Are Oklahoma Schools Doing Enough To Keep Students Safe, Prevent Sexual Assaults?

Thursday, January 29th 2015, 10:26 pm

By: News 9, Robin Marsh

OSU is on a list of 86 colleges nationwide under federal review for the way it handles reports of sexual assault. This new scrutiny of an age-old problem has led many to question whether colleges are doing enough to keep students safe.

5/1/14 Related Story: OSU Among 55 Colleges Listed For Poor Handling Of Sexual Assault Complaints

Saturday afternoon football games, the magic of homecoming week, bell towers and stately brick buildings; these are the iconic images of college life, but alongside the glowing images, lurks a dark reality.

"As of right now, a woman is much more likely to experience sexual violence if she goes to college than if she doesn't," said OSU professor, John Foubert.

Foubert is a nationally recognized expert in the field of sexual violence on college campuses. He said studies show one-in-five college women will become victims before they graduate - but the vast majority of those crimes go unreported. He said, often, a woman's first response to the assault is to deny it even happened.

"Later on they tend to come out of that and say 'no, it did. I'm better able to handle it now and I want to hold someone accountable,'" Foubert explained.

At that point, many women fear their story won't be taken seriously. The majority of sexual violence cases on college campuses involve alcohol and that fact changes the way both victims and perpetrators see the crime.

"The most important thing that we need to realize about alcohol and sexual assault is that it's usually deliberately used be a perpetrator to lower the defenses of a victim," said Foubert.

He said studies have found about eight percent of college-age men admit to behavior that meets the legal definition of sexual assault; but college students, both men and women, often see it differently.

"A lot of people, something happens when they're drunk and they feel it's their fault because they shouldn't have drunk that much, when really women shouldn't have their bodies violated no matter what state they're in," said Catherine Sweeney.

Last fall, Sweeney was the Editor in Chief of the O'Colly, OSU's student newspaper.

"There are people who premeditate things like that, 'we'll just pump a girl full of Everclear and see what happens,' but they know what's going to happen," said Sweeney. "There's a lot of guilt associated with it. It's not even that they just felt like a victim, they felt like a victim that had asked for it."

After OSU landed on the list of colleges being investigated for Title 9 violations, the O'Colly assigned managing editor Kassie McClung, who was a reporter at the time, to look into what was being done to prevent sexual assaults. What she found was a one-time, mandatory on-line sexual assault prevention training course for all students starting this fall, and that didn't impress her.

"As you're digging, learning more, you want to know, 'what do the experts say about this? Is it effective," McClung asked.

She found out that it's not and Foubert, who travels the country advising colleges on the issue, agreed.

"We need to go above what's legal and go to what's ethical, what's developmental and what's helpful," he said.

Vice President of OSU Student Affairs, Lee Bird said, "I'm sure there are institutions that do a really horrible job of this, or actually tell people, 'don't bother to report it because nobody cares,' I don't believe that occurs here."

Like Foubert, Bird has spent decades trying to address the problem of sexual violence on campus.

"There's so much to be done, and it's not, 'well if you only did this,' I don't think there's a magic bullet here," Bird said.

She defends OSU's online program as an efficient way to reach a large number of students in a short amount of time and said she and her staff talk about the issue to any group that will listen.

"In some ways, I'm happy that it's getting, that people are talking about it and saying we need to do more," she said.

But what that more will be, and who will pay for it, is another issue. With new federal guidelines going into effect next summer, Bird said universities will be hard pressed for resources.

"We need counselors, we need advisors, we need additional training," she said. "This is another unfunded mandate for higher education."

One thing all parties agree on it that this conversation is just beginning; and Foubert said one more group needs to join them.

"I think we need to see more parents saying 'we know that one in four college women have survived rape and attempted rape, what are you doing about it,'" he said.

Of the 86 schools under federal investigation, OSU is one of 12 targeted for an even more sweeping compliance review, done by the Office of Civil Rights. Bird said the university may have landed on the list because of the accusations made by Sports Illustrated last year. Others point to the scandal surrounding the sexual assault at the FarmHouse fraternity, which university officials withheld from Stillwater police for almost a month.

12/10/12 Related Story: OSU FarmHouse Fraternity Rocked By Sexual Assault Allegations

Bird said the investigators have already made one visit to campus and will be coming back soon to complete their report; if found in violation, OSU could face financial penalties.

Now, the statistic cited by OSU professor John Foubert, that one in five college women will be the victim of sexual violence before graduation, has been called into question in recent weeks. That statistic was taken from surveys done at two major universities, one in the Midwest, one in the South. However, critics say, it is not fair or accurate to use that number for all colleges and universities.


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