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USD’s Investigative Process on Sexual Assaults

Five timely warnings have been sent out to USD students and faculty members regarding on-campus sexual assaults this academic year.

Timely warnings are alerts issued through the Everbridge emergency notification system. The university is required to warn students and staff when there is a crime reported on campus that warrants notification outlined by The Clery Act.

University Police Chief Bryant Jackson states that the Everbridge mobile app has multiple safety features available to keep students and faculty safe on campus.

“Through the Everbridge mobile app, faculty, staff and students have access to additional, enhanced safety features that help keep our community safe and informed during crisis situations, including an emergency call feature, SOS panic button and safe corridor check-in notifications,” Jackson said.

UPD’s main mission is to ensure a safe and secure environment for all students, staff and the university community. 

UPD takes all campus criminal investigations seriously, which is why all crimes reported on campus are handled with the same urgency no matter the severity of the crime being investigated.

USD Director EEO and Title IX Coordinator Jean Merkle said that many of the incidents reported on campus are from some individuals close to the victims of an assault. 

“Crimes regarding on-campus sexual assaults are typically reported through friends of the victim, an RA or other faculty members, most of whom are mandatory reporters, Meaning that they are required to report any incidents they hear about directly to their supervisors, those being UPD, Title IX or The Dean of Students,” Merkle said.

Merkle  explained the decrease in time spent in between crimes taken place and crimes reported on campus.

“People are feeling comfortable to report sooner after the incident; previously, complainants come in a month later or even six months after an incident. Now, persons are coming forward 24 to 48 hours after an incident has occurred,” Merkle said. “This is good news as it helps improve evidence collection, as well as ensure medical attention.” 

Once a crime is reported on campus, UPD can begin conducting an investigation or send out an initial response in one of many ways. 

This includes a patrol officer meeting with the victim at their location or at the police department; emergency medical assistance will be provided if necessary; the preservation of any evidence present; and an interview with the victim or victims about their experience with sexual assault.

Investigative detectives may also respond using a trauma-informed and victim-centered approach, which prevents victims from having to share their experience with multiple investigating officers multiple times. This is ideal in investigations regarding sexual assaults or other highly traumatic events. 

These specific types of investigations may also include further collected evidence, a sexual assault forensic exam, interviews with witnesses and the identification of suspects.

Jackson said this process can be heavily dictated by the victims desire to pursue further investigation. 

“It is important to note that the victim’s desire to move forward or not to move forward with a criminal investigation plays a significant part in this process. A victim can elect not to move forward with a criminal investigation if they choose,” Jackson said.

Jackson emphasized the departments efforts to prevent students from on campus sexual assaults and stigmas surrounding reporting sexual assault related crimes.

“The university has worked diligently to remove barriers to reporting acts of sexual violence and interpersonal violence,” Jackson said. “According to the National Center for Education Statistics, sex offenses make up nearly 44% of all crimes reported on college campuses nationwide. We believe it is critical to create an environment where victims of crime feel safe coming forward.” 

The university offers many different resources for students wishing become more aware of sexual assault prevention. 

Through UPD, campus funded organizations such as ICARE, PAVE, RAINN and through the universities Title IX offices are just some of the ways that students can be informed about the topic.

“There is a wealth of resources available to students, for example ICARE is a grant funded program at USD that offers online safety/prevention training, in person training, programs and events” Merkle said.

Some of the resources available to students include bystander training, healthy masculinity training, advocacy programming, legal response training, medical assistance, domestic violence support, counseling, work, housing and safety accommodations.For more questions or concerns regarding sexual assault prevention and awareness resources on USD’s campus please visit https://www.usd.edu/About/Departments-Offices-and-Resources/Human-Resources/EOAA-Title-IX. For more information regarding UPD’s investigative process, questions, concerns,contact [email protected].