Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Paola Fernandez at Paola.Fernandez@colorado.edu.
The 68th annual Conference on World Affairs kicked off its event-filled week with a couple of panels Monday morning on the CU-Boulder campus, including “Till it Happens to You: Ending Sexual Assault on College Campuses.”
Held at the Old Main Chapel at 9 a.m., 50 audience members listened intently to speakers discuss topics including Title IX, university and social justice retaliation, and the need for the issue to be addressed on multiple fronts.
CU-Boulder recently released findings from its Fall 2015 Sexual Misconduct Survey, which showed that 28 percent of undergraduate women and 6 percent of undergraduate men report being sexually assaulted during their time at the university.
According to CU Director of Investigation and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Llen Pomeroy, the panel’s moderator, these statistics are “shockingly similar to peer institutions and national surveys.”
“The idea that one out of every four young women who attends college and reports being sexually assaulted is unacceptable. Anybody in this society should find that figure startling, shocking and simply unacceptable,” said panelist Adam Schrager, an investigative reporter at WISC-TV.
The research shows that these numbers have been relatively stable and have not changed in decades. According to Schrager and Sofie Karasek, another panel speaker and co-founder of End Rape on Campus (EROC), awareness and media coverage on this issue is rising due to public knowledge of Title IX. Victims are also reporting at a much higher rate. Karasek, who shared she was also a victim of sexual assault, told the audience that there is more attention to this issue because people have started to break the silence.
“Survivors are coming forward and saying: ‘I was wronged by another student and I want to hold them accountable for that.’ I think a big part of why it’s happening is to show across the country that this is not one isolated instance on a particular campus, but rather that it is a national issue and demands a national response,” remarked Karasek.
Though there has been a country-wide increase in reporting of sexual assault, the problem of institutional retaliation, secondary victimization and the lack of social justice for the issue still stand. According to Karasek, many students who decide to report assaults are in danger of getting fined with honor code violations. She has also noticed that schools across the country are “hesitant to act like they’re too favorable to the survivor.” She says that one of the most common things in violent Title IX complaints is that the person who survivors report the incident to engages in behavior that causes a secondary victimization.
Karasek says such behaviors — feeling discouraged from reporting the incident, feeling blamed, asking questions about what the survivor was drinking that night, what they were wearing — are very common not only in the campus context, but also in the criminal justice system.
“This kind of victimization actually has real consequences. Almost every survivor that I’ve talked to has said that institutional betrayal is worse than the sexual assault, because it comes out of nowhere. You’re not expecting that the people you’re telling about this horrible experience are not going to believe you or act like it’s your fault,” Karasek said.
In a shocking statistic, the panel announced that only one percent of perpetrators get convicted when a claim is made to the criminal justice system; oftentimes there will be a plea deal, with perpetrators getting a lesser sentence than they would otherwise. The panel also reported that 80 percent of the time, survivors experience discouragement from detectives and police.
In order to make a difference and stop this injustice, the panelists agreed the greatest tool in the fight against sexual assault is education. This includes advocating to state legislators to implement affirmative consent education in middle and high-school curriculum, as well as continued education into the university level. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most effective type of education is in small groups and sustained over long periods of time, so that students can talk about these issues in meaningful ways.
The conversation on education also included details on informing students about bystander intervention, making sure universities are handling these cases correctly and having trauma-informed coordinators on each one.
The discussion ended with panelists talking about current amnesty laws being passed on university campuses — including CU Boulder — in order to persuade underage students who have been drinking to report cases, as well as implementing sober “brothers and sisters” to monitor fraternity parties.