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Sexual assault still a concern on college campuses

BY: MARY BYRNE

During his freshman year at Loyola, a now-former student was accused of sexual assaulting two female students on separate occasions, according to authorities. He is currently facing two counts of criminal sexual assault and two counts of criminal sexual assault by force.

Colin Kennedy, now 20-years-old, first appeared in court Feb. 19, 2013. Nearly two years later, the case is still pending, according to his attorney, Robert Kerr, who declined further comment. No date for a trial has been set, and Kennedy is next expected to appear in court Nov. 14, 2014, according to Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Sexual assault allegations, like the ones in Kennedy’s case, are not uncommon on college campuses. On Oct. 10, a student at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. was allegedly raped, according to ABC-7 Chicago. The university was supportive, she said, and no charges have been presented against the alleged attacker.

This past spring, the federal government led an investigation of universities accused of mishandling cases of sexual violence and harassment complaints. In May, the Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges and universities under investigation, including Harvard University and Ohio State University. Two Illinois schools, the University of Chicago and Knox College, appeared on the list.

Loyola has seen an increase in reports of gender-based violence, which includes sexual misconduct, according to Loyola’s Title IX Coordinator Rabia Khan Harvey, assistant dean of students. As Title IX Coordinator, Harvey deals with the training, education, communication and investigation of complaints of harassment or discrimination of students.

At Loyola, sexual misconduct is defined as sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual touching without consent and sex without consent, according to Timothy Love, associate dean of students.

“We don’t try to sugarcoat things like our numbers,” he said. “We’re not afraid of higher numbers. Some schools have done some shady things to try to avoid having higher numbers.”

Between July 2012 and July 2013, there were 22 reports of sexual assault at Loyola, according to Love. Between July 2013 and July 2014, there were 28 reports sexual assault.

However, only three instances of sexual assault were reported to Campus Safety in 2012, according to the latest Campus Safety Crime and Safety Report, showing a descrepency between reports to the university and reports to Campus Safety. In 2013, there were four cases of sexual assault reported to Campus Safety.

Unlike reports to the university that are based on the academic calendar, Campus Safety crime reports are based on the calendar year — Jan. 1-Dec. 31.

By comparison, Northwestern University had two reports of sexual offenses to Campus Safety in 2012 and eight reports of sexual offenses in 2013, according to the university’s 2014 Crime and Safety Report. Sexual offenses include rape, sexual assault with an object and sexual touching without consent, according to the report.

At the University of Chicago, there were eight reports of sexual offenses to Department of Safety and Security in 2012 and 11 reports in 2013, according to the department’s 2014 annual crime report.

With 60 percent of sexual assaults left unreported nationally, the offense is considered one of the most underreported crimes in the U.S., according to the FBI.

Love said the increase in reports is a positive sign for Loyola.

“This is a problem that happens across college campuses everywhere. It’s not something that Loyola is immune to,” he said. “So if we get more reports, that is a good thing; it means people are feeling comfortable enough to come forward because they trust in our process and they believe something is going to be done about it.”

However, a very small percentage of reports go through Loyola’s conduct process and even fewer are taken to the criminal justice system, Love said.

“A lot of times, it’s someone just coming forward and saying, ‘I want you to know this happened and I just want to let the university know about it,’” he said.

When a complaint is made by a student, the student may handle the case however he or she chooses. Ultimately, it’s up to the student to decide whether that means going through the conduct process, bringing it to court or asking Loyola for short-term accommodations, such as moving residence halls or changing classes.

After a report is made, the student involved in the sexual assault meets with Harvey to discuss which path he or she wants to take.

“When they meet, they’re having a two-part conversation, or serving two needs from a university standpoint,” Love said. “Number one, they’re assessing what the student is looking for and trying to understand what is going to be most helpful for that complainant. The other thing is weighing what does this report mean for the safety of others of the university community. We have an obligation to both.”

The goal is to orient the process towards the survivor, he said. However, there are certain cases where the university must also consider the safety of the community.

“We also have an obligation to all the other students who might be affected by a potential offender out there who, let’s say, a complainant doesn’t want to move forward against,” he said. “But if it’s the third time we’ve heard somebody’s name come up, obviously at that point we have to do something about that — even if a complainant would rather that we not.”

