Sex assault persists in KU student culture despite organized administrative efforts

A poster for the KU office of Institutional Opportunity and Access Speak

By the numbers: Sexual violence at KU

Close to 900 Kansas University undergrad and graduate students took the 2013 Climate Survey administered by the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access. Respondents were 65 percent female and 35 percent male.

This is what they reported:

11 percent have been the victim of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, while at KU.

• Of those, 2 percent reported it to the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access.

• Of students who didn’t report it, 2 percent were under the influence and either believed intoxication made them at fault for the harassment or didn’t want to get in trouble for being intoxicated. Another 2 percent feared retaliation or stigma. Less than 1 percent reported it to another KU office.

11 percent have witnessed sexual harassment, including sexual violence, while at KU.

• Of those, 3 percent reported it to KU.

• Of students who did not report it, 3 percent said it was none of their business and they didn’t want to get involved. 2 percent said the victim told them not to.

91 percent know it violates KU policy to have sex with someone who is too incapacitated to give consent.

25 percent know about the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access.

— Sara Shepherd

How do KU’s procedures stack up?

The federal Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight reported the following national statistics in its July report, “Sexual Violence on Campus: How too many institutions of higher education are falling short.”

Kansas University, however, has all of these measures in place.

• More than 30 percent do not provide any sexual assault training for students.

• More than 40 percent have not conducted a sexual assault investigation in the past five years. (Federal law requires every institution that knows of sexual violence to conduct an investigation into the incident.)

• More than 10 percent do not have a Title IX coordinator, as required by federal law.

• 16 percent of institutions conduct climate surveys.

• 51 percent provide a hotline for reporting, and 44 percent allow reporting online.

— Sara Shepherd

Kansas University’s administrative procedures addressing sexual violence appear to exceed federal requirements. Yet alcohol-fueled assault among students persists largely outside their reach.

According to a confidential campus survey, one in 10 students have been victims of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, while at KU, but only a sliver reported it.

Most sexual violence incidents that were reported to KU — about 30 in a two-year span — involved men raping or sexually assaulting women who were drunk, said Jane McQueeny, executive director of KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, which investigates campus sex assaults.

“If we don’t get the support to her and handle her case right, it may be something that years from now she hasn’t recovered,” McQueeny said. “And our male students, we’re changing the course of their lives. So that’s why prevention and the education is critical to me, because I want to be able to reach them before they’re coming in here for an interview.”

Last month, the federal Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight released a report revealing that many higher learning institutions fail to follow the law and best practices for investigating sexual assaults on their campuses, educating students and supporting victims.

KU was not among schools asked to participate in that survey, McQueeny said.

However, she said, KU already investigates all sexual violence complaints, conducts confidential surveys, offers multiple ways to report sexual violence and provides training for students and staff.

How KU investigates

KU created IOA about two and a half years ago. McQueeny became its first executive director in May 2012.

She’s the designated Title IX coordinator for KU’s Lawrence campus. In addition to other discrimination complaints, Institutional Opportunity and Access investigates sexual violence and sexual harassment cases because they fall beneath the umbrella of Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in education.

IOA investigates any on-campus assault and most off-campus assaults involving students if they are reported, McQueeny said.

Complaints come from victims themselves, witnesses or KU employees, who are required to report sexual violence to IOA, she said. Complaints can be filed online, by fax, by mail or by phone.

“We try to remove as many barriers as possible so that people are encouraged to report,” McQueeny said.

IOA investigations are separate from criminal investigations, though McQueeny said her office informs all victims that they can also file a police report.

“There’s advantages to going through both processes,” she said.

IOA’s 60-day investigations rely on sources including victim and witness interviews, social media activity and medical records, McQueeny said.

The IOA can rearrange a victim’s class schedule and place her alleged attacker on disciplinary probation or move him to a different residence hall as soon as a complaint is filed. If he’s found guilty, KU can ban him from campus and even order restitution to, for example, fix a victim’s broken door, pay for her counseling or cover out-of-pocket hospital costs.

Law enforcement has more investigative powers, such as ordering DNA tests and issuing subpoenas. If an attacker is ultimately convicted in court, he can be sent to prison.

But the legal process takes longer and can be even more intimidating for victims. Plus, the burden of proof to send someone to prison is high, whereas KU requires no conviction to help a victim avoid her alleged attacker on campus.

“That, I think, is why we probably have a lot of people who come talk to us,” McQueeny said.

Students underreport

Almost 20 percent of undergraduate women have been victims of sexual violence or attempted sexual violence in college, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2012 sexual violence fact sheet.

At KU, 11 percent of students say they have been the victim of sexual harassment, including sexual violence, according to the IOA’s 2013 “climate survey,” to which about 900 graduate and undergraduate men and women responded. Of victims, 2 percent said they reported the violence to IOA.

Students who didn’t report cited reasons including fear of getting in trouble for being intoxicated (which McQueeny said would not happen), stigma or retaliation.

“We still have underreporting, so we’re still trying to unlock that,” McQueeny said. “What can we do to make sure people understand that reporting is a good thing?”

Right now, students preparing to start fall classes are watching an online video explaining what sexual assault is, common myths and where to get help. KU requires students to watch the video, via Blackboard, and take a quiz at the end.

This fall students can expect to see posters on campus advertising the IOA’s “Speak Up” campaign, encouraging students to report if they or someone they know has been the victim of sexual assault.

Of complaints that do make their way to IOA, investigations find evidence to support them in all but about 10 percent of cases, McQueeny said.

As for remaining cases, she said, insufficient evidence does not mean the claims are false.

“They’re really hard cases to prove because there’s two people involved,” she said, “and there’s usually quite a bit of alcohol.”