By: Zoe Jones
There’s one in every four
Imagine you’re an 18-year-old female heading to college for the very first time. You’re excited to be heading out and venturing on your own. You start to make new friends and you now identify your dorm as your home. Before you know it, these feelings change.
You wake up in your dorm feeling nauseous as you take in the space. You see your new friend as he walks to class with his friends, and as he smiles your way, you can picture the unfriendly face he held a few nights ago. Your friend puts her hand on your shoulder to get your attention and you jump. You stop going to class. You sit alone with your thoughts as you think about what happened.
You were sexually assaulted.
According to Rainn.org – the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network – 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. At least one in four college aged women in the U.S. experience sexual assault. Among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation, and at least 4.2% of students have experienced stalking since entering college. More than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October or November, and students are at a higer risk of sexual assault, rape, etc. within their first few months at college.
As of Oct. 3, there has been seven police reports regarding sexual assault/rape/sodomy in the last three years at Missouri Western. Out of these reports that were handed over by the university police department, there are four from 2018, one from 2017 and two from 2016. However, when looking at the annual clery report from 2018, it says there were five instances of rape from 2018, zero from 2017 and four from 2016.
There have been at least five instances that have been brought to the attention of employees at the university this year alone.
Although most of the statistics involve females, there are many situations where the man is the victim. On most college campuses, the statistics are much higher for women.
Sarah* is a student at Missouri Western and has been sexually assaulted twice, once at Missouri Western. According to Sarah, the instance that took place at Missouri Western happened in 2015. Sarah was friends with a man on the football team. He invited her over to his room one day in Judah Hall after practice and took advantage of her. Sarah told her teammate a few weeks after it occurred, and her teammate reported the assault for her.
“I didn’t tell anybody at all about it for about two weeks. I was really embarrassed,” Sarah said. “And, like, the physical trauma that all I didn’t want to go out of my room. I have bruise marks all over me. I had, like, I had a bloody nose and, like, just other things. Like, I didn’t really want to see anybody. So I literally will go to class and practice, and that was the only time anybody would see me for a while. And then she saw me. I think (that) really upset and came up to me. She was like, ‘You’re not acting okay,’ and then I finally broke down and told her probably three weeks after the incident.”
Sarah said after the incident had been reported, Title IX, campus police and the health center reached out to her. She received emails from all of the groups, and they worked with her to clear the situation. Sarah said she was glad she had help, but she feels like the help she received was a little unhelpful as a whole.
“I feel like they followed policy almost too much,” Sarah said. “I feel like if we had a more welcoming place for victims to go to, maybe they would want to go more like Mosaic. They just installed a new room in the hospital, and it’s a comfort room for any victim. It’s a horrifying process to go through if – that’s if – people decide to report it and go that way with their situation. And so I think that that would be a better way for students to go through it.”
Brittany was in her second semester of her freshman year in March 2018 when she was assaulted. According to Brittany, it was the day before spring break, and all of her friends had already gone home. She was in her room in Scanlon Hall when one of her friends snapchatted her and asked if he could come hang out. The two were watching TV before the assailant assaulted her in her room. She then went home for break and did not report it to her doctor. When she came back from break, she told her friends, and one of her friends went to the residential hall director at the time, Ruth Augustin. After the incident was reported to Augustin, it was then brought to the attention of Title IX. After speaking with the St. Joseph police, campus police and Title IX, she was told that there was nothing that could be done.
“They made their decision was basically that there wasn’t enough evidence that there was nothing else that could be done,” Brittany said. “And then as far as the university ended up coming to be the same lack of evidence, so nothing was ever done about the situation.”
Brittany said that to this day she still can’t walk into Scanlon Hall for more than an hour due to how uncomfortable she is. She also said that she felt like because the incident took place towards the end of the year, they incident wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been.
“I just wish that it wouldn’t have been rushed, because I feel like it was rushed because it was coming towards the end of the semester, and it was a very long process,” Brittany said. “I also feel like when I would meet with Title IX, they would be like, ‘Well, he’s failing out of school anyway. So more than likely, he’s not going to be coming back.’ Like, they literally told me that, and I just feel like they didn’t take it as serious because they knew that he was going out and that he wasn’t going to be coming back. So, I wish that they would have taken it more seriously, not just you know that he was going to be failing out of school anyway.”
When looking at the policies regarding what the university is expected to do in these situations, each department has a different set of rules and expectations to follow.