Love recognized that the number of reports Loyola receives is not an accurate representation of what’s actually happening on campus. In the National College Health Assessment for Loyola, which 999 Loyola students participated in last spring, 2.3 percent answered that they had been involved in an attempted rape in the last 12 months, and 1.2 percent answered that they had been raped.

This means that, of the students who responded to the survey, about 23 were involved in an attempted rape and about 12 were raped. The survey accounted for a fraction of the students at Loyola, but the numbers are consistent with national reports. The results showed that the majority of Loyola students don’t report when they have been assaulted.

It’s the university’s goal to prevent the same violence from happening to someone else, Love said. Because of this, he said Loyola aims to make students feel comfortable enough to report cases of sexual misconduct.

“There are a very small percentage of people who are perpetrators of sexual violence, but that small percentage tends to do it over and over again,” he said. “So every time a person comes forward, that’s an opportunity for us to stop that from happening to two other people, three other people, four other people, down the road.”

A comparison between Loyola’s statistics and national statistics of sexual assault on college campuses show that Loyola’s average is similar to the national average, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The national assessment indicated that 2.8 percent of student responders were involved in an attempted rape, and 1.8 percent of students had been raped, leaving Loyola slightly below the national average.

 

Stephanie Atella, a senior health educator at Loyola’s Wellness Center, coordinates many events around campus designed to educate the community on sexual assault and thus prevent it from happening. “Sex Signals,” a show that uses humor to discuss topics surrounding sexual assault, is put on every year during Welcome Week.

For the first time this year, the Wellness Center explained what it means to be an active bystander to nearly all first-year students during their University 101 classes.

Reilly Cosgrove is one of almost 2,200 first-years who attended an active bystander presentation. The presentation was interesting and informative, she said.

“It did give students ideas on how to interrupt situations that could turn sour,” said the 18-year-old undecided major.

However, Cosgrove said she was disappointed that the speakers told audience members to think about a person being sexually assaulted as though it were your mother, sister or friend.

“I don’t think it should be stressed that sexual assault is only bad if you know the person,” she said.

Another effort Loyola has made to make reporting sexual misconduct and finding resources easier was the development of the Here For  You app, Atella said. The app was funded by a grant Loyola received from the Department of Justice aimed at reducing sexual assault on campus.

Since the app launched last November, Atella said it has had 525 downloads from the iTunes App store. The app is also available for the Android, but those download numbers haven’t been reported.

As October is Domestic Violence Month, Atella is working on bringing speakers to campus and planning events for students to attend, she said. However, the Wellness Center finds it difficult to get students interested in the programs.

“It’s a hard sell getting students out to those programs,” Atella said. “It’s really nice when people require it, or it’s for class credit. But when it’s just voluntary, there’s not a lot of students who come. I hope to see more students at Loyola playing a role in creating a safer community.”

Though the university’s effort to educate and prevent sexual assault on campus has seen promising results in the sense that more students are coming forward, some Loyola students believe there is still work to be done.

Laurie Finnegan, a nonprofit management graduate student in the School of Social Work, said she isn’t impressed by many of the measures Loyola has taken. She specifically referenced Alcohol Edu, the online course first-year students are required to take before getting to campus. The course tackles issues pertaining to substance use and sexual assault.

“A mandated three-hour online course is not sufficient to ensure that all students understand the importance of keeping themselves and others safe when it comes to extremely important subjects like dating, drinking and substance use,” the 24-year-old said. “Online programs are easier to blow off than small group discussions, peer-to-peer interactions and ongoing education through the school year.”

Finnegan said the university needs to take the time to find out what students know and what they don’t know when it comes to consent.

“Students come to college from different backgrounds with different values and with different understandings of what consent means,” she said. “In order to create an environment where everyone agrees to follow the same set of rules, the university needs to take the time to find out what students don’t know and work together with students to establish ground rules and, finally, make sure the students not only agree to those rules, but feel a sense of ownership about the enforcement of the rules.”

While Loyola continues to create a campus that doesn’t tolerate any form of sexual assault, Love emphasized that this isn’t just a Loyola problem; it’s a problem at universities everywhere.

“Its a problem on college campuses everywhere,” Love said. “It’s a problem with society, with how our society conditions people to think it’s okay to engage in this behavior, especially towards women,” he said. “Not exclusively toward women, but especially toward women. So it’s something we feel as a university that we’re combatting — not just Loyola’s culture, but America’s culture that has prepared people in high school and even younger to get to college to think these sorts of things are ok, when they’re absolutely not.”

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