Special Report: Campus Sexual Assaults

Universities and colleges are stepping up efforts to curb sex crimes.

 Every year, parents send their kids off to colleges and universities so they can pursue a higher education.

But all too often, students become victims of violent crimes — a parent’s worst nightmare.

9&10’s Lynsey Mukomel has a special report on sexual assaults on college campuses.

 “Don’t drink too much while you’re out, that will cause you to make bad decisions.”

We asked college students what they thought about sexual assaults, how to prevent it and how it’s talked about.

“The travel in packs is a huge one for girls, think everything through,” says Deangelo, a Central Michigan University student.  

 “If I’m going out in a skirt, that shouldn’t deem that I’m going to be someone that can be taken advantage of easily,” says CMU student Katie.

Ferris State University student Jacob Giola adds, “Don’t be a bystander, so if you see a girl that is obviously being drugged or not competent you should step in and help her.”

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center says one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college.

 “Most date rapes, most sexual assaults happens by people you know rather than you don’t know,” says OASIS clinical director Angela Cook-Hoekwater.

In 2014, Ferris State University handled eight sexual assault complaints, which includes rape and fondling.

Central Michigan University handled 14.

There were no sexual assault investigations at Lake Superior State University in 2014.

Universities readily admit their numbers aren’t accurate.

“We are aware that there’s more than that. The other piece with sexual assault, in general, nationwide is that it goes under reported,” says Kevin Carmody, Ferris State University Title IX coordinator.  

 “We recognize that there’s still a fair amount of under reporting happening on campus,” says Katherine Lasher, Civil Rights and Institutional Equity at CMU.

Victim blaming is one reason these crimes are under reported. It’s part of a societal problem called rape culture and you may be feeding into it without even realizing it.

“Rape culture is the idea that it’s acceptable for sexual assault to happen, and that women do certain things that asked for it,” says Cook-Hoekwater. “Usually it has to do with they were drinking, or they were wearing the wrong clothes, or they were you know, walking down the street when they shouldn’t have been.”

Angela Cook-Hoekwater is the clinical director for OASIS, a family resource center that also helps assault survivors. She says conditioning that begins at an early age is another reason assault seems to be an accepted norm.

 “We’re taught that boys will be boys and girls are supposed to always be nice and smile and always be gracious and things like that, which leads to this problem,” says Cook-Hoekwater.

So what are universities doing to prevent these violent crimes?

“There’s no one program or one magic bullet that’s going to end this, it’s gotta be a series of things,” says Carmody. “This is all of our issue, this is not just a male issue, this is not just a female issue, as we’ve been told for a long time.”

Both Central and Ferris students complete online awareness programs. They also have support and advocacy groups on campus.

Plus, Central’s gone even farther.

“They have five trained police officers that are trained specially to handle sexual misconduct, they do a fantastic job,” says Lasher.

We wanted to know what universities do to students found guilty of sexual assault.

Out of the eight complaints Ferris handled last year, three students were expelled and one student was suspended. The other complaints were either unfounded, not pursued or the suspect was not a student.

Requests for the same information from Central were denied.

But the university insists they have strict sanctions.

“For sexual assault, it’s only suspension or dismissal,” says Lasher.

But are all these programs and punishments enough to stop this from happening to college students?

 “I think we do a great job addressing our students when they walk through the door and make sure they understand bystander intervention, our new policies and procedures,” says Lasher. 

Carmody adds, “If you ask me you know, if we’re doing enough, as long one person is experiencing sexual assault I’m not sure it’ll ever be enough.”