Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, second freshman to win the Heisman trophy, was part of an on-going investigation of an alleged sexual assault crime dating back to 2012. This young star was accused of engaging in “sexual assault battery” on Dec. 7, 2012, according to ESPN.
ESPN said Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs decided not to charge Winston after further investigation, but cases of sexual assault are prevalent on many college campuses.
“Sexual assault is a definite problem on university campuses nationwide. It’s not an ACU-specific problem it’s a nationwide problem; it’s a cultural problem,” said ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison. “It’s a problem throughout our society.”
The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses has received renewed attention in the past year, with federal legislation mandating increased reporting by universities, and ACU has responded by complying with those laws and taking its own measures to prevent the crime.
According to a 2014 White House report, one in five women in America will be the victim of some form of sexual assault at some point in their college career. And women are not alone in this victimization. One in 71 men have been raped at some point in their lives, according to the same report.
ACU is not immune to the crime. This semester, a student reported to ACUPD that a sexual assault was alleged to have occurred in Edwards Hall. Such reports are rare, with ACUPD having received no sexual assault complaints for the three years before 2013.
However, Ellison said, national statistics indicate only one in eight sexual assault victims actually file a report.
The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) was passed in March of 2013 by Congress and signed by Obama as part of The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), expanding the scope of what ACU is already doing under the Clery Act and Title IX according to EduRisk Solutions.
Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that applies to all educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. The university is obligated under Title IX to take certain measures aimed at preventing and responding to situations of sexual harassment or discrimination, including sexual assault. The SaVE Act added crimes of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking to the Clery Act, which requires educational institutions to report crimes according to EduRisk Solutions.
“It is up to us to ensure victims of sexual violence are not left to face these trials alone,” said President Obama in April of 2012, according to the 2014 White House report. “Too often, survivors suffer in silence, fearing retribution, lack of support or that the criminal justice system will fail to bring the perpetrator to justice. We must do more to raise awareness about the realities of sexual assault; confront and change insensitive attitudes wherever they persist; enhance training and education in the criminal justice system; and expand access to critical health, legal, and protection services for survivors.”
Obama’s legislation for sexual assault crimes impacts the way the university will deal with sexual assault in the near future. The university is taking steps to help prevent sexual assault occurrences and encourage victims to come forward about sexual crimes.
“ACUPD is responsible for accurate Clery reporting,” said Kaci St. John, director of Judicial Affairs. “Legal Services and the Title IX Committee, in conjunction with other departments on campus, are responsible for ensuring the university complies with the regulations of the SaVE Act.”
Chris Riley, associate general counsel and compliance coordinator, said ACU will have to start requiring new students to undergo training.
“This will require a more across-the-board training for incoming students and also employees related to that,” he said. “The law has been passed but the regulations have not been finalized yet, so we are waiting for those to come out either the end of spring or early summer before we make any big changes related to that.”
Riley said training for new students could entail a one-hour online training course during Welcome Week that resembles the harassment training university employees have to comply with. Nothing is finalized for new student training, but it could be implemented as early as the fall, Riley said.
“Any cases of sexual assault or harassment are taken very seriously by the university, and we work quickly to make sure that students understand what their options are, that they know that they can pursue a formal investigation or an informal investigation and that there are things we can do to make the situation better immediately,” she said.
To help St. John gain insight into the well-being of students, ACU chose to send out a nationally recognized survey for data collection on campus earlier in the semester.
“The survey that we used was created by a researcher several years ago and has been used by multiple institutions across the nation and over several years,” St. John said. “And the reason that particular instrument was selected was because it was found to be a very valid method of gathering information.”
The survey was detailed and specific because of the varying definitions and interpretations of rape.
“Many people might consider rape to be one of those things where a guy grabs you out of the bushes and you have physical bruising and physical injuries and it’s a violent occurrence,” St. John said. “And so the specific nature of the questions asked in the survey are really why we thought it would be helpful, because it’s not a vague, left-up-to-the-person definition.”
Victims of sexual assault have two reporting options on ACU’s campus: criminal complaint and investigation through ACUPD and/or administrative complaint and investigation through ACU’s Title IX Coordinator.
These steps involve a three-pronged system: criminal investigation by ACUPD, Title IX protection investigation by ACU Title IX coordinators and Judicial Affairs regarding potential sanctions against the suspect, if the suspect is an ACU student.
“The first priority in the process is determining if we do in fact have an allegation of a crime, of sexual assault,” Ellison said. “Once we determine that we do have a criminal offense allegation, ACUPD works closely with the victim and gets the criminal side of the investigation going immediately, while also making sure that the victim has the appropriate resources and advocates to support her.”
The next step is determining if the allegation has Title IX implications, or judicial affairs/student life code of conduct violations, Ellison said.
“So while the police are investigating the criminal aspects of the crime that was alleged, the university administrative side is also required by federal Title IX law to determine whether or not there are any Title IX implications associated with that crime,” Ellison said. “If so, the university may need to reach out to the victim and make sure the victim is given reasonable accommodations, reasonable protections and due process.”
The ACUPD, Title IX Coordinators and Judicial Affairs work together to make sure victims of sexual assault crime are protected and accommodated, Ellison said.
“Our first goal is always the victim; to make sure the victim is safe and accommodated,” Ellison said. “And then second we want to make sure the university is in compliance with all of these complicated federal laws that seem to change every year.”
Often students are afraid to come forward because of broken codes of conduct.
“When a sexual assault victim comes forward, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the surroundings, they are protected,” Ellison said. “At the same time, we have to also remember that the accused has rights and the accused has rights to due process.”
The university’s Title IX Anti-Harassment Policy, policy V. E., gives immunity to the complainant and other reporters afraid of being charged with policy violations. This policy encourages students to come forward about sexual crimes.
“While violations to policy cannot be completely overlooked, the university may provide education options rather than other consequences, in such cases. This applies equally to other reporters, who witness and/or offer assistance to others in need,” according to policy V. E.
A recently developed mobile app is available to download for anyone who finds themselves in a bad situation. It is called the Circle of 6 mobile app.
This app provides a two-click way and alert system for a student caught in a situation they don’t desire. It allows them to secretly contact their circle of friends, instantly providing friends with information of their location and how they can help.
Even though cases of sexual assault are a problem on college campuses across the nation, recent legislation mandating universities to increase the reporting of sexual assault crimes was passed to help reduce the problem of under-reporting and encourage students to stand up for themselves.
“First and foremost I need victims to come forward and report crimes that have occurred,” Ellison said. “Nobody is going to be judged, nobody is going to be ostracized. We want to investigate that crime, protect that victim and if the accused is in fact a predator or a criminal, we need to deal with that and get that person off campus so no one else is jeopardized down the road.”
To find out more about how to file a sexual assault report in person or anonymously visit www.acu.edu/titleIX