Spotlight on sexual assault

Sept. 5, 2012
“Butler University is certainly not immune to sexual assault. It happens more than people think.”

Sexual assault often goes unreported, leaving the victim to deal with the effects, the perpetrator free with no repercussions and universities looking to adjust programs and judicial systems to deal with the crime.

Butler University, officials said, is no different.

Each year, organizations work to sponsor Sexual Assault Awareness Week in September.

This year, with the events just two weeks away, they’re looking to further the conversation surrounding sexual assault on campus.

Greek Educators, Advocates and Resources, Peers Advocating Wellness for Students and the Butler University Police Department, among other organizations, have been working together to plan this year’s recognition.

“Butler isn’t immune to sexual assault,” said Sarah Barnes Diaz, health education and outreach programs coordinator. “It happens more than people realize, and it needs to be talked about.”

Sexual Assault Goes Unreported

Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that less than five percent of completed and attempted rapes of college women are reported to law enforcement officials. Off college campuses, that number jumps to about 40 percent.

At Butler, it’s no different.

In 2010, there were four sexual assaults reported to BUPD.

Though 2011’s comprehensive crime data hasn’t been released, at least two sexual assaults were reported in the 2011-12 academic year.

Assistant Chief of Police Andrew Ryan said that the numbers of actual sexual assaults are far higher than that.

“The survivor of the assault can feel like he or she is at fault,” Ryan said. “As hard as we work to try to dispel that feeling, it doesn’t always work.”

When a sexual assault is reported, Diaz said, the primary concern for her is the victim’s well-being.

“For us, it’s about helping to support the victim in identifying what steps to take,” Diaz said. “We tell the victim all of his or her options so he or she can make the right choice.”

A lot of the times, Diaz said, victims don’t want to prosecute the perpetrator. Most of the time, she continued, the victims fear that people will find out.

“It’s a small university,” she said. “People know each other, and word gets out. There’s a social implication to sexual assault.”

Under instruction from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the university is required to complete a minimal investigation any time a sexual assault is reported.

While the victim does have a choice to pursue criminal prosecution, the university has to complete an investigation with or without the victim’s participation.

Conduct Board Deals with Assault

Most sexual assault cases on college campuses around the country do not get turned over to police departments, leaving university conduct boards to determine how to best punish the perpetrators.

Butler University is no different.

The same conduct board, overseen by Sally Click, dean of student services, also deals with student behavior, academic integrity issues and alcohol violations.

In those cases, the board either finds the suspect responsible or not responsible, Click said.

“We don’t have ‘Criminal Minds’-type people here taking prints and who can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that something happened,” Click said. “We have to determine if it was more likely than not that something happened.”

The board considers a student’s history, the potential danger he or she poses to other students and the amount of harm that’s been done when determining how to best punish a student.

If found responsible, Click said, the student could face a change in housing assignments, suspension or expulsion.

“We can assure that this is not something we take lightly,” Click said. “These are some pretty severe responses.”

Process Under Scrutiny

In recent years, school judicial processes nationwide have come under fire from victim advocacy groups who say the punishments don’t always fit the crimes.

Most students who were deemed “responsible” for sexual misconduct faced little to no punishment from school judicial systems, according to a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.

The database showed that fewer than 25 percent of students found “responsible” for sexual misconduct were permanently expelled from 130 colleges and universities receiving federal funding to combat sexual violence.

Alison Kiss, executive director for the Clery Center for Security on Campus, said that number isn’t high enough.

“I’d like to think that universities take sexual assault as seriously as police departments across the country,” Kiss said. “I don’t think the numbers show that they do.”

It is not clear what sanctions have been issued to Butler students who have been found “responsible” in sexual assault cases. Final reports have not been released, citing protection under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

When students enroll at a university, Kiss said, the university is faced with handling their well-being.

“There has to be a broad sense of responsibility,” Kiss said. “The university has to share in that responsibility too.”

Butler’s Resources

Through Peers Advocating Wellness and victim advocates, Butler has taken on that responsibility,  Diaz said.

The programs help victims in dealing with the likelihood that they will see their perpetrator around campus. Those involved work to change schedules and housing assignments to decrease that probability.

“It’s harder with such a small campus,” Diaz said. “We just want to limit how often they cross paths.”

Butler has a number of resources for students who have been victims of sexual assault. Victim advocates like Diaz will confidentially assist a victim 24 hours a day and seven days a week to provide consultation and guidance throughout the process.

While sexual assault will likely never be absent from college campuses, the tone surrounding it can change.

“Sexual assault has been normalized on college campuses,” Diaz said. “People think it’s just something that happens. It really should never be that way. We need to talk about how it affects your peers and your friends.”

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