By SARAH CULTON
Western Michigan University may see an increase in reports of sexual assault offenses thanks to a new one-on-one reporting procedure.
WMU implemented a new policy on sexual misconduct and Title IX procedures in January 2015. One of the biggest changes in the policy is that students or faculty members reporting the sexual assault may now give the intimate details of the event in a one-on-one interview with a Title IX employee as opposed to in front of a panel of their peers, which was the procedure prior to the revising of WMU’s sexual misconduct policy.
The new reporting method is much more private and keeps the reporter and the accused party from coming face-to-face in the Title IX investigation process, Felicia Crawford, director of Title IX compliance explained.
Both parties are interviewed separately and given a chance to review the findings report of the investigation before the accused party is determined responsible or not responsible. The case is then handed over to the Office of Student Conduct for sanctioning. A victim of sexual assault may also pursue a criminal case through the WMU police department.
The new reporting procedures may make students feel safer and more comfortable when reporting Title IX violations, Jane Baas, associate dean of the Lee Honors College said. Bass has personally worked with victims of sexual assault at WMU.
“The embarrassment of having to sit before a panel of their peers is discouraging to many people,” Baas said. “Many students I’ve talked to just weren’t comfortable with the old system.”
Danielle Snow, a WMU student and co-president of Feminow, a student organization that raises
awareness about women’s issues on campus, agreed with Baas.
“I feel like having a panel of people is very intimidating. To be more one on one, you can build more of a connection with that person, even if it is just for that one moment,” Snow said. “It makes it a little less frightening for someone who has already gone through something. I would prefer it. I feel like most people would.”
Crawford said it is hard to say if the new one-on-one policy has been successful, as no data exists of any student having gone through both processes to compare the two, but students she has talked to have preferred the new model conceptually.
“If I were to put myself in a victim’s shoes, I would rather talk to someone one-on-one confidentially,” Crawford said.
Rape and sexual assault are topics of national concern, particularly in the collegiate area. One in five college-aged women have been sexually assaulted. Men are also at risk, as one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to a report released by the White House in 2014.
Nine rapes and four cases of non-consensual touching took place on WMU’s Kalamazoo campuses in 2014 for a total of 13 forcible sex offenses, according to WMU’s annual security report. This is up from 12 cases of forcible sex offenses in 2013 and seven cases in 2012.
WMU’s total number of 13 forcible sex offenses in 2014 is low compared to the White House’s estimation that one in five college-aged women will be sexually assaulted, but is in line with the reported numbers of other Michigan universities. Central Michigan University had 13 cases of forcible sex offenses in 2013, University of Michigan had 20, and Michigan State University had 21, according to their respective annual security reports.
“[Sexual assault] is a huge, underreported crime,” said Carol Dedow, deputy chief of WMU police. “You can’t force a victim to report. They have already been forced to do something. We need to give the power back to the victim.”
This disconnect in numbers could be due to a lack of awareness surrounding WMU’s new reporting policy, but that is not the only reason that sexual assault goes under reported, Dedow said.
For example, one student who asked to remain anonymous said she refused to go on record due to fear she still felt toward her stalker and harasser.
“Sometimes it’s the stigma and stereotyping [of sexual assault],” Dedow said. “It’s not easy to file the report.”
Felicia Crawford said that now that the new policy is in place, it is important that awareness continues to be raised on campus about the policy and sexual assault prevention in general.
“It’s important to know that we all have a role to play in preventing sexual misconduct and making our campus safe. Education is the first step,” Crawford added. “It’s going to take everybody.”