BY KAYDEE JONES
Gull Life Editor
What is SU doing to combat this significant area of college student life?
There was a sexual assault about every seven minutes in the United States in 2013, according to a fact sheet from the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA).
Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient, according to the United States Department of Justice.
In Maryland, women have the sixth highest occurrences of rape, physical violence and or stalking by an intimate partner in the country, totaling about 42 percent of the female population in the state, according to MCASA.
One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.
The numbers suggest that sexual assaults are common in the country, the state and on college campuses. So the question is: What is Salisbury University doing to combat sexual assaults on its campus?
Humberto Aristizabal is the Associate Vice President of Institutional Equity, Title IX Coordinator and Fair Practices Officer at SU. His office deals with anti-discrimination issues, and under the law of sexual misconduct, and in particular sexual assault, it could be a form of discrimination on the basis of sex.
As the Title IX coordinator, Ariztizabal is the person designated by SU’s president, Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, to handle sexual assault incidences.
When a sexual assault allegation is brought to the university’s attention, the institution would respond by conducting an internal administrative process that is independent of and unrelated to any other investigations, including criminal investigations.
So since assault is a criminal offense and would likely warrant a criminal investigation, it is possible that someone could be found innocent in a criminal case but guilty in the university’s case as they are two completely separate processes.
“We do work together with the police very, very closely,” he said. “Because most of the time when it comes to sexual assault the investigations are happening concurrently. So we have to coordinate and orchestrate how to respect the rights of all parties involved.”
Recently, the Office of Institutional Equity and Student Affairs sent out a sexual assault campus climate survey. The survey sought to seek information about certain types of sexual and relationship violence experienced among Salisbury University students.
Being able to address sexual misconduct properly is something that is very important to the university and it’s a significant challenge for many colleges and universities in the United States, said Aristizabal.
“Sexual assault affects the health, the mental health and the academic performance of a student,” he said. “So we have a very important interest in addressing these situations in a very proper way. That’s the basis of the idea of having a survey.”
Many sexual assault victims do not come forward, so the information the university has may not be an a Maryland House Bill 571 mandates all colleges in our state to frequently send out climate surveys every two years, so there is a legal component. But Artistizabal emphasized that the climate survey gives valuable information that will update the university’s policies and programs and fine-tune the approaches related to sexual assault.ccurate representation of what’s really going on, and the survey will help tailor in responses to what is going on right here on our campus.
“In reality, the reason of the survey is to be able to improve our campus responses,” Aristizabal said. “And we have to be able to understand other important climate issues. It’s not enough just knowing how many reported sexual assaults are taking place.”
There has been at least 52 sexual misconduct educational programs and or trainings since the fall of 2013, according to a spreadsheet compiled by the Office of Student Affairs.
ON CAMPUS PROTECTION
Salisbury University has its own full service law enforcement agency for the campus called the Salisbury University Police Department (SUPD).
Lieutenant Brian Waller is the Investigative-Support Services Commander for SUPD. Waller said that the primary way university police try to combat sexual assaults is through education and information exchange.
Waller said the first thing SUPD tries to do is educate everyone about what the law is in terms of consent, because the central issue in most the of sexual assault cases the university gets is whether a person was able to render consent.
“It’s a lot easier for the university to address a violation on campus then it is in the criminal justice system, in that there are times a case may not make it to the criminal justice process but there’s still a finding of someone responsible on campus,” he said.
SUPD regularly participates in freshman orientation programs and has its own programs called Rape Aggression Defense Training (RAD) and Self-Defense Awareness & Familiarization Exchange (SAFE).
RAD classes are free and are offered twice each semester to SU students, faculty and staff. Currently there are RAD classes being offered on March 22, 24, 29 and 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. Sign up on the RAD page of SUPD’s section of SU’s website.
“I hate to label them self-defense programs because the underlying theme of them is becoming aware of risks and risk avoidance techniques,” Waller said. “However if all else fails, we give some alternative options for self-defense.”
University Police also manages the blue light phones that are spread around campus. All of the phones ring directly into the university police department’s communication center, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and most of them have video surveillance capabilities.
Waller said they also offer a safety escort service through student aids, security guards or police officers.
“If someone feels uncomfortable traveling around campus we will absolutely provide them with an escort,” he said.
In addition to the blue lights, SUPD, in partnership with SGA, is exploring a safety app that they hope to have ready for the fall semester.
An individual could put their information in the app and if they felt unsafe for any reason, they could hit a button and it would dial the university police phone number and the person’s information and GPS location would pop up on a university police computer so the police know exactly who they’re looking for and where to look.
“Nothing is going to supplant common sense and basic safety precautions, but it’s good to have some other checks and balances to help ensure safety,” Waller said.
