victims in it. Whatever the motivation of these critics—and frankly it boggles the mind—the truth is on our side. These are the facts.
To initiate conversation about sexual assault, a subject that is still considered taboo on many campuses, Donna Palomba, founder of Jane Doe No More and Jonathan Kalin, founder of Party with Consent gave a lecture on Thursday, Nov. 5 in the Gonzaga Auditorium about breaking stigmas and silence.
Jane Doe No More is an organization that aims to improve the way society responds to sexual assault victims.
“Primarily, [the aim is] letting them know that they’re not alone, that they can get through it. You can get through a lot of tough stuff … but it helps so much to know that you’re not alone and you have a support system around you that believes you. Most victims of rape don’t report or tell anyone, and it’s something horrible to suffer in silence with.”
The event began with a Poll Everywhere poll in which students responded to statements such as “Most sexual assaults are committed by someone you know” and “Rape culture is a big issue in today’s media” with “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “unsure,” “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.”
After students responded to this mobile poll, Palomba began by speaking of her own experience.
In 1993, a masked man broke into Palomba’s home and raped her. She went to a neighbor’s home and called the police. However, after a horrible botching of the investigation, Palomba found that she was not believed.
When the local police department investigated her case, Palomba was shocked to find herself on trial instead of her attacker.
She talked about how the lieutenant in charge of her case demanded that she “tell the truth.” Not believing Palomba’s account of the night of her rape, Lt. Doug Moran read Palomba her Miranda Rights and threatened to arrest her if she didn’t admit to lying about the rape. She was told that she stood to lose everything, including her children and her job.
“I wanted to make sure that no other victims were treated like this,” she said of the ordeal. This is the reason she started Jane Doe No More.
Since then, Palomba has heard many other stories of botched investigations in cases of sexual assault.
“There’s a long way to go,” she said.
In speaking on the mission of Jane Doe No More, Palomba added, “We want to change the way victims are viewed through education, awareness, advocacy and support.”
Sophomore Erin Rowland, who attended the event, agreed that it is important to change the way we view victims of sexual assault.
“There’s too much victim blaming most of the time,” she commented.
Palomba also emphasized the importance of the attitude of the police departments.
“We created an enhanced training program in the form of a video called ‘Duty Trumps Doubt’ that is often being used throughout the country and is often part of mandated training.”
This video is part of the training program at the Fairfield Police Department.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara commented, “It is a great video to remind us to always investigate and not to develop conclusions until we investigate.”
Kalin then spoke next about his organization, Party with Consent, which he began as a sophomore at Colby College in Maine.
When he went to college and began to learn more about consent, Kalin realized that everything he knew about the topic came from pop culture movies and TV shows he watched when he was younger such as “He Got Game,” “Superbad” and “Blue Mountain State.” These gave him unrealistic ideas about consent.
“When I read the definition of consent,” he explained, “I thought, ‘That’s totally unreasonable,’ because of these movies I watched when I was younger.”
Kalin wanted to start an organization that openly discusses consent, so that people will be educated about it, instead of relying on movies and TV to shape their ideas.
Party with Consent aims to “smash rape culture and replace it with consent culture,” according to Kalin.
Freshman Chris Lazazzera agreed with this idea.
“I think it shouldn’t be taken as lightly as it is,” he said, “There should be a bigger emphasis on it.”
“It’s such an important topic,” Palomba commented, “I would love to see the entire campus engage in the conversation, and helping change rape culture. It’s so important.”
As of last year, Fairfield has contributed to the initiative of fighting sexual assault on campus with a new program called “Step Up Stags.” All new students at Fairfield must participate in the new three-part program which includes participating in Haven, an online module that addresses the issues of sexual assault, a Step Up Stags lecture during Fall Welcome and Bystander Intervention Education, a program that freshmen and other student leaders on campus go through to learn about being a bystander. This is co-sponsored by the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport.
Despite growing attempts to educate students about sexual assault, only 41 percent of students strongly agreed with the statement that they know where to go to report a sexual assault on campus according to Poll Everywhere.
Todd Pelazza, director of Public Safety, offered some information to students confused about where to go, so that the statistic, when taken again at the end of the event, was raised to 50 percent.
When Prime Minister John Key shouted that opposition parties “backed the rapists” on Tuesday, he not only tried to distract people from his failure over the Christmas Island detainee issue, he trivialised rape and was deliberately offensive to many MPs. What’s more, the Speaker allowed him to do it. We asked the Speaker to hold John Key responsible but he refused to do so.
So on Wednesday, Green and Labour women MPs held John Key to account for his offensive statement.
I stood up with Labour and Green colleagues and registered the personal offence I felt as someone who has experienced sexual assault and worked with survivors.
Accusing us of supporting rapists was meant to shut us up; shut us up as thousands and thousands of victims have been shut up before. The Speaker’s decision to silence the women who rose to register their personal offence as survivors of sexual violence echoed that, but we made sure the Prime Minister could see the impact of his political games and how he dehumanised parliament.
Sitting in the House and being told I support rapists took me back to all those times I’ve seen families and communities torn apart when someone disclosed their experiences, and others chose to support the sexual offender. I’ve seen and felt intimately the consequences of that support. It was deeply offensive to me to be characterised as doing that.
Some of the MPs who said they were victims of sexual assault say they’ve never said it publicly before pic.twitter.com/0oM5GJGi5p
— Katie Bradford (@katieabradford) November 11, 2015
Accusing us of supporting sex offenders and rapists as if they are the lowest of the low also helps perpetuate rape culture because as well as trivialising the issue it ignores the reality that the majority of sex offenders are people who were previously friends or family. These people are often likeable. The young man who sexually assaulted me when I was at uni seemed otherwise likeable. I didn’t report or even publicly disclose. I had seen other young women do that and be ostracised, all because ‘he’ seemed like a good guy.
These are some of the same attitudes that mean our courts can only be relied on to convict in cases of what has been described ‘real rape’; a rape committed by a stranger with physical signs of injury. It may seem counter intuitive but to get on top of our rape culture we need to seek accountability and justice and express our pain but without creating the impression all rapists are monsters. Denying someone’s humanity and sexual agency is a monstrous act, that sadly all too often is perpetrated by people who are otherwise known as good people; not monsters.
Our system in no way provides accountability at the moment and that needs to change alongside our culture. Accountability for sexual violence and rape requires decision-makers to put themselves in the shoes of victims and survivors, and take this issue seriously.
John Key has personally minimised the alleged rapes disclosed by the ‘Roastbusters’, Tony Veitch’s history of abuse, refused to apologise to Tania Billingsley after she spoke out about institutional supports for rape culture, and minimised his harassment of a young service worker as horse play.
John Key and this Government have, over their term in Government, slashed funding to sexual and domestic violence agencies, gutted the Family Court, set a target to reduce crime despite low reporting rates for sexual and domestic violence being far too low, and have blocked substantive law reform to improve the 1 per cent conviction rate for sexual offending.
Those decisions have had much more profound consequences for victims of sexual violence than our request for the Prime Minister to oppose Australia’s bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council.
We stood up for thousands of New Zealanders who have suffered sexual violence and want the Government to take it seriously. I was proud to stand with so many women and men from the Greens and Labour for a safer society.