Education

UK students reported 837 sexual assaults in 1 year, but almost none went to police

University of Kentucky students reported slightly fewer sexual assaults on campus in the second annual campus safety survey, but a high number of them are still not reported to the UK authorities.

Of the 23,000 students who responded to the Campus Attitudes Toward Safety (CATS) survey for 2015-2016, 837 reported some kind of sexual assault, compared to 1,050 the year before. Only 20 percent reported to any UK source, including campus police, the VIP counseling center or a faculty or staff member. Just over 1 percent went to the Lexington police and the vast majority, about 60 percent, told a friend or family member.

About 30 percent of those reporting assault said it wasn’t serious enough to report to authorities, while 26 percent said they felt it was a private matter.

About 730 students reported the location of the assault, with 36 percent occurring on UK property or trips and 64 percent occurring off campus. About 68 percent of reports said the assailant was affiliated with UK.

The survey was given to all students in the spring 2016 semester, and 23,133 students responded. Approximately 56 percent were female and 43 percent were male.

About 97 percent of respondents said they feel UK is safe during the day, and 94 percent reported that UK officials care about student safety. But only 49 percent said that sexual violence is not a problem at Kentucky’s flagship school.

At the same time, the survey asked students about risky behaviors they had observed. About 19 percent said they had seen someone who was drunk or high being led away for sex, and 11 percent had heard someone else admit they’d forced someone to have sex.

This is the second year of a planned five-year study on campus sexual assault and campus safety.

“We entered into this task of data collection and analysis with the goal of listening to our students and acting on their feedback about the things we do well and where we have work to do,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “This is an intentional, constant improvement process, and we’ve made progress since the first survey, but our second year of data collection indicate that there is more work we must do in creating a safe and supportive environment for reporting, raising awareness about sexual assault, and providing support for victim survivors.”

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Rhonda Henry runs the UK’s Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) Center. About 6 percent of those assaulted went to the center, which provides counseling and advice about possible reporting routes, but will also honor the wishes of those who don’t want to go to authorities.

“Reporting is always that huge gap between what people are experiencing and what they’re willing to report about,” Henry said. “Reporting is not the path for everyone, but one of the things that’s our goal is to help people have the right information. Some people will still decide that’s not for me, but for a lot of folks, once they have information, they will choose to go forward.”

Under new Title IX rules for universities, students can pursue a disciplinary hearing, or they can seek accommodations, such as a housing change or schedule change that will keep them away from their assailant. The new hearing process depends on a “preponderance of evidence,” rather than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard used in the criminal justice system.

But the new system has already caused plenty of problems for campuses around the country, including UK, which is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit in the case of a former student who alleges that she is being punished because her assailant has been allowed to appeal the hearing decision several times. A federal judge recently denied UK’s request for dismissal, saying the process had been “bungled.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan, nonprofit in Philadelphia, Pa., has been trying to change the federal rules for several years, said Joe Cohn, its legislative and policy director. New federal lawsuits like the one at UK are filed every week.

“In our view, campuses should probably not be doing the investigations and adjudications because they don’t have the resources to do it well,” Cohn said. “When you have amateurs doing the jobs of professionals, you’re going to have mistakes, so you’ll have people who are guilty who go unpunished and people who are innocent who will be expelled.”

As the number of lawsuits grow, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education will probably change the rules, Cohn said. But that’s a few years out. In the meantime, FIRE is advocating for the disciplinary hearing rules, such as letting lawyers on both sides get involved. Schools should also do more campus surveys to understand the problem better and better training for students and employees.

“This is an issue where there are victims on both sides,” Cohn said. “Virtually no one is happy with the status quo.”

On Friday, UK and its Center for Research on Violence Against Women will host the second annual CATS conference — “Assessing Campus Climate: Higher Education’s Challenges, Strategies, and Adjudication Issues.” The conference will look at issues and strategies for improving campus safety and sexual assault.

“Most universities and colleges are currently somewhere in the process of either considering a campus climate survey, developing one, or implementing one,” said Diane Follingstad, director of CRVAW. “We are excited to bring together interested parties from more than 19 institutions to promote the implementation of this type of assessment on campuses as well as to suggest policy and program changes that may be warranted based on survey results.”

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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