Inside CU’s attempt to combat on-campus sexual assault

Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Charlotte Bowditch at charlotte.bowditch@colorado.edu.

Last week, University of Colorado faculty and staff were invited to meet to discuss the results of the 2015 sexual misconduct survey. This talk followed an event on Wednesday that facilitated student discussion on the same topic.

The statistics speak for themselves: 1,990 students reported sexual assault ranging from unwanted touching to unwanted penetration; 509 students reported sexual exploitation; 2,315 students reported sexual harassment; 1,302 reported partner abuse, and 839 students reported that they experienced stalking. Additionally, 27 percent of students reported experiencing two assaults, 12 percent of students reported three assaults and 10 percent of students reported four or more assaults. Students who reported being victims of sexual assault were also additionally asked to talk about the tactics used by their attackers:

Tactics reported by students who had experienced sexual assault (could check all that apply) Undergraduate Men Undergraduate Women Graduate Men Graduate Women
Catching you off guard and unexpectedly doing something you didn’t want 69% 74% 83% 68%
Ignoring your verbal or other efforts to get them to stop 27% 46% 31% 47%
Using deception, manipulation, or emotional threats 17% 25% 26% 37%
Using your incapacitation 30% 40% 0% 5%
Using physical threats or intimidation 4% 5% 11% 8%
Using force 10% 16% 0% 0%

According to Teresa Wroe, director of education and prevention and deputy title IX coordinator under the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (OIEC), alcohol is not the primary catalyst in sexual assault cases at CU. Students are reporting more cases in which alleged perpetrators are catching them off guard to commit sexual misconduct against them.

Wroe opened the faculty and staff meeting by discussing the Phase I Analysis survey, where she explained the measures that the university is taking to combat sexual misconduct.

CU is taking a multi-pronged approach: an investigative services program will have officers who look into sexual misconduct claims, and remedial/protective mentors will work with victims to minimize the impact sexual assault has on their life and specifically, their academic pursuits. All of these services have been consolidated into the OIEC and the Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) to make it easier for students to access the resources on campus.

“We try to ensure that people who are experiencing these kinds of significant issues can go to Office of Victim Assistance, and have protective measures put in place for them,” Wroe said.

Additional prevention plans have also changed within the past year. New students are now required to complete an online policy course as their first exposure to sexual misconduct issues on a university campus. Students were also required to partake in bystander intervention training to help encourage them to step in if they witness another student at risk of becoming a victim of sexual misconduct. An additional survey was administered to freshmen after they completed the mandatory training sessions.

One of the questions on the bystander intervention section of the survey asked students if they tried to intervene when they felt someone around them was being pressured or coerced into any form of sexual contact. Twenty-one percent of students said they did not intervene, 25 percent said they did and 55 percent said they had not encountered such a scenario.

One of the other issues raised at the forum was that reports of sexual assault are low because victim invalidation may be prevalent.

Aya Gruber, a CU law professor, brought up another viewpoint, claiming that the definition of sexual assault established by this particular survey does not match the legal definition.

“This makes any sexual contact at any time possible grounds for sexual assault,” Gruber said. “For example, if I had sexual contact and decided later I did not want it, this survey could constitute that sexual assault, regardless of whether the person who did the contact had reasonable belief to assume that it was wanted. This survey does not account for the person who initiated the contact who could reasonably believe it was wanted.”

Valerie Simons, Title IX coordinator at CU, responded to Gruber, saying, “We do have a sexual assault problem on campus, a very serious one.”

CU has also been looking into ways it can reduce the gap between the rate of experiences and the rate of reports from victims.

CU-Boulder Police Chief Melissa Zak explained that in the last four years, 44 cases of unwanted penetration were reported to the police department; about 75 percent of those victims did not want to proceed with criminal charges.

Wroe wrapped up the panel by announcing a second survey called Phase II Analysis, which will present students with in-depth follow-up questions regarding incidents they were asked about on the first survey. She explained that the first survey was a means of drilling into the first chunk of data surrounding the rates of sexual misconduct at CU, and more data is vital in order to find solutions to combat this problem. The new survey results are projected to be released in the fall, with more information on where the misconduct is primarily occurring, and who is committing the alleged offenses.

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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