URBANA — Sexual assault is a significant concern on college campuses across the country, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is no exception.
This month, the University of Illinois Police Department issued three Campus Safety Notices informing the campus community of three sexual assault incidents. The mass emails prompted a number of questions about awareness and prevention efforts, arrest rates and about the notices themselves.
“Sexual assault is one of the most critical threats to campus safety, and it’s something we take very seriously,” said U. of I. Police Chief Jeff Christensen. “Part of the value of these notices is to further the discussion about campus sexual assault so we can work together toward a solution, so we want to take the time to address some of those questions we received.”
Among those questions:
- What does the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign do to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault?
- Why do the Campus Safety Notices not include more specific information about sexual assault incidents?
- In reported cases, are the offenders being arrested and prosecuted?
What does the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign do to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault?
The university’s Women’s Resources Center manages First Year Campus Acquaintance Rape Education (FYCARE), a mandatory sexual assault prevention education program for all first-year and transfer students. FYCARE workshops focus on the dynamics of sexual assault, ways to support a survivor, understanding consent, and campus and community resources.
“The majority of workshops are held in residence halls and facilitated by peer educators, specially trained undergraduate students,” said Rachel Storm, assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center. “The University of Illinois has mandated that all students attend one FYCARE workshop during their ﬁrst semester on campus, both first-year entering and transfer students. ”
To promote ongoing education, the Women’s Resources Center offers the GUARD program for fraternities and sororities, the ICARE bystander intervention workshop, Healthy Relationships Workshops and other programming devoted to preventing sexual and gender-based violence.
The university also requires students to complete Haven, an online training program which uses evidence-based content to introduce students to sexual assault prevention.
The University of Illinois Police Department offers R.A.D. self-defense courses, a comprehensive course which begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and avoidance before progressing on to basic hands-on defense training.
More information about resources, prevention efforts and reporting options is available at wecare.illinois.edu.
Why do the Campus Safety Notices not include more specific information about sexual assault incidents?
There are many factors that go into a survivor’s decision to report a sexual assault. Survivor safety is of the utmost importance, and publicly releasing identifying information about the crime could, in some cases, make things more unsafe for that person.
Some information – like demographic information about the survivor or exact times and locations – is withheld from the mass emails to protect the survivor’s privacy and avoid unintentionally identifying that person.
“It’s important to keep in mind that sexual assault is a crime of power and control,” said Molly McLay, assistant director of the Women’s Resources Center. “When someone’s power has been taken from them, we want to do all that we can to return some of that autonomy, privacy, and safety to that person.”
The federal Clery Act, however, requires the university to share information about certain crimes in certain locations, even if the survivor has not requested it. And university employees are legally required to report sexual assaults and other gender-based crimes to the Title IX coordinator.
“When such information is being shared, it’s important to keep the survivor’s information as private as possible to help restore that sense of safety and control back to them,” McLay said.
It is important also to note that the incidents detailed in Campus Safety Notices are only a small fraction of the actual number of incidents. Some crimes reportedly occurred in off-campus locations, and therefore are not shared in mass emails.
And far more sexual assaults go unreported. According to McLay, more than half of sexual assaults are never reported to law enforcement, and on college campuses specifically, the number is closer to 90 percent.
In reported cases, are the offenders being arrested and prosecuted?
Although University of Illinois Police investigators often know the identity of the offender in incidents detailed in Campus Safety Notices, it is rare for the offender to be arrested and prosecuted. The most common reason is because the survivor has asked the police department not to proceed with an investigation or contact the offender.
“To the legal extent that we can, we always respect the wishes of a sexual assault survivor,” Christensen said. “There are a lot of reasons why a survivor would choose not to pursue an investigation. The crime itself was trauma enough – we want to put the survivor back in control.”
If the survivor wishes to proceed with an investigation, the report will be forwarded to the State’s Attorney, who ultimately determines if charges will be filed.
Another reason is that the crime may not have been reported to the police department. Many Campus Safety Notices detail incidents which have been relayed to the police department secondhand through someone known as a Campus Security Authority.
There are hundreds of Campus Security Authorities across campus – generally they are people who have some kind of day-to-day student interaction, like coaches, housing staff, advisers or others. When they are made aware of an incident, they are required to submit a campus security authority report. These reports can be submitted with a lot of information or very little. The victim may only be identified by initials and there may be no information provided about the offender other than if the offender was known to the victim or a stranger.
A campus security authority report is not a formal police report, but it allows the University Police Department to inform campus of a potential ongoing public safety issue, even if the victim did not report the incident directly to the police. This non-police report also enables the department and the university to reach out to the survivor to offer resources if the survivor is identified.
If the survivor declines a criminal investigation, they may request that the university proceed with an investigation into whether an offender violated the student code. Academic discipline can range up to dismissal from the university.