Missouri State University Campus Safety received 10 reports of sexual assault during the 2018 calendar year.
Under Title IX, sexual assault is defined as rape, fondling or unwanted touching. Not accounting for domestic violence, dating violence and stalking, Missouri State’s Title IX office received 29 sexual assault reports from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019. Since July 1 of this year, they have already received five sexual assault reports.
Andrew Englert, assistant director of Campus Safety, said he thinks the university has made a lot of improvements towards educating students about sexual assault, but there is still work to be done.
“I think we are improving, certainly after creating the Title IX office in 2015, which provided a lot of education about what sexual assault was,” Englert said. “While we saw an initial spike in reported sexual assaults, I think that was due to the education.”
Englert said if they can intervene in high school, they can address “problem behavior” before it becomes an issue in college.
“Unfortunately, while higher education is doing a great job, we probably need to look at a younger population because I think some of the behaviors are developed prior to coming on a college campus,” Englert said.
Jill Patterson, MSU Title IX coordinator, said she wished more was being done to educate young adults before they come to college.
“We have been engaged in some very purposeful projects to increase awareness of (Title IX) so they know they can come to us for help,” Patterson said. “But the other side of that is, I think sexual assault in general, not specific to our campus but our culture, has been on the rise. I believe that things like all the access points through social media, all the exposure this generation has had to pornography, have created an uptick in sexual assault.”
Patterson was a prosecutor of sexual assault cases for 15 years before she came to MSU. She said a few key factors have led to a rise in behaviors consistent with rape culture.
“The extraordinary access to pornography — the addictive nature of it — all of the sharing of nude photographs that goes on between people,” Patterson said. “I think that promotes a culture that is allowing sexual assault to feel normal to some people.”
Patterson said she rejects the idea that if someone is drunk they cannot be assaulted. She said being intoxicated is not an excuse for assault.
“It is still the responsibility of the person who harmed them and it doesn’t make it less because the person was drunk,” Patterson said.
Similarly, Englert said he does not agree with those who think assaulting an intoxicated person is harmless.
“I have a lot of issues with saying, ‘Because of the state of a victim, a crime is OK,’” Englert said.
Preventing sexual assault
“We have a variety of initiatives,” Patterson said. “For one, we speak to every single GEP student and UHC student, which takes an enormous amount of time but it is time well spent because I think that people know who we are and know to come to us if they have an issue.”
Petterson said Title IX received grants for the Green Dot initiative and Project Heal. Both of the leaders of those groups speak to students and faculty.
“Specifically Green Dot offers a lot of practical advice around how to engage in behavior that would prevent the issue from happening at all,” Patterson said.
Englert said Green Dot is a great part of the initiative to prevent sexual assault that teaches bystander intervention on how anyone can intervene in situations that they think might lead to sexual assault.
Englert said planning ahead is essential to staying safe before a night out.
“Always have that sober individual that you go out with, don’t go out alone and establish what your ground rules are going to be with that sober individual,” Englert said.
This way, the sober person can intervene when their friends are making decisions they might regret later.
Patterson said a sexual assault is “far more likely” to happen between people who know each other, rather than between strangers.
She said it is most often a betrayal of trust, meaning someone would never believe a person they know could behave in that manner.
While sexual assault can happen in a variety of places, Patterson said it is most likely to happen in a familiar setting, where someone thought they would be safe from getting hurt.
“There is strength in numbers,” Patterson said. “Trust your senses when you feel something isn’t going well — be willing to ask for help.”
Patterson said even though it is always a good idea to speak out during a traumatic situation, it can be extremely difficult to find the words needed.
“So I’m not blaming someone that does not find them,” Patterson said. “But on the other side of that, the person who wants to do something has to find their words to ask and get a clear answer.”
Patterson emphasizes strong communication between two people to reduce the risks of “misunderstandings.”
The funnel idea
Patterson said when it comes to victims reporting assault, think of it like a funnel.
At the top of the funnel, the widest part is telling friends or family. Then comes Title IX, followed by Campus Safety, then reporting the assault to the police. At the bottom of the funnel, the smallest part, are the cases that actually get prosecuted.
“We probably get more (reports) in because people can come to us and be confidential,” Patterson said. “They can just ask for advice, or sign the paperwork and file a complaint, or ask for us to do an investigation.”
Jane Henke, a victim services and advocacy specialist at the MSU Counseling Center, said her role is to provide treatment for survivors and to advocate for them on campus.
“I joined the Counseling Center team in March 2018 specifically for the purpose of providing treatment to survivors of sexual assault, dating or domestic violence and stalking,” Henke said.
Englert, Patterson and Henke have all seen reports of sexual assault spike upward.
Being at the top of the funnel, Patterson is used to getting more reports than others. But lately that number has increased even more, and it might not have to do with more assaults.
