State responds to grim sex crime reality, as reports are on the rise

Story by Lindsey Coleman, Assistant News Editor 

Story by Sabra Jackson, Staff writer 

Reported sex-related crimes at Murray State are increasing this semester, but lawmakers are vowing to step up efforts to combat this state-wide problem.

On Monday, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear addressed Western Kentucky University students in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, saying he refuses to live with the reality of nearly one in two Kentucky women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime.

Through a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Beshear said the Kentucky Attorney General’s office will receive federal funds for the creation of a unit devoted to seeking justice for the victims of sex-related crimes who have been denied justice “for far too long.”

Beshear said the funds will be used for investigating sexual assault cases, hiring another Kentucky State Police detective focused on sexual assaults and paying for testing more rape kits.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), women in college are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the average woman. RAINN also reported 11.2 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation.

The Murray State Police Department crime logs show nine sex-related crimes reported on campus so far this semester, all of which were committed by an acquaintance of the victim.

Although nine sex-related crimes have been reported this semester thus far, there has been a total of 15 already in 2017, tieing the number reported for all of 2016. In 2014, 10 total cases of sex crimes were reported, and 13 were reported in 2015.

Of the nine cases reported, only two are seeking criminal charges. Shawn Touney, Murray State director of communication, said it’s important to note the victim has the right to choose whether to report the incident and pursue criminal charges.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that even when a victim chooses not to assist in prosecution, the Murray State Police Department still presents the case to the prosecuting attorney’s office for an evaluation of the case, and ultimately, the decision as to whether or not a case is prosecuted lies outside of the University’s police department,” Touney said. “In following all federal guidelines, the University will continue to provide victims with access to a variety of available resources both on and off campus.”

Education and Response

Abigail Cox, coordinator of the Women’s Center and University Counseling Services, said while the university sees an increase in reporting, it does not mean sexually violent crimes have risen.

“Increased reporting is a positive trend as it is indicative of an increased awareness of reporting options and resources for survivors,” Cox said.

Cox emphasized bystander intervention when she attended 25 classes in the past academic year to educate students on the following topics: advocacy, when a student might need advocacy and why advocacy is important.

“This increased awareness leads directly to increased reporting and utilization of support services,” Cox said.

Cox said bystander intervention is being introduced to middle schools and high schools through The Green Dot program.

The Green Dot program is a way for parents to help inform their child about being an effective bystander.

“Parents can reinforce these messages by encouraging their child to be an active bystander, not just in relation to sexual violence, but bullying harassment, bigotry, etc.,” Cox said.

Murray State University has counseling services available for victims of sex-related crimes through Sexual Assault Response Team, the Murray State University Police Department, University Counseling Services, the Women’s Center and the Purchase Area Sexual Assault Center.

Reports and Warnings

“We have made it a very purposeful action on our part, at the police department and the university in general, to make reporting easier, to make people more aware of how they can report, why they should report and it was intentional,” James Herring, chief of police at the Murray State Police Department, said.

When Herring was hired, he made it his goal to make it easier for students to report assaults and other instances that occur on campus. Students are to utilize their housing staff and other faculty for these occurrences.

While some students may feel unsafe about the perceived increase of sexual assaults, Herring said these reports should make them feel safer because the process for reporting has gotten easier.

“We feel like the reporting is the first step in getting resources and getting institutional support to back up the student and say, ‘Hey, we are here for you,’” Herring said.

Each time a sexual assault is reported to anyone at the university, it must be reported to the police department. Each report then goes into a process to evaluate whether it should be issued as a timely warning. This process can be found in the ‘Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting’ on the Murray State Police Department website.

Students are encouraged to read each timely warning to gain information on how to prevent sexual assaults.

“You have students who see these required timely warnings come out, and they are not reading what it says,” Herring said.

Timely warnings include facts such as 72 percent of sexual assaults involve people who know each other. Herring said this information is included to warn students about who they know and spend time with.

“The information in the timely warnings if often overlooked, but it provides information that is important for staying safe,” Herring said.