Transparency lacks at university level in sexual assault cases
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Transparency lacks at university level in sexual assault cases

From a public relations standpoint, people would probably believe the University of South Dakota is a safe place. The image USD attempts to put forward is one of safety and security — a small town with a campus of the same nature.

While I’m not saying our campus is dangerous — I don’t believe anyone will be held at gunpoint or captured and tortured for days at a time — I am saying there is a serious lack of transparency and responsiveness to reported sexual assaults that occur in Vermillion, particularly on campus.

And while it’s not physically the same kind of threat, I would argue the lack of transparency is just as threatening.

This effort, or lack thereof, falls on the university officials we have no choice but to put our faith in.

As a first-year or sophomore, students at USD have no other option but to live on campus. While that is a whole other debate in itself, if there are such heavy requirements like that in place, there should be some pretty serious openness regarding information about who we live with and near, and what occurs in our homes.

Over the course of four years I have paid close attention to the openness regarding reports of sexual assaults in Vermillion, particularly those that occur on campus.

I put transparency and the availability of information high on my own priority list. It is my right to know, as is yours, what is happening in the community I call home. Transparency leads to better decisions, effectiveness and accountability.

But unfortunately, that’s exactly where USD has failed.

As the national media continues to point out and uncover the cases of sexual assault, asking for a change — and the victims courageously coming forward with their stories asking as well — it appears that our university has taken the opposite stance to cover up these instances.

Over the last two years there has been a serious lack of information provided to students on the reported sexual assaults that are reported and covered by student and local media. And sadly, there are so many more that occur than are reported.


On October 6, 2013, a sexual assault was reported in Coyote Village. While we later learned no charges followed the case, an email was sent out five days after the original incident only to students living on campus including 12 tips on how to stay safe, but it did not mention the alleged assault.

Those tips only appeared to be sent after continual prompting by the media for more information.

At the time, Director of Communications Tena Haraldson said while one of the main concerns for the university is its students, the administration was also trying to be mindful of the two students involved and their right to due process.

Dean of Students Kim Grieve said in a Volante article that the Student Services Office was being “transparent” with residents of Coyote Village — that housing staff was giving out information only when asked by residents.

Ten days after the incident, The Volante published an article about the university reaction to the incident. Within that time, no formal statement had been sent to students informing them about what had happened.

In December 2013, The Volante published an article regarding changes that needed to be made to the Jeanne Clery Act because of  Title IX financial aid programs. This was the beginning of the newly implemented “mandatory” online training program Haven, which the university cannot actually monitor to see how many students complete and will not hold anyone accountable in any way for not completing.

Within the article, Dean of Students Kim Grieve stated, “We need to be more intentional about the information that is shared,” and that USD is pursuing to build on transparency, accountability and education when dealing with sexual violence in Vermillion.

Last semester, a former student was charged with videotaping females in the fourth floor Mickelson residence hall showers and was then charged for an off-campus rape just days later.

Twelve days later the university informed students only in North Complex about the incident taking place. Their reason — there was no immediate threat.

Recently, The Volante published an article concerning the reported sexual assault at Coyote Village March 18.

The article states Pete Jensen, director of the University Police Department, said this incident appears to be an “isolated incident” and that students are not in any danger. He said the investigation is ongoing and that no further information is being released at this time.

No information has been sent to students regarding incident. In a story done by Keloland News, Haraldson said, “We ask our police to inform us if there is any danger to other students before we would disturb everyone and put that out, and in this case we’re able to tell in their opinion it was not a danger to other students.”

A call to action

I understand the university and its officials are in a sensitive position when it comes to reported assaults. That’s because sexual assault is not an easy subject to discuss. But because it’s not easy, I would ask that those in positions of authority — those who have the ability — take the steps necessary to change the culture and prompt discussion to implement changes necessary to tackle the issues in front of us.

Sexual assault does not only happen on campus or in isolated incidents. In 2013 I did not receive a single email regarding the assault reported on campus because I lived off campus. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t spend my fair share of nights on campus until 3 a.m. studying or working on my extracurricular activities.

Over and over again for the last two years I have heard the same excuse in every single case: “It was not an immediate threat to the campus,” so there was no information sent out.

I cannot begin to understand why, while the nation has begun to put pressure on prevention of sexual assault, that the university would continue to say rape is an “isolated incident” when one of every four women and one of every 33 men are victims of  sexual violence.

No one gets to decide what is “threatening” to me. I, along with everyone else, deserve information so I can decide for myself what is threatening and am aware of my own surroundings. I’m not asking for an emergency alert. If the police decide there is no threat to students because a case is isolated, that can be put in a statement. But at least the information would be available.

It is not the job of student media to be the only outlet for this kind of information for students. The issue belongs to everyone, and to make a change, serious attention needs to be placed on education, transparency and proactivity.