Uptick in reported assaults

A new Boynton survey shows a 9 percent rise in female reports of sexual assault in 2015.

by Kristina Busch

Better awareness among students at the University of Minnesota of what constitutes as sexual assault might have prompted a nearly 9 percent increase in sexual assault reports in the last two years. 
This year’s Boynton Health Service College Student Health Survey released Tuesday showed nearly one-third of female college students and about 10 percent of males have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. As University students become more educated, experts say awareness of sexual assault could be on a national upswing.
When students have a better understanding of the definition of and language surrounding sexual assault, they can more easily define a potential assault, University Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Director and Title IX Coordinator Kimberly Hewitt said.
She said students across the country are starting to acknowledge that victim-survivors can hold their perpetrators responsible.
“A lot of it is about cultural shift and educating people,” Hewitt said. “I think people don’t always understand that sexual assault includes a range of things. It isn’t just rape; it’s a broader category.”
Still, Boynton Public Health and Communications Director Dave Golden said American society as a whole hasn’t effectively prevented sexual assault. 
Despite growing accounts of sexual assault among University students, the number of reports to police and to a health care provider decreased, about 5 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively.
Often, victim-survivors won’t report their assault in fear of retaliation or because of shame or a lack of confidentiality, Aurora Center Director Katie Eichele said.
And because sexual assault often occurs in high school, many students enter college already victimized, she said.
In an effort to curb the growing problem, Eichele said the school uses an online course to educate students on sexual assault and its consequences.
Haven, first implemented in 2013, teaches first-years the definitions of consent, the signs of relationship violence and about sexual harassment and assault. Despite the increase in sexual assault reports since its launch, Eichele said she thinks the program is effective.
Students who are victimized can contact EOAA, Hewitt said, to file an incident report.
“In the report, we determine whether the [accused] student violated the University conduct code, and if they do, we forward our report to the Office for Student Conduct and
Academic Integrity to determine how a student will be sanctioned,” she said, adding that photos, videos and the accused perpetrator’s accounts are taken into consideration.
The EOAA’s priority is to communicate with students about available resources and offer victim-survivors support. 
Still, the school is limited in promising students safety, Eichele said. At the end of the day, staying safe comes down to a number of factors.
“You can certainly take self-defense courses and different precautions, but the reality is there is no guarantee that that will keep you safe,” she said. “What will keep us safe is holding accused people accountable. The more people are held accountable, the more society will think before committing these acts.”