Sex assault report released

The U follows some White House recommendations, but may take on more.

Vanessa Nyarko

A White House task force formed to protect students from sexual assault released its highly anticipated first report Tuesday, offering new recommendations for colleges around the country.

The University of Minnesota recently brought its sexual assault policy in line with a new federal law that took effect last month, and it has already implemented some of the report’s guidelines. Still, some say there’s more to be done — and that work could include making changes suggested by the report.

Sara Benning, the University Aurora Center’s assistant director for advocacy and education, praised the report and said it’s validating that the University already has some of the task force’s recommendations in place.

Among the recommendations already in place are the Step Up bystander intervention program and trained advocates and crisis counselors available 24/7.

“We are thrilled that the White House is paying attention to sexual violence, and we’re even more excited that they have some actionable ideas and next steps so soon after the initial report was put out,” Benning said.

President Barack Obama established the task force Jan. 22, citing a high number of campus sexual assaults around the U.S., many of which go unreported.

Among students on the University’s Twin Cities campus, nearly 7 percent of females and about 2 percent of males reported experiencing a sexual assault in the past year, according to Boynton Health Service’s 2013 College Student Health Survey.

However, the University only gets about 20 official reports of sexual assault each year.

Until last month, the University had long treated sexual assault cases like other student conduct violations, using an internal process to investigate them. As the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act took effect March 14, the University updated its policy, altering that process to provide for equal appeals, among other things.

Potential changes

One of the White House task force report’s main recommendations is for colleges to survey students in order to gauge campus attitudes and awareness regarding sexual assault.

Because campus sexual assault is “chronically underreported,” the report said, the campus climate survey would aim to provide a more accurate measure of the problem than victim reports alone.

Assistant Dean of Students Amelious Whyte said University officials will discuss implementing some changes based on the task force’s findings.

The annual Boynton Health Survey already asks students about sexual assault, he said, but that part of it could expand.

Making a full survey on campus sexual assault climate would require coordination among many departments, including police, the Aurora Center, the University’s Title IX coordinator and officials in the Office for Student Affairs, Whyte said.

“We want to do what we can to … prevent sexual violence from impacting people of our community, especially students, and also we want to do what we can to support survivors,” he said.

The report also said campuses need to engage men in sexual assault prevention programs.

Aurora Center Director Katie Eichele said many campuses, including the University, haven’t effectively included men in sexual assault prevention efforts. The Aurora Center is looking to change that, she said.

“There’s still a lot of people, both men and women, who think sexual assault is a women’s issue,” Eichele said, “and we know we can’t prevent sexual assault without all partners.”