Nineteen sex-related complaints reported at the University of Kansas’ Title IX office this month raise a question:
Are more sex offenses being committed at KU, or are students just becoming more willing to speak up now that the subject of rape on college campuses has moved into the national spotlight?
Answer: Students are stepping up, said Jane McQueeny, the executive director of KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access.
The office is responsible, under Title IX in federal law, for investigating complaints of gender discrimination and any sex-related offenses on the campus.
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“This is exactly what happens once an issue is brought to the forefront and is being talked about,” McQueeny said. “There is a different sense of being able to speak up. A cultural shift is happening.”
The more students report campus sex crime, “it gives us a more accurate snapshot of how often this is being experienced,” said Jessica Haymaker, a coordinator at the Center for Advocacy Response and Education at Kansas State University. “It more accurately depicts the scope of the issue and it is important to hold perpetrators accountable.”
K-State and the University of Missouri haven’t seen spikes in reporting like the one at KU, but their school officials said they expect to see more students and staff reporting sex crimes.
Campus policies on sexual assault are getting makeovers, adding clearer language about rape and consensual sex, sex and alcohol, and personal safety. Schools also are better defining sanctions for offenders identified on their campuses.
“People are talking about this on every campus across the country,” McQueeny said.
The complaints began rolling into her office after a Sept. 4 Huffington Post article about a rape on the Lawrence campus set off a series of student protests and forums calling for changes in the way the university handles sexual assault.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced Sept. 11 that KU would create a task force of students, faculty and staff to review sexual misconduct policies. And students, with faculty and administrators, have continued to hold a series of forums.
Meanwhile, McQueeny’s office is investigating each of the recent complaints: two reports of stalking, seven of sexual harassment, one of sexual assault, one of date violence, one of domestic violence and seven so recent the office had not yet categorized them.
That students are speaking out encourages Jamie Gadd-Nelson, a member of September Siblings, the student group that earlier this month posted an anti-recruitment video calling KU an unsafe campus.
“But I’m still also concerned about whether (the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access) will handle those cases correctly,” Gadd-Nelson said. “There is still a huge process involved in fixing the entire system.”
So far in 2014, KU’s Office of Public Safety has received reports of two rapes, three sexual batteries and one sodomy.
“They all occurred during the spring semester,” said Maj. Chris Keary.
In 2013, the office handled three reports of rape and six of sexual battery.
K-State campus police received five reports of sexual offenses in 2013 and one so far this school year. The school’s Title IX office hasn’t seen any increase in sex offense reports this year.
But Donald Stubbings, assistant chief of campus police, expects to see an uptick in cases being reported.
“The more services and support for survivors of sexual assault are made available, the higher the chances of reporting,” Stubbings said by email.
K-State is one of hundreds of colleges signing on to the “It’s On Us” campaign, a bystander intervention effort launched this month by the Obama administration. K-State will be asking all students, faculty and staff to make an online promise to stand up against sexual assault. Pittsburg State and Wichita State universities also are taking the pledge.
Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph and Northwest Missouri State in Maryville are also among schools that have signed up.
The University of Missouri System has taken several steps to curb sexual assaults on its four campuses after an ESPN story in January about the alleged rape and subsequent suicide of former MU swimmer Sasha Menu Courey. An independent investigation found in April that the university fell short of its obligations to report, investigate and offer support services to a student victim of sexual assault.
Last week, UM System President Tim Wolfe announced additions to the system’s policies to include mandated training of all university employees about their responsibilities for reporting sexual misconduct, discrimination and assault.
And on the Columbia campus, MU this semester hired a full-time Title IX coordinator and an investigator to handle sex offense complaints. The MU Title IX office did not provide data for the number of complaints filed to its office since the start of fall classes.
MU police are handling reports of three rape cases that happened within less than two weeks this month. Campus police reported 11 “forcible sex” offenses on or near campus in 2013.
“We have been doing a lot as we work to make sure people on campus are aware of the resources available to them for sexual assault and mental health,” said MU spokesman Christian Basi. “We hope people feel more comfortable to report. … We believe the more information we have as people report, the more it helps us to provide a safer campus.”