Sexual assault prevention and prosecution efforts bolstered on Tri-State campuses at Obama's urging

Obama to assault victims: 'I got your back'

CINCINNATI – The Obama administration is redoubling its efforts to reduce sexual assaults on college campuses, and Greater Cincinnati schools said they are answering the call to action.

The White House Council on Women and Girls released a report Jan. 22 called  “Rape and Sexual Assault: a Renewed Call to Action" that says one in five women are sexually assaulted in college. Victims are prone to experience depression, chronic pain, diabetes, anxiety, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Saturday during his weekly radio and Internet address, President Barack Obama discussed the report and called on Congress, colleges, and the military to 'step up,' saying:

"Sexual assault is an affront to our basic decency and humanity. And it’s about all of us – the safety of those we love most: our moms, our wives, our daughters and our sons."

Obama told sexual assault victims: "You are not alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.''

Obama's administration launched the new task force last week, charging them with: 

  • Providing educational institutions with best practices for preventing and responding to rape and sexual assault.
  • Ensuring that educational institutions comply fully with their legal obligations.
  • Improving transparency of the government’s enforcement activities.
  • Increasing awareness of an institution’s record in addressing rape and sexual assault.
  • Enhancing coordination among federal agencies to hold schools accountable if they do not confront sexual violence on their campuses.

The new effort builds on previous efforts to standardize policies to prevent sexual assaults, prosecute perpetrators and find ways to make victims more comfortable reporting the crimes.

One of the major changes was the instruction to make the standard for a guilty verdict in an assault investigation to be a preponderance of evidence, rather than stricter standards like “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The task force vowed to also seek ways to make it easier for victims to come forward.

Greater Cincinnati’s universities and colleges said they are embracing the call for reforms, adding compliance personnel, convening task forces and revamping policies.

See information from Greater Cincinnati's largest universities

Xavier University hired its first full-time Title IX compliance officer to oversee its efforts to prevent and investigate sexual assaults.

“To see how we can reduce barriers to reporting and how our processes can meet best-practice standards requires an ongoing, nuanced conversation.  It’s when you’re not having those conversations that you start to slip, said Kate Lawson, XU’s Title IX coordinator, who was hired in July.

Officials believe that many assaults go unreported by women and men who don’t feel safe or comfortable going to authorities. Lawson wants to alleviate those fears by establishing a personal relationship with students, conducting an orientation for freshmen in the fall and meeting hundreds more students at student government meetings, intramural sports events and elsewhere.

“I don’t want the students just to see me once. I want them to see me in different capacities,” she said, in the hope that she becomes more approachable in a time of crisis.

Xavier was the subject of a federal investigation after allegations surfaced it allowed a sex offender to return to campus and denied a student who said she was assaulted her due process. An agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights started multiple training and reporting programs in 2012 to protect victims of sexual assault and harassment.

Northern Kentucky University plans to post an opening this month for a violence prevention coordinator, who will oversee the new Norse Violence Prevention Center, which is being paid for by a federal grant. 

“We have had an evolving process since I came into this position in 2011,” said Ann James, NKU's associate dean of students and Title IX coordinator. “When the 2011 guidance from the Office of Civil Rights came out, we started a pretty big push to update policies”

In 2011, NKU changed its policy to establish guilt with a preponderance of evidence, which was one of the Obama administration's recommendations for all colleges. Prior to that, the standard at NKU was ambiguous, James said. Only the defendant could appeal the initial verdict. Now, the accuser as well as the accused can appeal a verdict, first to the vice president of student affairs and, ultimately, the board of regents.

NKU's incoming students attend a 45-minute orientation warning them about the dangers of sexual assault and the consequences, with an emphasis on the affect that alcohol and drugs can lead to unwanted sexual interaction.

“I don’t think it’s going to prevent all of the assaults. There are some kids who are going to be violent regardless,” James said “But many students have had very limited experience with alcohol and drugs. If you choose to engage in sexual activity with someone who is drunk, can someone

have consent? There may not be consent.”

University of Cincinnati also revised its code of conduct in 2011 and has an extensive resource guide  for students. Its Title IX compliance officer could not be reached for comment.

Miami University convened its Task Force for the Prevention of Sexual Assault in 2012.  In January 2013 the task force produced a final report offering recommendations, ideas, and guidance for university efforts moving forward. Its five recommendations were to:

  • Implement a campus-wide campaign to enhance a culture of safety, respect and inclusion.
  • Expand campus-wide educational programs on sexual assault prevention and risk- reduction.
  • Enhance current support for victims and adjudication of perpetrators; systematically assess the effectiveness of these services.
  • Identify sustained funding, including a permanent budget, for the implementation and ongoing maintenance of the Campaign on Respect and Inclusion, the expanded campus education programs, and the comprehensive webpages.
  • Coordinate these efforts across all campuses.

“The goal is to ensure that Miami provides coordinated, visible, and accessible programs that meet the highest standards for supporting those in need and for holding perpetrators of sexual assault fully accountable,” Miami President David Hodge wrote in a letter to campus.

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