MU Responds to National Focus on Sexual Assault

One out of five college age women will be the victim of a sexual assault according to Mary Ann Nagy, Vice President for Student Services. Of those women, only one out of 10 will report the incident. Additionally, two thirds of assaults are by someone known to the victim and 38 percent of offenders are a friend or acquaintance according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Sexual assault is defined by the United States Department of Justice as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” This is a crime punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if the accused person is convicted.

While the topic of sexual assault is broad, there is a lot of concern surrounding sexual assault on college campuses in particular. “I think it’s a very important issue because it can without a doubt derail someone’s college experience whether you are the victim survivor or you are the alleged perpetrator,” said Nagy. “I think it’s important that we talk about it. I think it’s important that we address it.” Newfound freedom and new social situations also increase the risk for assault, Nagy added.

According to the 2013 Clery Report only three cases of sexual assault were recorded at the University. The campus population is made up of 60 percent women. If the national statistic that 20 percent of those women are sexually assaulted is considered, the number of victims who do not report the incident is substantial, according to Nagy.

The Clery Act amended in 1992 and last reformed in 2008 requires colleges and universities to “publish an Annual Security Report (ASR) by Oct. 1, documenting three calendar years of select campus crime statistics including security policies and procedures and information on the basic rights guaranteed victims of sexual assault.” The act also requires academic institutions to provide a public crime log.

Title IX is another law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. It addresses sexual harassment which is defined in the act as “attempted or completed rape or sexual assault, as well as sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism, exhibitionism, verbal or physical sexuality-based threats or abuse, and intimate partner violence.”

Nina Anderson, Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity ensures the enforcement of Title IX as well as other acts such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Campus Safe Act.

Laws regarding sexual assault are created by state legislators, but driven by a larger political activism according to Dr. Gregory Bordelon, lecturer of political science. While the federal government cannot directly prosecute individuals charged with sexual assault, they do influence state and local policies. “The federal government is certainly at the forefront of it in the media. This is good since it creates awareness about the problem, and awareness can lead to action,” said Bordelon.

The federal government uses “the power of the purse,” according to Bordelon, making federal education funds to colleges and universities dependent on the action taken for sexual assault incidents. “This is seen as perhaps a more effective way to deter sexual assault than individual criminal prosecution,” said Bordelon.

While an academic institution cannot create new laws regarding sexual assault, they can mandate the penalties for alleged student offenders. This can include negative reports on their records or academic expulsion.

One source of information that the University provides publicly for students is the Victims Bill of Rights which lists a student’s rights to resources, campus intervention, legal rights and statutory mandates.

Nagy said that she hopes for students to become more educated on these resources in order to prevent situations where they may be sexually assaulted. “I would really like students to read a lot more about what our policies are and what our procedures are,” Nagy said. “We’ve beefed them up in terms of a couple of things. But I would also like to see students step in earlier, more frequently, to help their peers avoid situations such as this going forward.”

Upon the report of a sexual assault incident at the University, there is a chain of contact to make sure that the proper faculty and administrators are aware of the situation and that the victim receives the attention they need. Informing the victim of their options after the situation is also a priority according to Nagy. These contacts include Residential Life staff, President Paul Brown, Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD) and Nina Anderson, the University’s Title IX Officer.

Counseling and Psychological Services is also available to the victims to help them deal with the aftermath of a sexual assault. “There may be shock, disbelief, fear, misplaced guilt, shame, and a number of other feelings,” said Dr. Franca Mancini, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services. “These feelings can lead to withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Though the government has made sexual assault a prominent focus in college communities, Nagy said it cannot be eliminated completely. “The idea is to educate or prevent and intervene if necessary to try to change the behavior,” she said.

The University will host a number of programs on the topic of sexual assault during the first week in October. Nagy encourages all students to participate.