Murray State students have reported seven sexual assaults since freshman move-in day on Aug. 15, matching the total number of sexual assault complaints in 2014.
The number of reported sexual assaults has increased from one in 2012 to three in 2013, then seven in 2014 to seven in the first 52 days of the semester, according to The News’ review of the crime logs maintained by Public Safety and Emergency Management.
Of the seven assaults reported, one arrest was made while in the other six cases the person who reported sexual assaults declined to press charges, according to the crime logs. One of the sexual assaults occurred off campus.
Sexual assault, as defined by the Title IX office’s website, “can be verbal, visual or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention.”
Abigail French, director of the Women’s Center, said she believes the rise in reports might not necessarily mean an increase in assaults taking place.
“I believe that a lot of effort has been made to make the reporting process more accessible and to make students more aware of how to report an assault when it occurs,” French said. “I do not believe these numbers indicate an increase in incidents; rather, they reflect an increase in student knowledge of how to access services and support.”
One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, according to the 2014 First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The report highlights that men can also be victims of the crime.
“The change is largely in increased reporting, which in my mind is a positive change because it reflects students may feel more empowered to seek help,” French said.
This semester, the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Access has required all students to complete online training regarding reporting sexual assaults and offered additional seminars for many student leaders to attend to ensure that the information is presented and reinforced to all students. For instance, many student leaders had to attend the “Just the Facts: Title IX and Sexual Misconduct” program Sept. 29.
“The increased focus on Title IX has driven massive efforts to educate and publicize policies, procedures and resources,” French said. “This information helps students make decisions about whether or not they want to report.”
Students also must earn 100 percent on the online quiz to have the hold removed from their student accounts. While some students said the requirement was frustrating, they told The News in interviews that they saw the value of Title IX training.
“I think it was good that we have Title IX training because it makes everyone know what to look for, being responsible as a bystander,” said Abigail Prins, freshman from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
MORE WAYS TO REPORT
Miranda Whitworth, freshman from Hardinsburg, Kentucky, said she believes more students might be reporting sexual assaults because they understand the confidentiality rules now and how the university is required to respond when a report has been made.
“Most people normally wouldn’t look into the university’s procedures unless it pertained to them, but now that everyone is exposed to it, I think it helps in overall reporting,” Whitworth said.
Prins and Whitworth said they didn’t know how to make a report regarding sexual harassment before the training.
The university also promoted the LiveSafe app this fall as an effort to provide an additional outlet for students to report unsafe behavior easily. University officials encouraged students to download the app, which allows them to link directly to Public Safety and report an incident, crime or if they fear for their safety or the safety of others.
Another feature of the LiveSafe app allows anonymous reporting for issues including sexual assault/abuse, harassment and stalking.
Despite seven reported sexual assaults this semester, Public Safety has not issued a “Timely Warning” email to students and university employees, which is required by federal law in certain circumstances when a sexual assault is reported. The Timely Warning must be shared when a crime is reported, the perpetrator has not been apprehended and there is a threat to the safety of the campus community. An exception is if the incident occurred more than 14 days before it was reported.
“That’s a really screwed up system,” said Nicole Schulenburg, sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri.
A Timely Warning still can be distributed if an incident occurred off campus. The Murray State police chief and the vice president of Finance and Administrative Services determine if a Timely Warning is necessary.
“We deserve to know if something happens regardless of where or when,” Schulenburg said.
Staff writer Ashley Traylor contributed to this report.