Posted November 9, 2016
When a student is sexually assaulted on or near a college campus, they may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to turn. At UW-River Falls, students have a number of options.
“Taking the first step to even tell somebody is extremely difficult,” said Katie Ryan, the campus victim advocate. “There’s a lot of shame and guilt involved with being a victim of sexual assault, but it’s not their fault.”
Ryan is one option for students when they are ready to talk about a sexual assault. She is an employee of the local organization Turning Point, which provides support for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“Within that role my responsibilities are to advocate for students, faculty and staff. So what that means is that I’m here to provide emotional support to help them navigate through the systems,” Ryan said.
Ryan holds office hours in the Student Health and Counseling Department. She is available from 1-4 p.m. Mondays, from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, and from 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays, as well as by appointment.
“I just lay out all of the options, the information about all of the options, and then support the victim in whatever they would like to do,” Ryan said.
One role of Ryan’s is to refer a victim to the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) to get an examination from a sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE nurse. SANE nurses are required to report sexual assaults of those under 18 years of age to law enforcement.
Once a SANE exam is done, the victim can decide to report to law enforcement within about five years, Ryan said. They do not have to report it right away, but the collection of evidence from the SANE exam may help to lead to a conviction when a victim does decide to report.
Ryan is available to advocate for a victim throughout the entire process and can step in at any time, even if the process has already begun, including making the initial report, getting a SANE exam, through the investigation and any outcomes of that on or off campus. She is also available just to talk about sexual assault experiences.
“It’s hard and it’s complicated and that’s why I’m here. That’s why we have systems and things in place to help with that… nobody expects to go through something like that so it’s important to have support systems,” Ryan said.
Wisconsin Statute 36.11 (22) requires that any university employee — including resident assistants and hall managers who receive a report of a sexual assault from a victim or witness the sexual assault of a student — report it to the Title IX coordinator, Gregg Heinselman. Ryan is the only campus employee who is not a mandated reporter.
Heinselman’s role in sexual assault reports is “administrating grievance procedures regarding sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault,” according to the UWRF website.
Once he receives a report of sexual assault, he works with the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards to determine if the requirement of preponderance of evidence is met before consequences can be laid out. For the requirement of preponderance of evidence to be met, Heinselman will look at all of the evidence and decide if it seems like a Title IX violation has occurred.
One of the more immediate solutions that Heinselman has put in place in the past is a no contact order between two students.
After speaking with the victim, Heinselman can then decide if he wants to refer the crime of sexual assault to the campus or city police. He can also refer the case to Student Conduct and Community Standards.
When a sexual assault is reported, no matter if someone is charged or not, it is recorded on the UWRF Annual Security Report.
Campus Police Chief Karl Fleury said that it is not common for the campus police department to receive reports of sexual assault.
According to the UWRF website, the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act) is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose certain timely and annual information about campus crime and security policies.
According to the 2016-2017 UWRF Annual Security Report, three rapes were reported in 2015, all in residence halls.
In 2014, two rapes were reported, one in a residence hall. Six reports of fondling, all in residence halls, are also on the list, along with two indeterminate sex offenses, one of which occurred in a residence hall. An indeterminate sex offense is an offense with not enough information reported to determine what type of sex offense it was.
In 2013, no sex offense reports were placed.
“We are a full-service law enforcement agency,” Fleury said. “There’s no difference between a campus police officer and a police officer from the city or a state trooper or a sheriff’s deputy… If the case leads to the point where charges are to be filed, charges will be sent over to the district attorney’s office to be filed.”
If the process works in the opposite way and the police department receives the initial report of a sexual assault, Fleury makes the decision to alert Heinselman of a Title IX violation.
Heinselman said no sexual assaults have been reported to him so far this academic year.
At a recent campus climate meeting with members of the Board of Regents, JJ Knapp, an advocacy coordinator at SART and a member of UWRF Student Senate, said sexual assault isn’t being reported by students to the university and the numbers in the campus security report aren’t an accurate representation.
“The amount of students that we have coming to the SART center are more than we have reporting to the university, so when our numbers are saying, ‘We have zero or we have two per year,’ that’s not accurate,” Knapp said.
Knapp said SART has heard of more than 30 assaults, and that this number would reflect students who were assaulted over their three years at UWRF and before that.
Fleury understands that not everyone may want to report sexual assault to authority.
“There are many reasons why they may not feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault,” he said. “We want as a law enforcement agency to make sure that individuals that may have experienced something of this nature know that they can report it to us, but they do have the option of not reporting to us. But we would encourage that they seek out the other avenues to make sure that they get the help and assistance that they need to deal with this.”