NIU seeks reform, training to prevent sexual assault

By Kelly Bauer

NIU is changing its training and policies in an effort to improve how it prevents sexual assault and to better support survivors.

NIU has already mandated online training for sexual assault awareness for incoming freshmen and transfer students. By May, a committee headed by Kristen Myers, director of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, will present a calendar to NIU President Doug Baker to show how and when more changes can be made.

The changes will be based on recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on Violence Against Women Act, which spent the fall reviewing how NIU prevents and reacts to sexual assault and supports survivors. The task force recommended enhancing university advocacy services for victims, creating community-wide or audience-specific bystander intervention and awareness programming, and undertaking a campus climate survey, among other things.

Myers’ implementation committee will seek to carry out these recommendations so it will become “unthinkable” for sexual assault to take place at NIU, Myers said.

“That’s our beautiful, utopian goal, is for NIU to be the ideal place for students to go …,” Myers said. “One way to do that is to have it be unthinkable for these sorts of things to happen. Of course, that’s a 10-year goal.”

Sexual assault at NIU

NIU Police have seen reports of sexual assault rise every year since 2011: There were six in 2011, 11 in 2012, 12 in 2013 and 16 in 2014.

Chief Tom Phillips said he doesn’t think the rising number of reports necessarily means more sexual assaults are happening, but the increase might be a sign more people feel comfortable reporting their assaults since sexual assault is considered underreported.

The NIU Police Department is one of several agencies that responds to reports of sexual assault. Police can investigate reports of sexual assault and gather evidence if a victim seeks to press charges, and those accused of sexually assaulting a person can also face disciplinary action through NIU.

Community members can also report sexual assault to Victim Advocacy Services and Title IX coordinator Karen Baker.

Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director of Safe Passage, said Safe Passage is also trying to strengthen its relationship with the NIU community. Safe Passage provides services to victims of domestic and sexual violence and its employees act as advocates for survivors of sexual assault. Schaid is serving on the implementation committee and said she is working to ensure the needs of victims stay at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“I would like to see a more clarified and cohesive process at NIU for students to know what their many options are,” Schaid said. “I would like to see a very strong collaboration between us and Northern so they will look to us for help when they have situations.”

NIU has a list of resources for victims of sexual assault online at

Implementing change

The implementation committee headed by Myers will see what changes NIU can make to its sexual assault prevention and education efforts while considering limitations to the university’s budget and resources.

The implementation committee, which met for the second time Wednesday, will form six subcommittees at its next meeting in late April, Myers said.

The subcommittees will “bring in people doing important work from units all around campus” to help the implementation committee decide what changes NIU needs to make and how it can make them. The committee will then create a calendar with that information and give it to Baker.

Some changes need to be made before July 1 to comply with the Violence Against Women Act, a national law to address and prevent physical and sexual violence against women. To comply with changes to the act made in 2013, the NIU Police Department will have to start providing statistics on the number of reported incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Those statistics must be available in the department’s annual Clery Report.

Other changes will have to be made before students return to campus for orientation. The calendar submitted to Baker will show what can be done now and what can be done in a year, Myers said.

To go along with the calendar, the committee will submit to Baker a budget to pay for the resources it feels are necessary to implement its recommendations, Myers said. 

Myers said the committee does not yet know what the size of the requested budget will be.

The Presidential Task Force on Violence Against Women Act recommended financial support for existing programs like Rape Aggression Defense, a type of self-defense training, and new programs like Haven, an online tool to “help students understand the many aspects of sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking,” according to the task force’s December report.

There will be back and forth and negotiations over the budget, Myers said, but Baker is a “big fan” of the task force’s work. The budget may grow over the years, and time will have to be freed up so people can write grant proposals to receive funding for the programs NIU wants to implement, Myers said.

The committee could do a lot “if we just had [an] unlimited budget,” Myers said.

“We’re not in a resource-rich environment anywhere these days and staff are stretched pretty thin already,” Myers said.

NIU has faced falling state funding since Fiscal Year 2010, when the state allocated the university $107 million. NIU’s state funding was $93 million in FY 2015, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed cutting that by $29.3 million for FY 2016.

“We’re just going to have to make a really good plan that’s fiscally reasonable,” Myers said. “All of this at this point is honestly, ‘Let’s dream big and then be as realistic as possible.’”


NIU has already begun reforms to improve sexual assault prevention and awareness efforts, making it required for new students to take online training on the subject. Myers said NIU cannot have optional training and it’s “great” that students will be required to undergo online training.

“These are the kinds of things where you need to hear the message again and again and again,” Myers said.

Myers’ committee will also work to implement recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on Violence Against Women Act. The task force suggested NIU implement mandatory prevention, bystander and awareness education for faculty and staff.

Other suggested changes include increasing advertisement for NIU’s and DeKalb’s advocacy services for victims of sexual assault and strengthening NIU’s relationship with community organizations.

Schaid said the implementation committee is in its “infancy” as it spent Wednesday’s meeting hearing from experts to give attendees “a better understanding” of how NIU handles reports of sexual assault.

Other changes will be decided by the implementation committee during its next meetings. The committee’s next meeting date is undecided, but Myers said it will be in late April. Those who wish to join subcommittees can email her at [email protected].