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Stigma of assault: Campus SaVE Act requires procedural changes by March

The 2013 Clery report for the University of South Dakota documents four reported forcible sex offenses on campus in 2012.

What is a forcible sex offense?

In the past 12 months, Sandie Sullivan estimates 10 to 15 students have reported their own accounts of sexual assault, not to mention anonymous phone calls received by her staff at all hours of the day.

Sullivan is the executive director for Vermillion’s Domestic Violence Safe Options Services, and she said the frequency of which college students contact S.O.S. is “hit or miss.”

“There are times when you think it won’t stop, and other times, there is nothing for a long period of time,” she said.

Sullivan has been working with sexual assault survivors for more than 21 years, and said her first emotional response to USD’s Clery report statistics surrounding sex offenses is “that has to be a really low number.”

“My viewpoint — it is happening a lot more than just that,” she said.

The numbers provided in USD’s report are compiled by the University Police Department, the Vermillion Police Department and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. Yet, their reach, along with law enforcement in college towns across the country, is hinged on whether the crimes are ever reported — and multiple studies state this is not happening.

It’s estimated between one-quarter and one-fifth of college females and six percent of college males experience sexual assault, according to reports by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Of completed and attempted rapes, it is also estimated that fewer than 5 percent of these crimes against college women are reported to law enforcement, said a 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics/Department of Justice study.

Fear of information getting out and being targeted by different people is part of what leads people to stay silent about their attacks, Sullivan said. The victim, she said, might think no one will believe them, or they could be retaliated against for naming the perpetrator.

“Certainly, the idea is that if it happens to you, people will believe you…that we are going to surround you with resources,” Sullivan said.

But these statistics could change, with the latest efforts of federal legislation to make universities take more institutional responsibility of informing victims of their rights.

Fighting for survivors’ rights

By March 7, the University of South Dakota will be required, along with every other post-secondary institution with Title IX financial aid programs, to make a number of changes to an amended Jeanne Clery Act.

USD’s administration is already making adjustments to meet requirements established by the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, a provision of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

Dean of Students Kim Grieve said noticeable changes by the university will be the expansion of documented crime statistics to include sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking within the Clery report. Currently, these offenses are not individually identified in the annual report.

Additionally, all new students will receive some form of training to promote awareness and prevention of sexual violence. Grieve said the South Dakota Board of Regents is looking at several software programs that might be options for students to take before attending USD.

This would be a one-time training in the fall, but Grieve said there would be ongoing prevention and awareness programs for students and faculty throughout the year — such as some of the options available now and sponsored by the Student Counseling Center and Student Life.

“We need to be more intentional about the information that is shared,” Grieve said.

The campus SaVE Act is also being enforced on the premise of putting the rights of the victim in the forefront, especially in an environment where nine out of 10 victims know their assailant, reports a 2006 investigation published in the journal Violence Against Women.

This means when students are attacked on campus, Grieve said, they can know they have the option to pursue a criminal case, they can go through the Title IX officer at the university or they can do both. It also means making the student aware of what resources are available to them, like counseling through the Student Health Center, Employee Assistance and the Counseling Center.

Grieve said USD is pursuing to build on transparency, accountability and education when dealing with sexual violence in Vermillion, but applying requirements of the campus SaVE Act to the reported sexual assault in Coyote Village in early October sees limited changes made by the university.

“It is by a case-by-case basis,” she said. “If we find out there is a sexual assault, if there is an immediate threat to the community, the person may be removed from campus immediately, but those decisions are made individually by the case.”

A student under investigation for an alleged sexual assault will not be made to leave the university, unless they are found guilty of violating USD’s sexual misconduct policy. In this outcome, the student could face criminal prosecution in state courts and may be suspended or expelled from the university, according to the USD Student Handbook.

USD’s sexual misconduct policy

Change in university policy statewide is being implemented as well.

The South Dakota Board of Regents passed policy revisions Dec. 4 “to Enhance Protections Against Sexual Abuse.” Grieve said the SDBOR’s work provides more defined procedures and more policy transparency on how to proceed if a sexual assault occurs on campus.

Jim Shekleton, general counsel for the SDBOR, said enhancement to Board policy around areas of sexual abuse and harassment have been in the works for a few years, as reports released in the past three years have shown a need for significant development in protecting students, staff and faculty from “unwanted sexual advances.”

The 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which was released by the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, was one such report, Shekleton said, that emphasized the expectations of Title IX compliance practices.

The BOR’s policy updates are “policy of procedural matter,” and highlight procedural tools to enforce action by the university to provide students with rights, he said.

Revised policy includes establishing that a single instance of sexual assault is enough to establish that a person has made the environment hostile toward the victim, and allowing administration officials to differentiate between severe and pervasive conduct from lower levels to address the prescribed conduct.

As local law enforcement and campus counselors will also adjust with the campus SaVE Act requirements, representation from the South Dakota Board of Regents Student Federation said the changes ahead are ultimately about making every student, staff, faculty member and visitor more comfortable on campus.

“The biggest problem is (students) are not aware of the outlets they have to get help for sexual assault,” said senior Dennis Smith, Executive Director of the SDBOR Student Federation.

Current resources and procedures 

As the university pursues new means to educate students and staff in accordance the SaVE Act, assistance to student victims of reported sexual assaults can fall at times to the UPD and Student Counseling Center.

Resources to contact

“UPD and the Counseling Center work together on various types of incidents, with sexual assault being one that could definitely bring us together,” said Sgt. William Manger of the UPD, in an email to The Volante.

Manger said for the most part though, UPD only is forwarded reports if counselors gain authorization of the client, over the age of 18, to allow the report. Otherwise, the counselor is bound by client-patient confidentiality.

How to report a sexual assault

Counselors, who are mandatory reporters, fill out weekly tracking forms, where they enter crimes like sexual assaults, and their reported location and date, said Lauren Schuur, coordinator of prevention services for the Student Counseling Center.

“But we don’t use names if the person is 18 or over,” Schuur said, who also works with Vermillion’s Sexual Assault Response Team.

The data is then sent on to “university hierarchy,” to track where attacks are occurring and what can be done.

For reported sexual assaults on campus that are reported to the UPD, initial response consists of ensuring the safety of the victim and then the scene will be secured for evidentiary reasons, Manger said. The responding officer is required to contact supervisor who will then contact a VPD detective to begin an investigation as quickly as possible.

What to do if you are a victim of sexual assault

“This allows them to start getting statements from victims and the collection of evidence,” he said. “It also allows them to obtain the necessary information from the victim in an attempt to limit any additional trauma to them from repeated questioning.”

With cases of sexual assault of a female victim, Manger said UPD has one sworn female officer, while VPD has a female patrol officer, detective and supervisor. Victims, he said, will have the option available to speak to a female officer, but the officer on duty will be the initial response for the sake of the person’s safety.

If anyone believes they have been sexually assaulted, Manger said first and foremost, they need to contact law enforcement.

“Even if there has been a lapse in time, the incident should still be reported and there is the possibility of evidence still being present, but with the evidence being so fragile and deteriorating quickly due to its biological nature, the more time that passes, the more likely the evidence will disappear,” he said.

Speak up

If you want to speak out about your experience with sexual violence at USD, contact Volante reporter Megan Card at [email protected].