The last year has seen an explosion of sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile figures, thrusting the topic into the news and the public’s consciousness. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have helped to further the dialogue. It seems that sexual violence has never taken such a central position in the day-to-day discourse of our nation. College age women are especially at risk of sexual violence, and those at the University of Wyoming are no exception.
According to Jim Osborn, University of Wyoming’s Title IX coordinator, “I think there is certainly an awareness that sexual misconduct is just as much an issue here as it is anywhere else, we’re not immune from the problem.”
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Report’s most recent data, for 2016, UW has higher incidences of rape reported than other regional universities, including: Colorado State University, the University of Northern Colorado, Colorado University, and Chadron State College.
Megan Selhein, UW’s Stop Violence director said that just like at other universities “sexual assault at UW is underreported. So, there are a lot of assaults that are occurring within the University of Wyoming community that the university officials, whether it’s the police, the Dean of Students, or Resident Life don’t know about. That makes it difficult to feel like we are really getting a handle on addressing the situations, because you can’t really respond to stuff that you don’t know is happening. ”
The UW Sexual Misconduct Task Force conducted its own survey last spring, the University of Wyoming Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey. According to the Stop Violence Program, “the survey purpose was to provide a snapshot of the current state of sexual misconduct at UW, including rates of victimization, the pervasiveness of attitudes and beliefs that can lead to sexual misconduct, and student awareness of and trust in existing reporting processes and resources.”
According to the Sexual Misconduct Climate Survey, 27.1 percent of the 1,913 respondents who completed the survey reported experiencing at least one instance of sexual assault during their time at UW. Of the 1,913 respondents, 286 reported experiencing an act of completed oral, anal, or vaginal rape. This number is exceptionally higher than the numbers that appear in official campus crime statistic reports such as the Campus Safety and Security report, which reports 43 total rapes at UW for the years 2014-2016.
“What students reported in the survey is very consistent with national statistics and averages,” Osborn said. “Our goal now is to continue to drive those numbers down, to try to prevent occurrences, and to do our best to respond when something does happen.”
UW takes various steps to try to prevent occurrences of sexual misconduct. UW requires all incoming students with fewer than 60 credits to take a sexual assault prevention training. The school also offers a bystander intervention training called Step Up. An abridged version of the Step Up training is offered at new student orientation. The full training is offered to the entire campus. In addition, the Stop Violence office “provides workshops and presentations to different components of the University community”, Selhein said.
The athletics department does additional online training to comply with NCAA requirements for student-athletes.
Although the vast majority of occurrences of sexual misconduct happen off campus according to Selhein, UW has taken steps to ensure students feel safe on campus, especially at night. UW has a blue-light system, which are call boxes with a button that will call 911 when pushed.
Last spring, the UW student government initiated a light study. For the study, surveyors walked the campus to evaluate what areas had poor lighting at night. The study has led to recognition of areas where lighting structures need repairs to maximize effectiveness. Additionally, areas were mapped out where additional lighting structures should be installed.
The UW student government also purchased a safety app for students and faculty to use. The app is designed to contact security, 911, or send alerts should the user not feel safe.
Because sexual assault is so underreported, “’one of our goals based on that climate survey, and just in general moving forward, is to both encourage students to report to somebody, whether it’s the University administration or the police, to basically get it on the record that it happened,” Selhein said.
If a sexual assault is reported to UW authorities there are several steps that may be taken.
“We have been talking a lot in the last few months how we can make the entire university investigation process more transparent and easy to understand. So that anyone who is considering making a report can get a sense of what is going to happen before they do that,” Selhein said. “I think we have students who are choosing not to report because they don’t know what to expect.”
If the complainant is a UW student the office of the Dean of Students has a full-time investigator who will respond to the complaint. The sexual misconduct investigator will reach out to the alleged victim to offer support services and lead an investigation should the student want the misconduct to be investigated.
If the complainant is not a UW student the process is overseen by the Title IX office.
In addition to the Stop Violence and Title IX offices, SAFE Project, a local nonprofit agency that serves victims and survivors of sexual assault has a full-time advocate located on campus to provide better access for UW students.
UW offers support services to victims of sexual misconduct. Victims are encouraged to prioritize physical and mental health following a sexual assault.
There are options for victims to seek care for their physical health. Student Health on campus is free for students to use. Alternatively, referrals can be made to Ivinson Memorial Hospital.
There are a number of counseling options at UW for victims of sexual misconduct.
The University Counseling Center is free for students to use. Additionally, there is a Counseling Masters and Doctorate Program in the College of Education that provides free services to students.
There is also a clinic in the Psychology department. “One of the specialties of the clinic is supporting people who have experienced trauma related to sexual violence,” Selhein said. The clinic is not free, however it is inexpensive and the Stop Violence Program works with the Psychology Department to ensure that any cost associated is not prohibitive should a victim want to use their services.
Title IX requires UW to offer basic support options to sexual misconduct victims including: supporting students with academics, housing, transportation, and work assignments.
Advocates on campus offer victims support with academics. Advocates will work with students and faculty to make sure the victim is able to continue their academic career with the least amount of continued trauma possible.
Work assignment support includes assisting a victim who works on campus. If the victim needs to change their job to avoid their attacker, university officials will help facilitate work accommodation for the victim.
“We have a process in place to investigate and respond to any allegation that is brought to our attention, and I think different students have had different experiences with that process. Some have found it really supportive and helpful and been really appreciative of what we have offered,” Selhein said. “And some students have felt like we either haven’t done enough or haven’t met their needs.”