“I think reporting and reaching out for help to our office has increased,” Patterson said. “Which is not the same thing as sexual assault increasing.”
Henke said the same has been happening at the Counseling Center. She said she is seeing an uptick of students coming to her over sexual assault.
Last year, she saw about 35 students and expects the same amount this year.
“I would not interpret that to mean that there has been an increase in the incidents of sexual assaults on campus, just students seeking treatment,” Henke said.
Education is key
Patterson said Title IX is also a safe place for men.
“When I was only talking about female victims, those were the only people who were coming to see me,” Patterson said. “I have to be very specific about who can be hurt in any of these categories. There is no doubt in the world that women are victimized at extraordinarily high rates compared to anyone else and hurt by men.”
Englert said besides learning about Title IX as a freshman in a GEP class and then never hearing about it again, Campus Safety offers other programs to keep students educated about sexual assault.
“One of the ongoing programs that we offer is called Sexual Assault Prevention and Defensive Tactics,” Englert said.
In this program, the focus is on how to avoid being a victim, such as learning better situational awareness. Also taught is how to be a proactive bystander, as well as some of the barriers that keep people from reporting sexual assaults and then a few basic moves of self-defense.
Englert said they are also working to add two more classes, one that teaches more advanced self-defense and another that teaches individuals to use pepper spray.
“If you are in a situation where you need to use pepper spray, I absolutely want you to use it, but by that point it has gotten too far,” Englert said. “So anything that individuals and the institution can do to assist people in avoiding those situations, that’s where I want to focus our efforts.”
Englert said he definitely wants people to be prepared for a “worst-case scenario,” but he said he wants to educate students before the worst-case scenario occurs.
Englert said part of the education on campus is getting students to know what sexual assault is.
“We’re letting both victims and perpetrators know what consent looks like, what sexual assault looks like,” Englert said. “So regardless of what the situation is, everyone knows beforehand.”
The hope is that when students are educated about what consent looks like, fewer “misunderstandings” will take place.
“It’s pretty easy to blame the drunk girl who gets hurt,” Patterson said, following up with “Saying ‘it was a misunderstanding’ is just an excuse.”
‘Healing is absolutely possible’
When a victim of sexual assault walks through the Title IX door, Patterson said they let the victim lead the discussion. Patterson said students can choose how much information they divulge, whether they include names, and if they file a complaint.
“We don’t have a specific path we go down,” Patterson said. “We listen, we offer resources on campus and in the community. We ask whether they wish to file a complaint or make a police report, we can help with either thing.
Patterson said she believes people are getting better at analyzing a situation of sexual assault in the hypothetical sense, but they aren’t doing a good job when they’re living it.
“The responsibility for (sexual assault) stopping, needs to be with the people who are being abusive, taking advantage of situations and hurting people,” Patterson said.
Patterson said it would be foolish if she suggested there was any community without some amount of rape culture, but she is working on making campus a little bit better.
“We are doing what we can to break down those stereotypes, but I would say MSU is like the rest of the world,” Patterson said.
Englert said his office is more focused on the response after an assault has been committed.
“Certainly, we are very concerned about prevention and we want to prevent as much sexual assault as possible but we want to make sure that we are not revictimizing someone,” Englert said.
Englert explained revictimization as when a person walks into the Campus Safety office and walks through what happened to them, it is like they are becoming a victim again.
“Every time that individual tells their story, they are retraumatized,” Englert said.
He said victims do not have to give all the details about what happened, his office is mainly there to point them toward their resources.
“Do they want to file a police report right now or can we assist them in connecting with the Title IX office?” Englert said. “This way they are aware of what their options are and minimizing the number of times they have to tell their story.”
Patterson said Title IX is confidential and will follow the victim’s lead about what they want to share if they decide to come to her office.
“Sometimes people come to us just to ask advice about situations and we are happy to offer that too,” Patterson said.
Henke said if a victim confides in someone about being assaulted, there are a few steps they could possibly take.
The first step being listen well and do not minimize what happened by saying, “It wasn’t that bad,” or blaming the friend for what happened to them.
“Ask what they need or how they would like to be supported,” Henke said. “Share resources you know about on campus and check in with your friend regularly.”
Henke suggested calling the Counseling Center or other campus leaders if concerns arise about self-harm or thoughts of suicide.
“We have to do a better job in our culture of not blaming the victim,” Henke said. “No one asks to be sexually assaulted. The perpetrators of these assaults are responsible and we must bring about the kind of change in our culture which no longer excuses this type of behavior.”
“Free, confidential help is available,” Henke said. “Healing is absolutely possible.”
If you or anyone you know is in need of help, you can reach the Counseling Center at 417-836-5116, the Title IX office at 417-836-6810, the Victim Center at 417-863-7273, Harmony House at 417-837-7700. The National Sexual Assault hotline number is 800-656-HOPE.