Before classes began at University of Richmond this year, students received an email informing them that a female student had reported to campus police that a known male had sexually assaulted her.
Before freshmen attended a college class, they had been exposed to one of the greatest horrors ripping through colleges and universities at, according to collegestats.org, one of the most dangerous schools for women and a university facing a federal investigation for a Title IX violation.
“I honestly could not believe that someone was sexually assaulted so close to the start of school,” said Page Soper, a first-year at the university. “It both shocked me and unnerved me.”
Beth Curry, coordinator for sexual misconduct education and advocacy, and Kerry Fankhauser, interim dean of Westhampton College and formerly an associate dean and deputy Title IX coordinator, were not surprised by the timing.
“To those of us who are in the field, it’s not a shock,” Curry said. “It always happens during that time, and that’s why we want to push the education during that time.”
“I want us to live in a community where it just doesn’t happen, period,” Fankhauser said. “But it’s not unexpected that someone would experience sexual violence – and is [experiencing it] at every college in the nation – during that period of time. It’s horrible.”
The time Curry and Fankhauser are referring to is known as the Red Zone, the first few weeks of the academic year when first and second year students are most susceptible to sexual violence.
In addition to the aforementioned report, Richmond students have received two timely warning emails regarding reported sexual assaults this semester. Prior to this year, the earliest timely warning email students have received for sexual assault in the past four years was sent on Sept. 25, 2012.
About 95 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Despite increased attention from schools, the federal government and the media – “It’s hard to overstate the significance of the sexual assault story,” The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson told The Collegian-- sexual violence continues to devastate schools nationwide.
A survey released Sept. 27 that included about 15,000 responses from 27 schools, including much of the Ivy League, found that 23 percent of women reported to having been sexually assaulted or abused while in college. The results are consistent with the White House’s Not Alone report, published in April 2014, which opened with, “One in five women is sexually assaulted in college.”
The Collegian conducted its own survey last spring, and received responses from more than 1,000 students. About 42 percent of undergraduate female students at Richmond responded to the survey, and more than half of respondents answered that they have experienced some sort of unwanted sexual behaviors while at the University of Richmond.
12.6 percent of female students said they had been sexually assaulted at Richmond.
Caption: According to The Collegian's survey, close to 7 in 10 (69%) of respondents who indicated they had an unwanted sexual experience at the University of Richmond told someone else about the incident(s) (top graphic), but fewer than 4% reported the experience(s) to someone in an official capacity (bottom graphic).
“I see a lot of good news in this survey with regard to how students think about helping one another and where to turn for help and I also see room for improvement in certain areas and where we could focus more educational efforts,” former Westhampton College dean Juliette Landphair wrote in an email soon after the results were released.
Richmond has amplified its educational programs on preventing and handling sexual violence in recent years. In fact, the university received recognition from The Chronicle of Higher Education for this fall’s orientation, where students received an innovative program on bystander-intervention training.
Dan Fabian, associate dean of Richmond College and deputy Title IX Coordinator, said being highlighted by the Chronicle was great, but more work needs to be done.
"I think we have to continue to do more," Fabian said. “We need students to be those active bystanders and intervene. A lot of these could be prevented if somebody just said, ‘Hey, are you okay?’”
The program, led by the Spiders for Spiders movement, was a revamped version of Spiders Step Up, which in the past focused on general bystander behavior, Curry said.
“It was a generic bystander program,” Curry said. The program encouraged students to “step up for not just sexual assault, but people when they are drinking too much or suspect someone has an eating disorder,” she said.
Curry, who has been at Richmond for just over a year, said there had been two main changes to this year’s program: The session was student-run and it focused solely on sexual assault rather than offering a broad program that engaged fewer people.
In addition to the Spiders for Spiders program, students listened to a discussion on assault on campus at the Dean’s Welcome, and first-years attended a sex-education talk. People involved in leading orientation received positive feedback from students regarding orientation, Fankhauser said, but administrators still need to find improved ways to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.
“Truthfully, we probably need to find even better ways to assess the programs that we are doing,” Fankhauser said.
Ronald Crutcher, university president, said he had been originally concerned by the early reports, but had faith in the university’s educational programs.
“One of the things that I have been convinced of is we have excellent education programs for our students,” Crutcher said. “So I am hoping that because of the focus on education and informing folks about what to do, even if you are involved or the victim, that people will be more willing to report them.”
Freshman Catherine McNamara said the early timely warning emails had caused her to adjust her strategies when she had gone to parties.
