The timeframe between the start of the fall semester and Thanksgiving break is called “The Red Zone” since it’s considered to be when college campuses see the most sexual crimes reported. The University of Kansas’ crime logs that date back to 2018, as well as recent incidents, show Lawrence is no different.
In 2018, the crime logs show there was one criminal sodomy case, five forcible fondling cases and one rape case in the fall. In 2019, there was one forcible fondling case in the fall and two rape cases - one in the winter and one in the spring.
In 2020, there were three sexual assault cases - two in the spring and one in the summer - and in 2021 there was one sexual assault case in the winter and one sexual crimes against a child case in the winter.
After reports of sexual assault surfaced on campus earlier this month, students say more needs to be done to ensure members of the community feel safe at the university.
Junior Maiya Schroeder of Dallas said, as a woman, she takes precautions while walking on campus.
“I’m not in Greek life, so I’m not around the fraternities and sororities as much,” said Schroeder, who is studying applied behavioral science and sociology. “As a woman, I don’t go walking at night, I don’t go study in the library until late because personally, I just don’t trust anybody.”
Freshmen Preston Pacheco of Kansas City and Megan Carver of Minnesota said they feel safe, but still take precautions.
“I feel pretty safe, but typically I walk in groups of people,” said Carver, an industrial design major, of walking around campus.
Students think there is more the KU administration and the Office of Public Safety can do to help.
“I’m not aware of everything they’re doing, but I feel like if they were doing a lot more, there wouldn’t be these issues and allegations as frequently,” Schroeder said. “Again, I’m not in Greek life, but from what I’ve heard, this has happened multiple times. So, if they were really protecting us, then this wouldn’t happen multiple times.”
Carver and Pacheco said they have often seen campus police while they are out, which makes them feel relatively safe. However, they also think the school could do a better job of preventing sexual assaults from happening.
“Frat houses definitely need to be under close supervision,” Pacheco said. “There’s not a lot of preventative measures for a lot of the things that happen over there. So, I think more oversight or more people to be there dedicated as a lookout might help the situation a little bit.”
While sex crimes may be happening on campus, they may not always be reported to the police, Deputy Chief James Druen of the KU Public Safety Office said.
“Sexual assault, rape and sexual battery are the lowest reported for how much it actually happens,” Druen said. “We know a lot more happens than what is reported to police.”
The first eight weeks of the fall semester are especially dangerous for first-year students and undergraduates, said Jen Brockman, director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center (SAPEC).
Brockman said the biggest hurdle she sees for students is being able to identify experiences as harmful. So much of sexual violence is not what has been told, but is a continuum of harm like sexual harassment or stalking. She said just because something is normalized does not mean it is OK, she said.
The reporting process starts when a victim calls dispatch, Druen said. Dispatch will then send an officer out into the field to assess the crime.
When the type of crime has been determined, either an officer or a detective will continue the investigation with interviews and evidence collection. After the investigation, the case will be sent to the Douglas County district attorney, who will then review it to decide if the case can be prosecuted.
Sometimes victims report a crime and do not want to take legal action, Druen said. In these cases, he said a report would still be written up for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to hold in case the victim changes their mind later and decides they do want to take legal action.
After a student has decided these sexual crimes harm them, SAPEC wants to encourage victims down whichever path they choose, Brockman said.
This could look like reporting the crime to the police, reporting it to the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, prosecuting the case, or even not reporting it to anyone in an official capacity, she said.
Whichever path the student takes, they should not do it alone, she said.
“We encourage you not to do it alone,” Brockman said. “Reach out to someone and really just connect with them.”
KU Public Safety officers always refer sexual crimes victims to the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, which is not affiliated with law enforcement but can enforce university sanctions against a perpetrator, Druen said.
The conversation around sexual crimes has changed a lot in Brockman’s 21 years in the industry, she said. Students have made huge strides in these conversations, which have developed and matured even from a decade ago.
However, there is much to do still in the conversation surrounding victim-blaming. Many still see alcohol as a cause of sexual violence, Brockman said. In actuality, the risk comes from the presence of someone who wants to cause harm and weaponizes the alcohol.
The conversation does not stop there, though. Brockman said students should be critical of the environment of their own organizations. Students need to look at the spaces in which they are leaders and challenge them to do better, she said.
The best way to stay safe is to stay close to people you trust, Druen said.
“The main thing is if you are going to go out for the night, then go with friends and come home with the same friends,” Druen said.
Students should never take alcohol from someone or somewhere they do not know and to know their limits, Druen said. If something does not feel right, leave.
Druen also said students should never leave with someone they just met.
“You can get phone numbers and not meet up with them until you get to know them better,” Druen said.
These are also sentiments echoed by Schroeder from her experience on campus.
“Always be with your friends and if you know that your friends are going to ditch you or aren’t going to stay with you then don’t go at all,” she said. “You need to have someone with you because even a conversation can lead to something, you never know.”
Schroeder also said students should keep their phones charged when they know they will be out, know their drinking limits and make a plan to get home.
If students still do not feel safe attempting to get themselves home, KU has a plethora of transportation options available, including Safe Ride. However, Druen said officers will also escort students home if they are on campus and it is absolutely necessary.
Schroeder is wary of ride-sharing services and prefers to call Safe Ride to ensure she gets home, she said. To set up a pick-up with Safe Ride, students can call 785-864-7233.
Brockman said sexual assault prevention could use more protective factors, such as increased education. She said it would also be helpful to look at all of the ideas about what sexual violence is in the conversation.
“We know the increase of bystanders and folks who help hold peers accountable work,” Brockman said. “Community connectedness reduces the risks of experiencing harm. We need to move away from the historical model that looks at these experiences as individualized. This is not the conversation that is moving us forward.”
Brockman encourages students to reach out to someone, anyone, if they experience harm, she said. She also said she wanted to remind students that online sexual assault training is due by early October.
The KU Public Safety Office offers alcohol training or other safety training to any organization that would like one put together, Druen said. His office already has alcohol training scheduled for campus fraternities that reached out to officers.