Sexual assault on campus: NKU focuses on the 'concept of consent' and how bystanders can take action

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. - In January, as college students were heading back to campuses after the holiday break, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum establishing a task force to protect students from sexual assault.  

The task force, comprised of administration officials, has a mandate to provide recommendations about preventing and responding to sexual assaults, increasing public awareness of a school’s  safety track record and enhancing coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable for the crimes.

Officials at three local campuses say they are embracing the call for change and working toward addressing the problem.

According to the White House:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes
  • About half of female survivors were raped before they were 18; more than a quarter of male survivors were raped before they were 10
  • College students are particularly vulnerable: 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.

Northern Kentucky University

NKU Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean of Students Ann James is the face of sexual assault prevention and reporting for the university's three campuses.

“It does exist [here at NKU] because it exists everywhere,” she said.

WATCH: More from Ann James in the video above

Chanell Karr, a public relations and communications major from Alexandria, Ky., believes awareness is key.

“I think that it’s just important to ask questions before something bad actually does happen,” she said.

Karr, 22, is active on campus and involved in many organizations. She believes there are an ample amount of educational resources as well as adequate lighting, short distances between buildings and available police call boxes throughout campus.

“I think at a larger university I would feel a little intimidated, but here I feel very safe,” Karr said.

NKU "about average" when it comes to reporting

According to NKU police records for 2013, there were five reported offenses on campus and six off campus. 

“It’s an important issue," said Jason Willis, NKU police chief. “I think this is an issue that all college campuses need to be concerned about and need to be proactive about."

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, originally known as the Campus Security Act, requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses. MORE

Because many sexual assault cases go unreported, the university conducted anonymous surveys in 2013 and 2014 to gather more data. James said NKU’s incidents fall in line with the national reported average. 

In April 2013, NKU's campus newspaper reported "the findings have shown that NKU is certainly no exception to sexual violence plaguing college campuses." Of the study's results, James is quote as saying: “I would say we’re about average.” 

Problems with campus police departments and universities’ reluctance have been cited as problems nationally; however, James said NKU doesn’t have these issues.

“We’ve never discouraged students to report. That’s never in a discussion I have with a student,” James said. 

Still, Willis knows that even though it’s never discouraged, underreporting of sexual assaults is common.

“I’m not that naïve to the fact. I’m sure there are a lot more assaults that occur that go unreported,” said the police chief.

Beyond freshman orientation

NKU is banking on its new Norse Violence Prevention Program to combat the problem of sexual assault. A three-year, $300,000 grant from the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women  will fund the program.

James said the grant will allow NKU to implement more awareness programs for students. According to James, every NKU student attends a talk on the topic of sexual assault at freshmen orientation, but she wants to go beyond this first step.

In James’ opinion, the most important part of bringing down the numbers is what she calls "bystander education."

“Often (sexual assault) situations occur in social situations,” James said. “At a party or a dorm hall, folks around see what’s happening, but they don’t know how to intervene in a safe way.”

James said NKU will be instituting a program on bystander awareness in the coming school year, which Willis agreed is a vital component of the NKU plan.

“I would say our bystander invention approach is going to be critical with our male population,” he said.

The concept of consent

James said a key to the solution is separating sexual acts from alcohol and drug use. Almost every incident reported to her involves the use of these substances.

“We need to help students understand what consent is and when it’s possible and when it’s not,” James said. “Students knowing that is so important.” 

Another big change coming

to NKU is the creation of a new official position: Violence Prevention Coordinator. This new staff member will be responsible for the education on campus and provide another person for victims to consult.

“The new position will allow us to on-goingly educate, not just at orientation,” James said.

James is hopeful for change in the coming years and acknowledged the renewed attention from the White House. 

“The more resources and the guidance we can get as experts in the field the better."

Student: Campus needs a "safe place" for women

While NKU does have a strategy to combat sexual assaults on campus and support victims, Carrie Crotzer, a journalism major from Louisville, Ky., is unsatisfied that options are limited to essentially only campus police. The 22-year-old lives on campus and would like to see NKU establish a "safe place," like a center where victims can find support and resources.

“I think that would help women feel more comfortable because there’s a lot of backlash in the community, whether you want it or not,” Crotzer said. “There should be a place to talk, rather than just report.”

Still, Crotzer agreed, education and awareness can't hurt.

Resources at NKU:

  • Campus police : (859) 572-5500 
  • Women's Crisis Center: (859) 491-3335 or (800) 928-3335
  • Office of the Dean of Students (859) 572-5147

THURSDAY: How is the University of Cincinnati dealing with the issue of sexual assault prevention?

Marc Kennedy (videographer) and Nancy Curtis (writer) are students at Northern Kentucky University. Maggie Pund, also an NKU student, contributed to this story.

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