NIU sexual violence reports increase, officials say could indicate more willingness to report

By Ashley Dwy

DeKALB — NIU saw an increase in reported Violence Against Women Act crimes in this year’s Clery Report, but officials say this could indicate an increasing willingness to report, not an increase in the total amount of crimes.

Megan Sippel, director of the Clery Compliance for the NIU Police and Public Safety office, said the Clery Report only contains reported crimes. It does not mean that the police were able to investigate each of the VAWA crimes, and it is not reflective of the true number of VAWA crimes that may have occurred over the last year, she said.

“Many of these crimes go unreported,” Sippel said. “So, it’s good to see an increase because that means we’re out there and encouraging people to report these crimes and get the help they need. Educating people and encouraging them to report is one reason why we might see an uptake in these categories.”

The Clery Report is an annual release of reported crimes on college campuses.

The Violence Against Women Act was a federal law passed in 1994. It put $1.6 billion in funding toward the investigation of violent crimes against women and established the Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice.

The report shows a total increase of 17 reports across the three VAWA categories.

In 2017, there were zero reports of domestic violence. In 2018, there were seven reports of domestic violence.

In 2017, there were 32 reports of dating violence. In 2018, there were 36 reports.

In 2017, there were 3 reports of stalking. In 2018, there were 9 reports.

To further facilitate the reporting process, the Department of Justice’s Office Against Violence Against Women gave a $300,000 grant in 2018 to NIU’s Title IX office, to be dispersed over three years.

Sarah Garner, NIU’s ethics and compliance officer, said the first year with the grant will be for planning.

“For the past year, we’ve been going to training sessions,” she said. “We’ve been meeting with campus and community partners and really seeing what are some strategies to implement programming, response and coordinating efforts to reduce gender-based violence.”

She said consent, resource and reporting training was implemented for new students on the first of this month.

Students protested what they perceived as flaws in the Title IX reporting process last May. They called for increased staffing of the office to speed up the investigation process.

“The third year is the assessment of ‘how did we do?’” Garner said.

The main goal is to open an easy communication line between victims of sexual assault and the resources or officers that those victims may seek, Garner said.

Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael said NIU’s partnership with Safe Passage, part of the 2018 grant, is a step towards getting resources visible for survivors of sexual violence.

“[The partnership] gives us an opportunity to really rethink how we message information about resources and support options for our students — and do that in a way that is not only student-friendly, but is taking a look at the whole of the resources available as opposed to those that NIU provides versus Safe Passage, and really making that a comprehensive communication to our students,” Wesener Michael said.