KU had 25 sexual assault complaints in 2017

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Sexual assault

The wheel graphic, left, a collaboration by Watkins Health Center, SAPEC and Student Affairs, lists on-campus and community resources for survivors of sexual assault.  Title IX information, right, is provided by the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access (IOA). 

Twenty-five students filed reports saying they were sexually assaulted on campus last year, the most since the University’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access opened in 2012.

Campus residence halls were by far the most frequent location of the reported misconduct. Of the 81 sexual assaults reported during the six-year period, 64 allegedly took place in campus housing and most occurred at night.

The information is part of a data set made available via a Kansas Open Records Act request. It marks the first time the University has provided a complete list of locations of sexual assaults reported at the Lawrence campus from May 2012 to Dec. 2017.

The data does not detail reports of stalking, domestic or dating violence, or verbal harassment. It is also not clear how many of the 81 reports resulted in any disciplinary action from the University.

The data also showed:

  • Oliver and Ellsworth Halls — the two most populous dormitories on campus — were the locations cited most frequently with 11 reports and 8 reports, respectively, during the five-year period.
  • Jayhawker Towers, an on-campus, apartment-style complex generally used by student athletes and nontraditional students, was listed in eight reports — one of which took place in the complex parking lot during the day.
  • Eighteen of the reported assaults occurred in various spots around campus, including the Military Science Building (2013), the KU Visitor Center (2014), the Hall Center for Humanities (2017) and Capitol Federal Hall (2017).
  • The second most-reported year came in 2014, when 23 students reported sexual misconduct in the midst of campus-wide protests regarding how the University was handling the issue.
  • Of the 81 total assault reports filed, 62 indicated the assaults occurred between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
  • Nine reports took place at either unknown times or at unspecified campus locations. Based on what University officials have previously told the Kansan, this information likely was not available for a number of possible reasons, including that the reporting party chose not to participate or cooperate in a full investigation, the individual sought assistance to obtain interim — or protective — measures, but declined to participate in an investigation, or that the incident was reported by a third party who didn’t have all pertinent information.

The University provided the data to the Kansan after denying previous records requests, deeming them “overly burdensome.” Unlike some other colleges, the University does not routinely release to the public the locations, times or other descriptive information from sexual assault complaints.

In the past, the University has consistently cited privacy concerns and the lack of a legal mandate in declining to release contextual data on where and when its students report sexual violence.

Some members of the campus community say making such information readily available would give the public more confidence in the University’s efforts to deal with sexual assault.

“There’s so much of a concern for schools to maintain a certain reputation, so for that reason there’s a tendency to try and keep those kinds of things quiet,” said Amy Coopman, the mother of a University student. “It might seem counterintuitive for people in University marketing, but I think there are a lot of parents that would be much more open to sending their child to a school that really shows they are committed to changing those environments.”

The impact of training

Jen Brockman, director of the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center, said “hotspot data” showing where misconduct occurred is not necessarily an indication that those areas are unsafe. Rather, it may indicate a higher willingness to report misconduct based on the “dynamics” of where the incident occurred.

However, she also said the close proximity, easy access and general trust students have with each other are factors that can foster sexual misconduct.

In recent years, the University has required all students to take online training about sexual assault and harassment — but gaps in that training may be partly to blame for why reports of sexual assault remain overwhelmingly centered in residence halls, said Ryan Miller, a 2017 graduate of the University, who worked as a resident assistant for KU Housing in Jayhawker Towers.

“Just from hearing about it from students in general and just general experience, every year we were required to do alcohol and sexual assault trainings on Blackboard,” he said. “It’s my opinion that those trainings aren’t very effective, and because students are required to do the online thing, most just breeze through to get through it.”

Miller said in contrast, resident assistants are trained in person multiple times during an academic year on how to recognize, how to respond to and where to report any instances of sexual misconduct. He said he felt resident assistants benefited from a more immersive training experience that brought in advocacy and educational groups from the campus community such as the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity and Watkins Health Center.

