Harassment can take the form of abusive language, texts or other non-verbal communication, and despite many students facing this abuse on a daily basis, it remains one of the least reported crimes on campus.
In the past month there were only six reports of harassment, four of which were of a sexual nature. In the 2013 Annual Fire and Campus Safety report, there was one report of menacing behavior and five reports of terroristic threatening.
Robert Bringhurst, captain of operations for Public Safety and Emergency Management, said harassment is not a very commonly reported crime, receiving on average one to two calls a month, but that this number may not reflect how often harassment is actually occurring on campus.
Bringhurst said many people have the tendency to put up with harassing behaviors and usually only report them to the police if it becomes such a distraction that it begins to interrupt and affect the person’s daily life. He said while a person does not have to wait for multiple events to occur, it is most common that they do.
According to Kentucky law, harassment can take one of two forms, harassment in person or through harassing communications. Simply defined by state law, harassment can be physical contact, the threat of physical contact, offensive utterances or gestures or following a person about public or private place. Harassing communications is a growing trend, especially in school environments and includes harassing contact made via phone, email or written communication, anonymous or otherwise.
“To be harassment, someone would have to be alarmed,” Bringhurst said. “(The person’s) actions would have to alarm you to the point that you feel threatened or very uncomfortable. Usually there is a connection between the parties somehow. It’s very rare that there is not a connection prior to harassment.”
On campus, he said, harassment most often takes the form of an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend harassing what was their significant other or their ex-partner’s new boyfriend of girlfriend.
He said in many cases, threatening the harassing party with legal action is enough to make them stop or just letting them know what they’re doing is harassment. He said in some instances the harassing party may not realize they are making you feel uncomfortable and legal action isn’t necessary.
Bringhurst said the police cannot take immediate criminal action against a perpetrator unless they see the harassment occur, but that in most cases they are able to identify the harassing party and make them stop.
Sexual harassment is differentiated from these other forms of harassment as a civil offense, not a criminal one.
The Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Access helps enforce Murray State’s Non-Discrimination Policy and is an alternate resource available to students wishing to report harassment.
Camisha Duffy, executive director of IDEA, said the University desires to provide a working and learning environment that is welcoming of students, employees and patrons.
Duffy said maintaining this nondiscriminatory environment involves every employee and student at the University.
“Upon becoming aware of conversations, behaviors, actions or email messages which may indicate a concern based upon race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, veteran status or disability, our employees and students are encouraged to make a referral to our office,” Duffy said. “Individuals sharing concerns that may be disruptive to a welcoming environment is quite helpful in the institution’s work to remove such barriers.”
Story by Ben Manhanke, Assistant News Editor