In regards to safety tips, Waller said it’s important to realize that in most college sexual assault cases, the victim is acquainted with the perpetrator. He also said to be cautious of being alone with people that an individual doesn’t know that well, especially when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Waller said that people may not realize that intoxication play a part on both sides of the victim and the accused. Reading social cues and judging if a person is able to fully render consent are other important parts of safety.
“A lot of it is practicing common sense and to look out for one another,” Waller said.
As for the sexual assault campus climate survey, the university police did were not involved with making or distributing it, Waller said they’re more in the back end of it with seeing the results.
SGA President Tyler Gibson noted that he heard about the campus climate survey from the Vice President of Student Affairs, and he has not heard from the student body that sexual assault is a big, pressing issue on SU’s campus.
“I think it’s good that the survey goes out because it’s anonymous and it basically is just there to help the school find ways to better help students,” Gibson said.
The SGA has been working to bring the “It’s On Us” campaign to SU. “It’s On Us” is a national campaign that was started by President Barrack Obama to bring education and awareness about sexual assaults to college campuses, where many sexual assaults take place.
Gibson said he had a phone call with one of the president’s advisors last semester, and he encouraged SU to participate in “Its On Us” by putting on events and having students take the pledge to end sexual assault.
“It really just serves as awareness to get people to know that sexual assault does happen, it shouldn’t happen, and to possibly educate them about it,” Gibson said.
In regards to the safety app that SGA is developing with University Police, Gibson said a lot of colleges are investing in apps that students can download on their phones to supplement the services provided by the University Police and even local police.
He said that they haven’t picked an app yet, they’re still in the process of testing different ones, but its goal is to give quicker and more direct contact to the campus police to prevent an act from happening or to give the person a sense of security until the police are able to get to them.
“There are a lot of different options out there,” Gibson said. “But we’re working with the university police to decide which one is best for our campus, which one integrates best into our current technology and which is the most affordable.”
Gibson said he really thinks the university is doing a lot to combat sexual assaults. He referenced freshman orientation programs that teach students about how to identify potential sexual assault victims and about consent, and how these programs are often shocking and uncomfortable for students.
He said that this is appropriate for the subject matter because it will make students take it seriously and they are not likely to forget the information.
“The school is really responsible for teaching students, from the first time they’re on campus, what their responsibilities are as a college student,” Gibson said. “And one of those responsibilities is to know when you’re committing acts of sexual assault and when consent is given or not given.”
SU junior and psych major Amy Wible and SU senior and psych major Violet Margarita-Goldkamp both attended the “Can I Kiss You?” safe dating event in GUC’s Wicomico Room on March 9.
Wible had gone to a previous event that the speaker, Mike Domitrz, had spoken at and was eager to see him again because his talks are interactive and give practical information that is easily applicable. She also said that she had taken his safe dating advice and used it in the past.
“I think sexual assault is something that is not talked about enough in society (or) enough in general,” Wible said.
Margarita-Goldkamp, who is in the same class as Wible, said she was interested in the event, but was especially motivated to go when her teacher offered the extra credit. She liked that Domitrz was funny and interactive with the audience.
“I liked that the group we had today was small because it made it more intimate and personal, but I think it would be good to have a bigger group because it would get the message out to a lot more people on our campus,” she said.
Both women said that they felt SU should have regular sexual assault awareness events because it’s an important issue for a college campus to address.
OTHER AVAILBLE RESOURCES
The Life Crisis Center is a local nonprofit organization located in Salisbury that provides free services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. Dee Copeland is a licensed clinical counselor and does sexual trauma counseling at the Life Crisis Center.
If an SU student, or any other adult, has been a victim of sexual violence they would get an unlimited number of free counseling sessions where they would develop a treatment plan or goals depending on their present symptoms or concerns. The Life Crisis Center also offers a 24 hour hotline for emergencies in addition to counseling services.
Another thing they offer is advocacy. An agent could be sent to a hospital or to court with a victim to provide support and help the client through the process.
“Advocates hold the clients hand through whatever exam or rape kit is being done, they’re there for support,” Copeland said. “If they go to the courthouse with the victim, they’re there for support and not to testify.”
When it comes to preventing sexual assaults, Copeland says to not walk across campus at night, use the buddy system and to never leave your drink unattended at a party or function. But these prevention methods are geared toward the victim, which needs to be done but its complex.
“Those are from a victim’s perspective, making the victim responsible,” she said. “The other part of it is education and accountability for the perpetrator and bystander intervention.”
The Life Crisis Center often collaborates with SU’s Counseling Center, which is another resource available to SU students who are the victim of sexual assault. The Counseling Center provides free, professional and confidential services, such as counseling, to students.
The Counseling Center is located in GUC 263 and can be reached at (410) 543-6070. The Life Crisis Center can be reached at (410) 749-4357. Campus police can be reached at (410) 543-6222.