“They tried to prepare us for real-life situations,” Miller said. “I found it to be more beneficial [that way].”

The online training program required of all students, Brockman said, works primarily to give students a “foundation for language and conversation.”  There are five modules that SAPEC filters students through each year, which can be completed in 10 to 35 minutes, depending on the session.

Brockman said it’s SAPEC’s job to take a “multi-dose” approach toward educating students about sexual misconduct, which means working constantly to reach as many individuals in person as possible.

During the 2016-17 academic year, the office’s first year on campus, Brockman said they had 11,000 in-person educational contacts with students. She expects that number to go up by 10 to 20 percent this year.

“We will not and do not sit back and say ‘you’ve done the online training, we’re done, that’s all we have to do,’” she said.

A push for transparency

As a parent of a student on the Lawrence campus, Coopman worries about how sexual misconduct reports are handled on a college campus.

As a lawyer who occasionally handles cases related to Title IX — the federal gender discrimination law that also details how universities must respond to sexual misconduct — Coopman said she works to ensure those who have been harassed or assaulted have a place to report it.

This intersection between her personal and professional life, she said, gives her a unique perspective into the type of information she wishes universities made more readily available. She said questions and concerns from a parent perspective can never be completely addressed unless more people are able to use available reporting systems and the data from those systems is kept and disseminated in a meaningful way.

“Part of the problem with sexual harassment on campuses that continues in my mind is there is still such an effort to keep things quiet,” she said. “On a basic level, as a parent, if you are trying to help your kid figure out where to go to college, it’s not just what’s the academic reputation of the school … a big question is safety.”

Jane McQueeny, who served as IOA director from 2012 until her resignation in 2015, said she felt the Lawrence campus grew and matured in its understanding of sexual misconduct during her time at the University. She said that despite widespread campus protests on how the University was handling reports of sexual misconduct, she felt that attitudes from an administrative standpoint were always one of openness.

“Let’s be open, let’s be transparent about how we’re trying to do things,” she said. “I think that’s why the Chancellor appointed the task force, I think that the task force came up with a lot of good ideas and a lot of those have been implemented.”

However, in response to questions and interview requests for this article, Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, director of news and media relations, said the Office of Public Affairs was declining to make specific University officials available and issued only a general statement.

“The University of Kansas continues to be a national leader in preventing and responding to sexual violence,” she said.

When asked to quantify how the University is a leader in preventing and responding to sexual assault, Barcomb-Peterson referred back to previous Kansan coverage that detailed the various community partnerships within the University’s system.

She did not directly address whether the University would commit to making the locations where students report misconduct part of the public record. Barcomb-Peterson has previously said the University cannot release a real-time compilation of the reports the IOA receives, as it would be out of line with the Family and Educational Right to Privacy Act, which prohibits the disclosure of personally identifiable information.

However, universities such as the University of Connecticut and Yale University regularly release information detailing sexual misconduct reports under a legal mandate in their states. The University of Michigan also regularly details misconduct reports, but without a legal mandate to do so.

McQueeny said she was always in favor of transparency regarding what information was released to the public — with the caveat that it was contextualized correctly. For instance, while releasing the when and where of a misconduct report is important, members of the community should also be told how many reports made their way through the University’s sanctioning process to give the clearest picture.

“I think people can come to the wrong conclusions about things,” McQueeny said. “[But] the things that bring attention to this issue are good, so as far as that goes, I think it should be shared. People should see.”

The most valuable information a university could disseminate to its community, McQueeny said, would come in the form of a regularly-released report detailing how many reports an office, such as the IOA, received, and any disciplinary outcomes that came of those reports.

“They could say we had 10 reports of sexual assault, we investigated six — and that often happens,” she said. “Out of the six, we found five to warrant a finding of some type of sexual assault resulting in consequences.”

“I think that kind of data is helpful. But I don’t work for KU anymore so I don’t know what they think of that,” she said.

Edited by Alexandra Martinez