Sexaul assault prevention task force to prevent, handle violence against women on campus

Kelly Bauer

The university’s newly launched sexual assault prevention task force will put NIU on the “leading edge” of preventing and handling violence against women and will change the way police disclose offenses to the public, NIU President Doug Baker said.

Calling sexual assault and violence against women a “big, national issue,” Baker said the task force will look at ways to implement Violence Against Women Act amendments to the Clery Act and White House task force recommendations at NIU. The Clery Act requires public universities that receive federal financial aid to keep and disclose records on campus and near-campus crime. The Violence Against Women Act amendments require NIU and other universities to now disclose reported instances of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

“We want to be proactive and on the leading edge to see what we can do to improve our policies and procedures to prevent violence against women and also to deal with anything that does occur,” Baker said. “We’re just trying to get out in front of this issue and really show some ethically inspired leadership.”

NIU reported 11 forcible sexual offenses in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available through NIU’s Clery Act Report, putting the offenses up from the six reported in 2011 and seven reported in 2010. Of the 11 reported offenses in 2012, all occurred on campus, with nine occurring in residence facilities.

Baker said he is not sure why those numbers went up in 2012, and they may not accurately reflect the number of campus sexual assaults or a rise in campus sexual assaults since sexual violence is considered to be under-reported.

“Those are still relatively small numbers,” Baker said. ” … I just don’t know if that’s a reporting or a reality, if we really had that many more [or if more were just reported] … .”

The changes NIU will implement with the guidance of the task force will improve the reporting system, another reason the task force is necessary, Baker said.

The university provides reporting systems for victims of sexual assault, and it attempts to prevent violence through programs like the Late Night Ride system and Rape Aggression Defense classes, which task force chair Lesley Rigg instructs.

“The task force will be assessing policies and programs and focusing on areas that need to be bridged,” Rigg said. “[The task force] will be reporting back exactly what [information] we’ve found on Oct. 1.”

The task force is focused on violence against women, but the university should not ignore men, Baker said.

“The preponderance of reported cases are against women, and the president’s task force was on the Violence Against Women Act, amending the Clery Act … ,” Baker said. “We really need to be balanced about [preventing and handling sexual assault against men]. … We are following the White house lead; we really need to do both.”

President Barack Obama has pushed for more light to be shed on sexual violence at U.S. universities, issuing “Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault” in April. Jerry Blakemore, NIU vice president and general counsel, served on the White House’s task force, providing information about the challenges in regard to reporting and preventing sexual violence on campuses.

Rigg said there are two students on NIU’s task force; however, as subcommittees are formed the chairs of those committees will invite more students.

“There are tons of opportunities [for students] to get involved, and more are coming,” Rigg said.

The creation of NIU’s sexual assault prevention task force was announced July 9 and the group first met July 8. It will meet throughout the summer but is still determining its schedule, Baker said.