“It is definitely unsettling that there have been reports already,” McNamara said. “It has definitely encouraged me to make sure I know where my friends are and who they're with when we go out.”
Crutcher further recognized the role alcohol plays in these cases.
“Ideally I would like to see more and more students becoming aware of the role that alcohol plays, aware personally and also as a bystander,” Crutcher said. “If you see something, intervene and do the right thing, because sadly these things happen in our society and I am not unrealistic to believe that they will go away.”
In addition to its Not Alone report, the Federal Government has enhanced attention toward sexual violence through other manners. The report was released as the wave of federal investigations into Title IX violations at colleges rapidly grew.
In June 2014, Richmond became one of the then 76 schools – the number is now well over 100 – under investigation for a Title IX violation. In the past spring semester, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights came to campus to speak with students for the investigation.
Richmond does not know when it will receive a decision from the OCR, but several schools, such as University of Virginia and Michigan State University, recently received the results of their investigations.
“I think we would anticipate there will be suggestions,” Fankhauser said, “and we are open to that and have continually said we are open to suggestions.”
“We will look at these documents and see what other schools did well, and what we can mimic or improve on our campus," said Maura Smith, who became Richmond’s Title IX coordinator and director of compliance, a new position, August 1. Fankhauser said the addition of Smith was a huge asset, as she will help oversee compliance efforts from a general sense.
The Collegian called the OCR several times to ask specifically if there is any school in the U.S. that has come up with an effective program that would make a difference and alleviate sexual assault on college campuses, but the OCR did not return the phone calls.
Administrators will be plenty busy, though, as the Title IX office has received an increased number of reports over recent years. The Title IX office has received a slight increase of reports this semester, Fabian said, but the office is no longer sharing the exact number of reports.
The numbers given out previously were skewed because people thought all reports were of terrible incidents, Fabian said. What constitutes a Title IX violation ranges from small offenses, such as drawing genitalia on a white board, to rape, he said.
A Collegian report published in late February found that the Title IX office received 62 reports of Title IX offenses, ranging from non-consensual sexual intercourse to relationship violence, from the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year up through when the article was published.
According to the UR Police Annual Safety Report, there were 10 forcible sex offenses reported on campus in 2014, 10 in 2013, and eight reported offenses in 2012.
Richmond administrators say the high report rates are not a bad thing. In fact, new students were told during orientation that the high report rates show that students feel comfortable coming forward with the knowledge that there are helpful programs available.
"We know [sexual violence] is a huge problem," Fabian said. "On a campus of 3,000 [undergraduate students]– you can do the math– how many we should be getting a year. We're no where close to that."
Soper shared similar sentiments. “While it is shocking that our school has such a high percentage of reported cases, it is also amazing that so many people have felt safe enough to report,” she said.
At the very least, the university wants to see assault victims coming forward, even if they do not give identifying information, so the school can provide resources, Fabian said.
The resources Richmond offers victims continues to grow. In January, administrators announced its sexual misconduct policy expanded from three pages to 31 pages, and included details on the definition of consent, clauses on domestic violence and an overhaul to the policies on stalking, among other changes. Title IX policies at Richmond were updated over the summer, Smith said, who worked as assistant athletic director for compliance since 2009 before moving to her current position.
Richmond also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Safe Harbor over the summer, Fankhauser said, and the two parties are working to find the specific representative to work with Richmond. The Title IX office is now looking at adding a mandatory event for sophomores, Fabian said.
Students like sophomore Hayley Durogodan are taking action to improve the culture surrounding sexual violence on campus.
“If you have been a survivor, you’re not alone. People are actively working, actively fighting for you,” Durogodan said last year.
As a freshman, Durogodan helped found Spiders for Spiders, a movement that aims to educate Richmond students on how to be an active bystander and help potential victims before an assault occurs. Approximately 200 students, both men and women, have attended a Spiders for Spiders training, the first step necessary to officially become part of the movement, Curry said.
“Students who are part of the movement are asked to make a ‘visible difference,’ meaning that just being non-violent themselves is not enough,” Curry wrote in an email. “They need to take that next step and say, ‘I will be visibly intolerant of violence in my sphere of influence.'”
Sexual violence, however, is not likely to suddenly disappear.
Soper, the first-year who said she was upset about the assaults, said she does not fear for her safety at Richmond, but will make sure to make smart choices while on campus.
“I strongly believe,” she said, “that I need to be careful and make smart decisions while looking out for myself and friends in order to feel, and be, safe on campus throughout my time here.”
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