Editor’s note: Those who are victims of sexual violence can find resources by calling the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 1-888-421-1100 or the 24-hour crisis and information hotline at 801-467-7273.
At Utah State University, 90 percent of students who experienced sexual assault knew their attacker, but only 5 percent filed a formal report with the school.
This underscores an ongoing need to create a campus environment conducive to reporting. Additionally, all students and administrators should be aware of how and where assaults tend to occur and to receive tools and resources to combat and prevent assaults, including responsive support.
Identifying predators is only possible if survivors feel safe in disclosing their assault to law enforcement or a Title IX office.
Just over a week ago, Utah State University issued a “Code Blue Alert” over the school’s emergency message system to notify students that a sexual assault had been reported on campus that night. Utah State’s action was quick and decisive, notifying the student body of the public threat posed by suspects who were then still at large. The “Code Blue Alert” system, however, should be one aspect of the institutional response to sexual assault.
The kind of random event attack is less frequent on a college campus when compared with other incidents of sexual assault. Code Blue alerts and subsequent public notifications may sometimes reinforce the idea that sexual predators are only those who prey on lone women walking late at night.
These kinds of attacks are of course real and often quite dangerous, and communities are right to take significant safety precautions. Indeed, no matter the kind of assault that occurs, universities, law enforcement and campus communities have a duty to deter assault and create environments in which victims feel safe reporting.
Administrators and students should also understand that the majority of sexual assaults happen in familiar settings, where victims know their perpetrator. Sadly, there is rarely a Code Blue Alert-type response when a perpetrator assaults an incapacitated person at a party or in their apartment. There is rarely a Code Blue Alert when a boyfriend fails to seek consent, or when an individual uses threats or intimidation, asserting a power imbalance to coerce another.
These are frequent scenarios that college-age women face, including one in 10 women at Utah State, according to a campus climate survey. And while the university has demonstrated that the infrastructure is in place to alert and protect a student when a predator assaults a stranger in public, the system for responding to the ubiquitous problem of acquaintance assault is likely too often underutilized.
Of course, Utah State isn’t the only school grappling with the challenges of reporting, handling and deterring sexual assault. Utah’s Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah Valley University are currently under investigation for potentially mishandling reports of a sexual assault. Similar investigations are also happening at more than 200 institutions of higher learning nationwide. Colleges and universities should strive to create a rich learning environment in which students can expand their intellect and lay an academic foundation for the future. There is a legal duty to provide adequate and accessible resources for victims in an environment that is safe for students. Inclusive to that environment must be information regarding the ways in which sexual assault frequently occurs and how best to prevent it.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously listed Westminster College among other Utah schools under federal investigation for potentially mishandling a sexual assault report. Though the school was previously under investigation, the investigation ended and found no wrong doing.