Seventy-four percent. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, seventy-four percent of completed and attempted sexual assaults against females are not reported to the police.
Sexual assaults of both men and women are unfortunate realities on college campuses, and Marquette is no exception. The university was under media fire in the spring of 2011, when it was learned that, in the previous October, two freshman women reported being sexually assaulted at a Halloween party at a university-owned apartment. The story caught national attention, and The Chicago Tribune reported heavily on the university’s handling of the cases. One headline read, “One woman’s stand against college athletes: Her decision to report alleged sex assault shook up Marquette.”
Several Marquette athletes were allegedly involved in the assault of the women, which involved alcoholic beverages and forced sexual acts. Media outlets reporting on the case accused the Department of Public Safety of being slow to report such possible crimes to the Milwaukee Police Department, a requirement by Wisconsin law, in order to protect the status of the athletes and the university. The university has apologized for its handling of the sexual assault allegations, and has since updated its policies of handling cases of sexual assault.
“I’d like to stress that any incident of sexual assault is one too many and in complete opposition to the values of Marquette,” said Paul Mascari, senior lieutenant and assistant director at the Department of Public Safety, “We want any student who is a victim of sexual assault to be supported and to come forward.”
The extensive media coverage of the sexual assault accusations on Marquette’s campus brought the issue into the public eye, but Lynn O’Brien, a counselor and sexual violence prevention coordinator at the Counseling Center, said the university had already planned awareness and support programs prior to the allegations. The university as a whole was working to meet new guidelines outlined in the annual “Dear Colleague” letter, sent by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to national colleges and universities. The letter explains the requirements of Title 9, a U.S. law that regulates equal opportunity and education as they pertain to sexual violence on college and university campuses.
“From the outside, it appears that (programs) going on on campus are knee-jerk reactions to last spring, but that is not the case,” O’Brien said.
Dean of Students Stephanie Quade said all Marquette policies are subject to regular review to ensure compliance with external regulations and clarify unclear policies. The terms of the “Dear Colleague” letter, she said, led many colleges and universities across the country to review procedures and policies of sexual assault. The changes in Marquette’s policies included shifting the overall policy title from the specific “sexual assault” to the broader category of “sexual misconduct.” The university also refers to parties as “complainants” and “respondents,” rather than “victims” and “charged students,” so as to not imply any conduct findings prior to a hearing.
With new policies and programs in place beginning last semester, nearly 2,000 first-year students participated in a mandatory program (Title of that program?) that addressed the risk of sexual assault and terms of consent. The program, held in residence halls and led by one of 40 trained staff members or administrators, also provided information on bystander intervention in situations of sexual assault.
“Our number-one defense in preventing sexual assault is educating the community in what to do when it occurs,” O’Brien said.
A second facet of the sexual assault awareness and prevention program is dedicated to upperclassmen in leadership positions on campus. Members of organizations such as athletic teams, Marquette University Student Government, Residence Life and Greek Life enrolled in the three-part training.
The first level of training took place in September, and involved an online module called “Unless There’s Consent,” created by internet-based program Student Success. The program combines group discussion with online content and testing to help educate students on issues of sexual assault prevention on university campuses.
In October, the next step of the program brought in the staff members and administrators who had worked with first-year students to conduct meetings with upperclassmen. The meetings were discussion-based, and allowed students to speak openly and learn more about sexual assault situations, the relationship between alcohol and sexual violence and how to intervene as a bystander in these situations.
Bystander intervention training continued throughout the year with hands-on instruction of what can be done in these situations to increase motivation to help victims. O’Brien said bystander intervention is not limited to only sexual violence incidents. With this training, bystanders will have the training to intervene in a quarrel between a couple, before it escalates to a more serious situation.
“With this program, we are increasing students’ capability to intervene for students who are being victimized,” O’Brien said.
This knowledge is also important after an act of sexual violence has been committed, said Sue Cooper, coordinator of sexual violence and advocacy services at Student Health Service. Victims are more likely to confide in a peer before going to the Department of Public Safety or the Counseling Center. The response victims receive from peers can be the difference between seeking help and allowing the incident to fade into repressed memory.
“Sometimes, people don’t get a positive response from friends, so they think (the sexual assault) is not a big deal or that it is their fault,” Cooper said.
Cooper said it is in victims’ best interest to seek help at the Counseling Center or Student Health Service, which she described as a “hub” of resources to give victims the emotional and medical care they need.
“The staff at Student Health Service takes the burden off victims’ shoulders so they don’t have to go to ten different places,” she said.
Student Health Service partners with the Counseling Center, Campus Ministry, campus organizations, the Healing Center on 6th St. and National Ave. and Aurora Health Care to help meet what Cooper said are the three priorities for sexual assault victims: physical well-being, safety and emotional well-being. Once the medical and safety issues are addressed, counselors focus on helping victims find support in the Marquette community. Cooper said they look at who the victim best connects with and work to strengthen these interpersonal connections.
The awareness and support programs on campus encourage students to report sexual assault incidents and seek help. In the past five years, the number of reports of sexual assaults on Marquette’s campus has jumped, from five in 2007 to 10 in 2011, according to Department of Public Safety statistics. Cooper said this increase is not an entirely negative occurrence.
“The true measure of success at an institution is an increase in reports. That is how we know (the programs) are working,” Cooper said, “I can’t even imagine how difficult it is to face this, but I want students to consider this as a community where they feel safe to share their stories.”
The awareness programs used this year will be modified for future use based on the evaluation of feedback from students and staff members, but the basic model for training, with presentations and discussions, will remain the same. O’Brien and Cooper said students are encouraged to share their thoughts so as to improve learning outcomes and student satisfaction in the programs.