Advocacy Services wait for evaluation

By Lindsey Salvatelli

DeKALB | The Nov. 28 release of the Program Prioritization Progress Report determined Advocacy Services is to be evaluated.

President Doug Baker issued the report last week, determining the results of Program Prioritization, which uses task forces to create reports that review 223 academic programs and 236 administrative programs to influence the allocation of university funds. Baker used the report to evaluate task force recommendations.

The Administrative Program Prioritization Task Force Report placed Advocacy Services in the transform category and indicated more resources should be allocated to it because of “the increased focus on sexual assault on campus.” Baker agreed with the task force’s placement in the transform category in his progress report.

Advocacy Services attempts to reduce stress associated with sexual assault by assisting survivors with legal services, referrals to campus and community based services and the filing of Title IX forms, according to NIU’s website.

The task force report also suggested better coordination between Advocacy Services and the Affirmative Action and Equality Compliance office.

Baker’s report confirmed an external review of Advocacy Services is scheduled to occur no later than May 15, 2017. The review will be facilitated by Eric Weldy, vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and Provost Lisa Freeman to ensure NIU is in compliance with “various statutes and policies that govern the NIU response to sexual misconduct,” according to the report.

Advocacy Services Coordinator Shana Ware said sexual assault is a difficult offense to prosecute, and the burden of proof lies on the survivor.

Even if an incident is considered “unfounded” after investigation, Advocacy Services attempts to make administrative accommodations for survivors.

“I can work with professors to accommodate the student if the offender is able to walk,” Ware said. “Just because it’s unfounded doesn’t mean that nothing happened; it just means it can’t be proved.”

A presidential task force established in 2014 has undertaken the issue of sexual violence on campus and has worked to remove some of the barriers survivors may have to endure when seeking justice.

The task force also updated definitions regarding sexual consent.

“The redefinition of consent on campus at NIU is the affirmative consent,” said Sociology Department Chair Kirk Miller. “The default is ‘no’ until I affirm that consent.”

Clery Report

The Clery Report, which is released annually and details on- and around-campus crime statistics and campus security policies, identified 14 rape reports made in 2015.

An updated categorization of sexual offenses provision was added to the Violence Against Women Act in April 2014, which was reflected in the report.

Sexual offenses are no longer categorized as “forcible” and “non-forcible, but are now broken into four different groups: rapes, fondling, incest and statutory rapes.

Because of the prior categorization of sexual offenses, rape reports from prior years are harder to determine.

Another change made to the report was a requirement that NIU release statistics related to domestic violence and dating violence. Per the implementation of the new provisions of the act, 2016 statistics for domestic violence and dating violence indicated an increase in reports since the previous year.

“It’s not the number of sexual assaults that’s increasing; [sexual assault is] always occurring,” Ware said. “It’s the number of reporting that’s increasing. It’s something about the culture.”

Reports of sexual assault violence could be increasing because of the emergence of an environment that is supportive and safe for survivors, Miller said.

“I feel like NIU has created a better culture, which may explain why the reporting is increasing,” Miller said. “More reports is a good thing.”

Proactive measures to reduce the risk of sexual violence and identifying that one has been a victim of sexual violence are only one piece of the puzzle.

Ware said most people’s understanding of sexual assault comes from the dramatized versions they see on TV and believes it makes an offense difficult to identify. She said education is an important aspect of identifying characteristics of sexual assault.

Miller said offender are often an acquaintance of the victim, which makes it difficult for victims to come forward about an assault.

“When you’re looking at domestic violence and sexual assault, it’s about power and control, which makes breaking it difficult,” Ware said. “The offender feels that he or she needs to have power and control over a situation.”