One in five women is sexually assaulted during college, according to the new White House report "Not Alone.” The report tackles the issue of campus sexual assaults, and it gives guidelines for universities to implement to avoid such attacks. As KSMU’s Julie Greene reports, one of Missouri's senators is devoting a lot of attention to this problem.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill launched a nationwide survey last month to find out how colleges and universities report and investigate rapes and sexual assaults on campuses.
Now, McCaskill is teaming up with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to hold three roundtable discussions in Washington focusing on policies regarding campus sexual assault.
“The three of us are working together to come up with draft legislation that we think might simplify, clarify and hold accountable college campuses, but most importantly result in more aggressive criminal prosecutions of people who commit these crimes against college students,” Senator McCaskill said.
Student survivors, Title IX officials, victim advocacy groups and universities will participate in the roundtable discussions. The roundtables will be followed by a subcommittee hearing, and then by new legislation.
Mike Jungers, Dean of Students at Missouri State University, says that of the 350 colleges and universities Senator McCaskill is surveying, MSU is not one of them. However, university officials did stop by the senator's Springfield office, where they were interviewed by two staff members.
Jungers says MSU is in the process of updating its policies about handling sexual assault reports on campus.
“We have a Board of Governors meeting in May, and then we have another one in June. We’ll just make sure that it is approved, so that it’s operable for the fall semester. That’s our goal,” Yungers said.
According to Jungers, one of the biggest revisions in the new policy is clearer guidelines in the Student Code of Conduct, which states that both the accuser and the accused will have the same rights. For example, both parties will have access to a legal advisor and counseling.
Also, starting this summer, MSU is implementing an online education module that new students will complete before they arrive for classes. It covers topics including sexual assault, consent, bystander intervention and relationship violence.
Christina Adams is an MSU student and former director of diversity and inclusion for MSU’s Student Government Association. She feels more education about sexual assault is needed on campus. She says that although there are a few campus organizations that try to educate students on sexual assault--for example, VOX, Planned Parenthood’s student organization, and the Counseling and Testing Center--not enough is being done. Adams calls attention to the two sexual assaults that were reported by MSU students during the same week earlier this spring.
"Regarding other education, I don't think the residence halls take it as seriously as they should. Residence Life did want to educate students more after those two alerts went out, but due to the timing in the semester with Spring Holiday coming up and other end-of-the-year stuff, we just didn’t have time to have extra training… It’s disappointing that it’s not referred to as seriously as it should be,” Adams said.
The two reported assaults, which allegedly occurred in Woods House and Hutchens House, were reported to the Springfield Police Department on Sunday, March 30th and Saturday, April 5th, respectively. MSU Department of Safety and Transportation was later notified of both situations. Currently, the Springfield Police Department is investigating both cases. Again, MSU student Christina Adams.
“It’s good that people decided to report these things because they do not get reported enough. And I think a problem with Missouri State would be that people need to recognize that any kind of sexual assault still needs to be reported and is not okay. I think the faculty, the staff, the student employees and also just students on this campus, they need to know that rape culture is not okay, and if there’s just a better general understanding of it, then it could get reported more and people would be less afraid to do so,” Adams said.
MSU’s Office of Student Conduct website lays out a list of what to do if you’ve been sexually assaulted. These steps include telling someone you can trust and reporting the assault to the Springfield Police Department and MSU’s Department of Safety and Transportation, if the assault occurred on campus. For more information about sexual assault, visit Rainn.org.