The Title IX office at Missouri Western has the university’s policies regarding sexual misconduct on their website. When visiting the website, you can see that their policy handbook had not been updated for this year, and the last revisions made were approved on August 26, 2018, one day before the school year started. While the handbook does have lots of information regarding how Title IX is meant to do and what roles people at the university hold, it does not give a clear definition of what the office will do when a complaint is made. It explains what is expected of people when they give a complaint, but does not inform the reader of how they will be taking the steps?—?just merely states the basics of what to expect.
The university police department does not have a policy that easily accessible online regarding sexual assault and how they take care of it, but it does have a system to follow when a complaint is made. Police Chief Jill Voltmer said that when a report is made, the police proceed to take a report for the victim and try to gather any evidence. After getting in contact with the victim, the police department brings a sexual assault kit, try to work through the case and submit it to a prosecutor. According to Voltmer, there is no specific way that they are required to collect evidence.
“There’s not a standard for that per se, other than what’s in law enforcement in this area,” Voltmer said. “For the sexual assault, there is a standard and a procedure that’s followed and a protocol. It’s called SANEs.”
SANEs stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. These nurses are specially trained in forensic collection and provide care to address the victim’s emotional and medical needs as well as evidence collection needs for the prosecution.
“We have a major benefit here with the expertise and the training that’s already been provided. We always try to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s,” Voltmer said.
The residential halls also does not have a policy that easily accessible online regarding sexual assault and how they take care of it, but like the university police department, they have a plan to follow. Joshua Maples is the assistant director of residential life, and he said the basic plan they follow has three steps. Maples said that when a report is made, the residential life staff starts off by making sure the student is safe and is living in a comfortable place, and they accommodate the student should they need to change rooms. After checking on the student, the counseling center is contacted so that students know that there is a resource available to them. The final step that residential life takes is contacting the Title IX office.
Maples said that speaking from past experience, most instances take place at the beginning of the semester like the statistics above stated.
“I would say that when the school year starts, historically, we have a few more reports of then throughout the academic year,” Maples said. “So, it’s kind of skewed towards the beginning of the year. At the universities I have worked at, we have ranged from five to six. Missouri Western, I think last year we had four, so we might be nearing that this year as well.”
Maples said that the residential halls try to hold different wellness programs throughout the year, many including how to be safe in relationships.
Maples said that all offices try to work together to ensure the safety of the students.
“It’s a collaboration effort with other campus offices,” Maples said. “Oftentimes Residential Life is the first responder long with you PD. And so we will be there from the beginning. Our our goal is to walk a student through that process and making them feel comfortable, while also making them feel safe in the hall.”
Counseling Center Director Dave Brown said that there is no specific policy that the center follows, but they do it because they believe it is ethically right. Brown wanted it clear that the counseling center can be seperate from the school. While professors and employees are mandated reporters by law, the counseling center is not required to report anything.
Brown said that they were aware of the statistics including that one out of four women get sexually assaulted in college, not just here, but everywhere. Brown also said that the counseling center tries to help informs students and keep them aware of what is happening.
“We do everything humanly possible in terms of the Counseling Center and the campus as a whole, to try to let folks know about this steps you can take to keep this from happening,” Brown said. “You know, be aware of your surroundings, all this all the stuff that goes along with it, because the best way to, in my mind to keep from happening is to be educated and know what, what the possibilities are.”
The RAINN organization site says that some of the signs to look for in college aged students include but are not limited to: signs of depression; self-harming behaviors; sexually-transmitted infections; anxiety in situations where they weren’t anxious in the past; avoiding specific places or situations; falling grades or withdrawing from classes; increase in drug and alcohol use; and more.
The counseling center and residential life have said that if you see your friends behaving like this or showing these signs, please reach out and try to help without being overbearing.
When looking at all the facts and the stories of the victims, one question still remains?—?how can we fix this problem?
Students have voiced their concerns by saying they wished that they were more educated on these incidents before coming here. Others have said that they wish there were set policies explaining what the rules are before they are stuck in these situations.
There used to be safety boxes placed around campus, but they were recently removed due to Voltmer believing that they weren’t actually helpful. She said that she believed they were a false sense of security, and they weren’t safe due to the students having to actually pause and stand there while an attacker was coming after them.
“It’s not like you go up the phone and a force field goes around you when you’re at base,” Voltmer said.
Maybe the university should hold actual seminars throughout the year where students are required to attend and learn more about the topic. Maybe there could be more interaction within helpful organizations within the community. Regardless, this is an issue nationwide, and Missouri Western is not the exception. We’re left to wonder what can be done to make students feel safer and to lower the numbers of sexual assault/rape/etc on our campus.
*The names of the victims/survivors have been modified in this story to protect their identities