UH programs look to raise awareness of sexual assault
On July 12, The New York Times published an article about a freshman student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York who was sexually assaulted on campus. The student’s name and case was revealed to the university, and she went before a disciplinary panel that was not fully informed on her case. In late 2012, Amherst College in Massachussetts came under fire for insufficient care for victims of sexual assault after one victim wrote about her experience in the Amherst Student, the university’s student newspaper.
In March, an investigation was launched against Harvard College for failing to adhere to Title IX, a law that requires equal treatment of all sexes in the education system. In February, a Title IX sexual violence investigation was initiated for the University of Michigan — Ann Arbor. In the past year, investigations have launched against the University of Kansas, the University of Delaware, Pennsylvania State University and many more.
As of August 6, 74 American universities are undergoing Title IX sexual violence investigations as universities are forced to re-evaluate their sexual assault policies. Americans are becoming forced to change the way they look at sexual assault on college campuses.
UH reported 16 forcible sexual offenses in residential facilities from 2010 to 2012. This number is lower than other Texas universities, but due to its narrow superlative and the sheer rate of unreported cases of sexual assault, it does not paint an accurate representation of sexual assault on campus. Equal Opportunity Specialist with the Office of Equal Opportunity Services Jyl Shaffer acknowledges this.
“We definitely have seen more than that,” Shaffer said. “We work closely with Residence Life, so we get reports that RAs have received, that the residents life professional staff receive, we have professors who contact us, we have students who contact us directly.”
“The sexual misconduct policy for UH covers behavior that happens between people who are affiliated with us, regardless where it happens.”
The Office of EOS is one of the University’s primary departments for tackling sexual assault and other kinds of harassment.
When EOS receives a report that a student, faculty or staff member, the victim is reached out to and support is offered. It is first determined whether the person has any physical issues that require a visit to a clinic or hospital, or if they require a visit to CAPS or other counseling service to make them feel safe. They are given legal options and told what UHPD can do to help, and if a student victim lives on campus, Residential Life is spoken to to make sure the victim feels safe in their room.
Next come several options. Shaffer emphasized that victims of assault or harassment don’t have to seek support from EOS, but if they do, the subsequent processes and options will be explained, as victims have the option of filing a complaint with the University, contacting UHPD to file charges, both, or nothing.
“What we want to do — our first priority — is making sure that people who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual harassment, discrimination, that they know that they’re not alone and that they have resources to support them, that they don’t have to deal with it on their own,” Shaffer said.
In the past several years, EOS has been connecting with other departments that handle cases of sexual assault and harassment, such as the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, Center for Student Involvement, the Athletic Department and even different colleges such as the Honors College.
“This is a campus full of really busy people, and it can be tough to get folks to come to programs, because it’s the end of a long day of studying, and you may just want to go relax” Shaffer said.
EOS has reached out to students and asked what they want to see from the University to help combat assault and harassment. Students want the University to avoid victim blaming — or saying that a victim of sexual assault is in fault. They have also asked for advice in domestic abuse and assault, the connection of drugs and alcohol to assault, and greater education and representation for LGBT individuals and men.
“(EOS) in particular, we are trained to, number one, understand the dynamics that may be unique to a male survivor, compared to someone else, the dynamics that may be present in the LGBT community may look different than in a hetero community, and to think about culture — that’s part of what our office does, is work on diversity. So we are specially trained to handle that,” Shaffer said.
But others, such as Malkia Hutchinson at the Women’s Resource Center, believe the University still has a long way to go before it is fully inclusive, as the University’s education and preventive care is still catered towards heterosexual white women.
Hutchinson is the spearhead behind the UH branch of Take Back the Night, a national event held to raise awareness about ending sexual assault. This year’s event will move from the spring to the fall, when, according to Hutchinson, sexual assault is highest among freshmen students.
“We’re collaborating with different departments on campus like Student Housing and Residential Life and Wellness and (the Student Program Board). We had a really good program (last year); we had an MC there who’s coming back this year, we had three survivors come to speak about their experiences with sexual assault and rape,” Hutchinson said. “We have an interactive portion with the audience to go over myths and facts over assault and rape which we’re going to revamp a little this year. There’s a march that happens after the first portion is over on a small area on campus, and then after that we have the candlelight vigil, and a speaker speaks afterwards.”
One of the main goals of Take Back the Night is to dispel common myths about sexual assault.
According to a Texas Department of Public Safety 2011 report of Texas crime, people in-between the ages of 15 and 24 are the most frequent perpetrators of sexual assault, while teenagers between 15 and 19 years of age are the second most frequent group of victims. Roughly 85 percent of offenders were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the assault, and roughly 75 percent of assaults take place in a home.
“I think with the push of social media, the more visibility with these types of issues in the news, I think it is changing a little bit, the perception of it, but even the things I hear from students and what their concerns are, it’s getting a safety whistle and walking to and from their car,” Hutchinson said. “The biggest date rape drug is alcohol, and it’s very easy to let your guard down and not really think about the ways you and your friends could be in situations with people you know, or people you care about, or people you just met. Those type of people tend to be the perpetrators most of the time.”
Shaffer believes the University’s programs are working, as the number of students who have come to the University to report cases of sexual assault are increasing. This increases the recorded instances of assault on campus — which is exactly what Shaffer wants.
“We wanted to know as more and more people understood their rights, as more education happens, they walk into a process that worked really well,” Shaffer said. “We have that. I think in that sense we are (way) ahead of a lot of campuses, because we have a really solid process to use if something happens.”
UH faces a unique challenge, as it must offer assistance to the diverse population of the University, including students of color, men, and LGBT students. The Women’s Resource Center, LGBT Center and UHPD are not confidential, as only Counseling and Psychological Services and the Student Health Center have state licensure to speak to students, faculty and staff confidentially.
To combat rising abuses among college campuses, President Barack Obama’s administration has been pushing new regulations and re-inforcing Title IX and the 1990 Cleary Act. The University has been working hard to keep in line with these regulations, and it’s this work that’s put them among the top universities in the state of Texas for assisting victims of sexual assault.
“There is nothing you can ever do, say or wear that would invite an attack on your body,” Hutchinson said. “The only thing I really encourage for all genders is to know what they’re comfortable with, (that) they’re expressing what they’re comfortable with, and (that) they know when to stop and to listen to their partners, even with non-verbal cues. I think that’s the important thing.”