UIPD Perspectives: Detective puts survivors back in control

URBANA, Ill. — Ensuring student, faculty and staff safety is the leading goal for the University of Illinois Police Department — especially Detective Michelle Kaeding.

Kaeding has been with University Police for six and a half years and joined the detective bureau as the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Coordinator in July 2021. In working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, one of her key roles is safety planning.

“Safety plans are essentially something that we can generate and offer to our community members who may be in domestic violence or sexual misconduct situations,” Kaeding said. “They can include preventative strategies to prevent future harm and danger to themselves. Or it can include a threat assessment or tips if that person finds themselves in a situation where they need to defend themselves.”

Safety plans can include a variety of strategies to assist survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, including plans for survivors who have decided to leave those situations safely.

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey estimates that 13.5 million people are stalked in the United States every year. People between the ages of 18 to 24 experience the highest rates of stalking, which emphasizes the importance of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and University Police offering victim-centered resources and help.

From a legal perspective, stalking happens when one person engages in a pattern or course of conduct directed at a specific person and when that behavior would make the targeted person fear for their safety. Unwanted social media engagement, repeated phone calls and text messages, and showing up at someone’s place of work or classes are all typical stalking situations experienced by college students, Kaeding said.

If someone believes they are a victim of stalking, Kaeding encourages them to reach out for law enforcement assistance. If a situation does not include all of the elements of stalking, officers can file an official police report called an informational report. Informational reports include documentation of what was initially reported in the instance that the behavior continues or escalates.

If someone is hesitant to report stalking or is not ready to reach out to the police or other resources, Kaeding recommends documenting the behaviors – keep screenshots or recordings of messages or hold on to photos that depict the unwanted behavior.

For anyone who might not be comfortable approaching the police, there are other resources available through the university’s Title IX office. The university can conduct its own investigation without pursuing criminal penalties for the offender.

When it comes to stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault investigations, University Police take a victim-centered approach that puts the survivor in control of whether the investigation proceeds or not.

“The victim-centered approach basically means that we as investigators and police officers go at the pace that the victim is comfortable with,” stated Kaeding. “It’s important that we take that approach because, for some victims, it may take months or years for them to feel comfortable coming forward. We have to respect that because everyone processes things differently. We have to have that compassion towards the victim to not pressure them if they’re not comfortable pursuing the investigation.”

Kaeding stated that, outside of University Police, there are many other resources available to community members in stalking, domestic violence or sexual assault situations. These resources include the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) and Courage Connection. Contact information for those resources and more can be found on the University Police website.