(Laramie, Wyo.) – The University of Wyoming’s efforts to encourage reporting of sexual misconduct likely have resulted in an increase in such reports, campus safety officials say.
The UW Police Department received 15 reports of sexual assault in 2013, up from five in 2012 and seven in 2011, Police Chief Mike Samp told the UW Board of Trustees today (Thursday).
“The more reporting options we provide to students, the more reports we’re going to receive,” Samp says. “We expect that we will continue to see an increase in reporting, as the university has increased its education and support for students, along with prevention efforts.”
Samp noted that federal statistics show one in five female college students is sexually assaulted, and that only 12 percent of victims report the assaults. There’s little reason to think the situation at UW differs significantly from the rest of the country, he says.
“This is a problem at some scale at any institution. The question is how you address it,” says Megan Selheim, coordinator of UW’s STOP Violence Program, which provides support and information to the university community regarding sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking.
Selheim, who began working at UW last summer, says the number of students seeking services through the STOP Violence Program since it began three years ago has more than doubled. In the current academic year, the number is about 40. There’s no way to know for sure, but she highly doubts that the figures represent a trend of more sexual assaults — instead, it’s a matter of awareness.
“We have been very proactive in encouraging reporting,” says Selheim, who has worked with the UWPD, the Athletics Department, Residence Life and Dining Services, the Counseling Center and other campus units to spread the word about resources available to sexual assault victims. “We’re working hard to get everyone in the campus community up to speed on what all of the options are.”
UW officials also work closely with other law enforcement agencies in Albany County, the Albany County SAFE Project, the Albany County Victim/Witness Coordinator’s Office and others in the community to both prevent sexual violence and help victims. Services available include anonymous reporting, anonymous evidence collection, counseling and advocacy on and off campus, and victim/witness support in criminal proceedings.
Samp and Selheim say it is up to the victims to decide if they want to pursue criminal charges or receive assistance. For example, students who seek help from the STOP Violence Program and the UW Counseling Center are given complete confidentiality. Only when victims decide to report cases to police is their specific information obtained by law enforcement agencies. The important thing is to make sure they’re aware of what’s available.
“Our priority is making sure students have the support they need so they’ll hopefully choose the option of staying in school and completing their education,” Selheim says. “These are significant events in victims’ lives, and we want to make sure they have the resources necessary for them to feel comfortable staying here, if that’s what they choose.”
While making sure victims are aware of the various resources is a big part of UW’s efforts, education aimed at prevention takes place across campus as well. Selheim and UWPD officers make many presentations at new student orientation, in the residence halls, in classes and to various student groups on issues including healthy dating relationships, sexual conduct, making men and women aware of sexual crimes, and bystander intervention techniques. In addition, a number of campuswide events are held to encourage student awareness, including “Take Back the Night” in April and “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” during October.
“The university has a broad-based educational campaign aimed at changing the culture that leads to sexual violence and harassment,” Samp says.
UW’s policies on sexual violence and harassment are codified in a regulation, accompanied by a policy document, approved by the Board of Trustees in 2012. The document — www.uwyo.edu/dos/resources/sexual-misconduct.html — was developed in part as a response to federal laws and regulations, which require university academic and administrative officers to record and respond to all reports of sexual misconduct. Samp, Selheim and others have spent a considerable amount of time training faculty and staff members about their reporting responsibilities.
A team of UW professionals representing Employment Practices, Student Affairs, General Counsel and the UWPD is working to update the policy document in response to new federal requirements. Those include a mandate to include reports of stalking, domestic violence and harassment in the university’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which is published every September.
For 2013, UW received 10 reports of stalking, six of domestic violence and 32 of harassment.
Samp and Selheim note that none of the reported sexual assault or harassment incidents in 2013, and only one of the stalking reports, were situations in which the victims didn’t know the alleged perpetrators.
“Stranger assaults have been very, very rare at UW over the years. People here do feel safe walking down the street,” Samp says. “Almost all of the cases we see are relationship crimes, and almost always alcohol is involved.”
The university’s policies make it clear that students under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of a sexual misconduct incident should not be reluctant to seek help. The Dean of Students Office does not pursue disciplinary action against students or witnesses for their improper use of alcohol or drugs if the student is making a good-faith report of sexual misconduct. In addition, local law enforcement agencies generally do not enforce alcohol or drug violations against victims or witnesses of sexual assault.
In his presentation to the Board of Trustees, Samp also noted that the number of citations for drug and alcohol offenses at UW increased significantly in 2013. The number of alcohol cases rose from 178 in 2012 to 293 in 2013, while drug cases increased from 60 to 107, an all-time high.
Samp says those numbers, in part, reflect an increase in the number of UWPD officers on the job, as more positions were filled in 2013 than in 2012. But the number of drug cases also has risen on campus, as well as elsewhere in Wyoming, as a result of the increased availability of marijuana due to Colorado’s legalization of small quantities of the substance.
Proactive efforts also are in place at UW for alcohol and substance abuse through the AWARE program.
UW’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, containing crime numbers for 2013, will be released in September in accordance with the federal Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990, also known as the Clery Act. The report includes statistics for the previous three years concerning crimes that occurred on the Laramie campus; in certain off-campus buildings or properties owned or controlled by the university; and on public property within, or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the campus.