Colleges to crack down on sexual assault

By Shelby Shepherd – Staff Writer

Bailey Burgart, left, Lindsey Mack, center, and Stephanie Burns, right, are members of the Sexual Assault Awareness Team. Shelby Shepherd/The Buzz.
Bailey Burgart, left, Lindsey Mack, center, and Stephanie Burns, right, are members of the Sexual Assault Awareness Team. Shelby Shepherd/The Buzz.

Five students sit together in the cafeteria eating, laughing and enjoying being young. Just looking at them, few people would know that statistically one out of those five students has been the victim of sexual violence. But according to a White House report, that statistic is reality.

On Jan. 22, President Obama gave a task force 90 days to come up with ideas for colleges on how to prevent, respond to and raise awareness about sexual violence. This is something St. Ambrose’s Sexual Assault Awareness Team president Lindsey Mack is very excited about.

“I think it’s great because sexual assault is a taboo subject that needs to be talked about on college campuses,” Mack said. “I think because he’s cracking down, more will be done to sexual predators on campuses, and more can be done on college campuses to help victims and to punish perpetrators.”

St. Ambrose University has already taken steps towards complying with laws and regulations regarding sexual assault and rape. The school recently had its procedures audited and was found to be up-to-date. Since then, Dean of Students Tim Phillips says they have begun focusing on how to raise more awareness about the issue on campus, as well as making sure victims feel comfortable coming forward.

“It’s the implementation at this point that we’ve got to focus on,” Phillips said. “We need to create an environment where folks feel comfortable coming forward and that they’re getting the support they need.”

The question now is, how can these things be done? This can be a difficult question to answer and is a reason the government, schools and groups like SAAT can be at odds with one another.

While St. Ambrose’s regulations may comply with laws and regulations, SAAT would still like to see changes. The most prominent change they would like to see deals with criminal incident notifications.

The school is required to notify students with a criminal incident notification when there is an uncontained threat on the campus. If school officials believe a threat has been contained then students are not notified. The incident is recorded and published with other statistics that the government requires be sent out to every student in the month of October, but Mack does not believe that’s enough when it comes to sexual assault.

“Since we’re such a small campus people don’t know it happens. And if people know what’s going on they will be more aware of what’s happening and more likely to take precautions,” Mack said. “And maybe then the subject won’t be so taboo and we can actually do something as a campus.”

Getting the campus informed is what the school is looking to do. Phillips says that things like informing, or not informing, the campus about a sexual assault through an incident notification are not set in stone, and if changes would be for the better, he would consider them.

“Those policies, approaches and procedures are always under review, and if we deem to be better practice for the health of the institution then those will be fully considered and implemented to the extent that we’re comfortable,” Phillips said.

While they may not agree on some things, both Mack and Phillips do believe that working together is the best way to inform students and help victims.

As new regulations are made, colleges across the nation, like St. Ambrose, will have to make changes to their policies. Obama has made it clear that he expects to see significant progress in the next year.

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