The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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An update on sexual assault at SMU

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Courtesy of SMU

There have been no sexual assaults reported on SMU’s campus this year, according to SMU’s Crime and Fire Log. While this is encouraging, SMU has experienced an increased number of sexual assaults on campus in recent years, and university officials remain cautious.

This begs the question: Is this due to a decrease in the number of assaults, or do many assaults go unreported?

SMU Women’s Center director Karen Click said that reporting sexual assault is difficult for people in all parts of society because people are not believed when they tell their story. A report released last year by the Justice Department said that about 20 percent of all instances of sexual assault on college campuses are reported to police.

“There’s a lot of victim blaming, so when someone has the decision to come forward, they have to decide if they’re willing to withstand that,” said Click. “That’s always a challenge.”

According to the Clery Annual Report for 2013, there were five forcible sex offenses in 2012 and four in 2013 on the SMU campus. In 2011, there were five forcible sex offenses that were not reported to the police. After a string of emails notifying the SMU community of sexual assaults in the past few years, the absence of these emails this year is noteworthy.

However, Click said that the reports she sees in the Women & LGBT Center have remained pretty consistent. Although the federal Clery Act requires U.S. colleges to disclose all sexual assaults that occur on their campuses annually, universities can only compile reported incidents, and sexual assaults often go unreported.

Last May, a federal investigation found that SMU failed to fairly and promptly address reports of sexual violence, harassment and retaliation. SMU was one of 55 institutions on a list released for sexual misconduct.

Like all colleges that collect federal funding, SMU is required by federal law under Title IX to investigate complaints of sexual violence and to provide counseling and care to the victims. Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination.

According to Dr. Lori S. White, Vice President for Student Affairs, SMU students, faculty and administrators have been focusing on education and training, policies and procedures, bystander intervention training and student leadership.

“SMU community members are working together to prevent and raise awareness of sexual assault,” said White. “It’s important to note that national statistics show that sexual assault is a serious issue and an underreported crime nationwide.”

In 2012, SMU President R. Gerald Turner created the President’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policies and Procedures to re-examine the University’s procedures and policies related to sexual misconduct. The task force made 41 recommendations for new initiatives after reviewing practices nationwide.

Since then, the Task Force Implementation Group has implemented most of these recommendations, or is in the process of implementing the remaining ones. SMU has expanded education for students and faculty on procedures and resources, such as a comprehensive online course has been required for income students.

In addition to procedural changes, the SMU Psychology department has developed a new research-based sexual assault bystander intervention program. Students created the “Not On My Campus” campaign in 2013, which raises awareness of sexual assault. The SMU community is also participating in the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign, which is also raising awareness of consent and bystander intervention.

This spring, SMU emailed students a campus climate survey to gather information about their perceptions of sexual assault and awareness of resources and how to report.

“I hope all students will take a few minutes to answer this voluntary survey,” said White. “It will provide valuable information that will help shape SMU’s prevention and education programs.”

In addition, the students, faculty and staff members serving on the Task Force Implementation Group are monitoring SMU’s prevention programs, and are implementing several remaining Task Force recommendations. One of these is a citizenship program that emphasizes SMU values and what it means to be a responsible member of the SMU community.

“I urge students to get involved and participate in the ongoing conversation about this serious issue,” said White. “Every voice matters.”

However, the conversation remains fraught at a societal level. Multiple studies have shown sexual violence to be an under-reported crime. There is a disturbing cultural acceptance of sexual assault, which leads some victims to believe what happened to them is acceptable. Some students simply don’t know what their legal rights are.

“There is a supposed “gray area” where many students feel like what happened to them was wrong, but don’t recognize that it is a crime,” said Alex Day, President of the Women’s Interest Network. “Increasing awareness of consent, as well as the options students have when they are a victim of sexual assault would be important steps forward towards a culture of consent on campus.”

Part of the issue is that a lot of students don’t know what constitutes sexual violence. Day believes that SMU should focus on teaching the definition of consent to students not only prior to entering SMU, but continually throughout their four years on campus.

Click said that, while the university is doing everything they can, it’ll be difficult to reduce sexual violence because the largely sexist society views women as objects that can be abused.

“Until that is fixed, we will always be struggling,” said Click. “I think that SMU is very alert and putting a ton of resources towards doing the best we can. But it’s a tidal wave that’s just going to keep coming.”

The sad reality is that the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses are perpetrated by a peer, or someone the victim knows. Society tends to blame the victim in these situations. Young women are continually encouraged to take preventative measures against sexual violence. Carry mace. Don’t stay out too late. There’s always the offensive “don’t dress suggestively.”

“I think that as a society, we have to stop joking about rape in TV and movies,” said Click. “We have to start believing survivors and we have to start taking them seriously.

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