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Sexual assaults increase at UNK
Erik Dodge
Antelope Staff
Julie Campbell

Students at UNK reported three sexual assaults in 2010, according to unofficial statistics provided by director of police and parking services Michelle Hamaker.


Up from zero reported sexual offenses in 2009, the three sexual assaults in 2010 mark the highest number of reported assaults at UNK since four were reported in 2008.

 

UNK’s 2010 statistic ties the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s three reported sexual offenses in 2009, and exceeds the one reported sexual assault at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.


The increase does not confirm a trend, but the university can expect to see more reports in years to come, Hamaker said.


“Just because you see a spike, I don’t know we’re necessarily seeing a trend of more, it just might mean we are having more reported,” she said.


“Over the next year, I would anticipate we might see that numbers staying at what we consider a high level of reporting, because we will be coming out with a lot more education and trying to be more proactive in helping individuals in that situation.”


From the 2009 data through 2007, UNK reported five sexual offenses, which tied for the highest at the three University of Nebraska schools. UNL reported five sexual offenses over the same period, and UNO reported four, despite a student enrollment of 24,100 at UNL, and 15,400 at UNO, compared to 6,750 at UNK.  


The actual number of sexual assaults may be higher according to professor of criminal justice and former victim advocate Julie Campbell.


“Sexual assault is one of the most underreported offenses. Some studies estimate that about half of all sexual assaults are reported, but I think it’s probably less than that, particularly in a campus environment,” she said.


Students do not report sexual assault for a variety of reasons, according to Campbell.

 

Many are unsure of whether they actually are victims.


“They have a vision in their mind of what they think a rape is, so it’s like an attack by a traitor. If you get in a situation where students are assaulted by boyfriends, friends, acquaintances or people they see at parties, and they’ve been drinking they get uncertain whether they’re actually victims.

 

They envision something more dramatic with a stranger and injuries,” Campbell said.


Approximately 85 percent of sexual assaults do not involve a weapon, and roughly 75 percent of assaults are committed by individuals the victim knows, according to Campbell.


“It’s not like that vision people have of the dark man in the alley at night with a gun. It’s just not the typical scenario. Usually, it’s someone you know, and there’s not a weapon involved,” she said. 


Alcohol is another obstacle. Students often fail to report an assault that happens at a party for fear of a minor in possession of alcohol charge.


“They worry that if they admit they were at the party, or that they were consuming alcohol, they’re somehow going to end up with an MIP. Really the two don’t compare.

 

A sexual assault is a more serious offense, and it should be reported,” she said.


Campbell encouraged students to seek help whenever they are the victims of nonconsensual sexual contact.


“If a student thinks they might have been victimized, they need to talk to somebody about it. If it is something where you’re going to pursue some type of criminal action, you need to do it quickly.

 

Time is of the essence. So even if you’re not sure, talk to somebody in the Women’s Center, talk to somebody in the counseling department or talk to a faculty member or a residence hall advisor,” Campbell said. 

Students who are victims of sexual assault, or have questions about sexual assault can find assistance at the Counseling and Health Care office in room 144 of Student Affairs building, the Women’s Center office in the same building, from the UNK Police or by speaking with faculty members.


“We have a really great set of resources for students on campus.

 

If a student is concerned, they’re not sure they’ve been sexually assaulted and they want to talk it through, they can always go to the Counseling Center or the Women’s Center.


The counselors are available.

 

They’ll sit and talk with them about what they’ve gone through, help them process it and then figure out what their next steps are going to be—whether it’s reporting or something else,” Campbell said.


In addition to the many resources available on campus, several new resources focused on responding to sexual assaults will be added as part of a grant awarded to the Women’s Center.

 

The $326,041 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence against Women aims to expand the role of the Women’s Center and create a strong partnership with the S.A.F.E. Center.


The primary purpose of the new program is to enhance victim safety in cases of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in rural areas by encouraging collaborative partnerships among criminal justice agencies, victim service providers and community organizations to respond to these crimes.


New resources made available by the grant include a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART),the Kearney S.A.F.E. Center’s first therapist, and a prevention educator graduate assistant position in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, according to Linda Shaw, grant writer and assistant director of the Women’s Center.


SART members include associate director of Health Care Cindy Shultz, a trained sexual assault nurse examiner, UNK police officer Jarvis Kring as lead investigator and prevention specialist, the assistant director of the Women’s Center, and the S.A.F.E. Center’s professional counselor.

 

The team was selected especially to help victims of assault on campus.


“We try to create a team that can really take into account all of the unique situations that a victim might be in if a sexual assault were to occur on campus, verses if it were to occur at an off campus location,” Women’s Center graduate assistant Meagan Smejdir said.


The primary goal of SART will be to investigate sexual assaults on campus, and the group will begin meeting this week, but the broader goal of the grant is prevention and education according to Shaw.

 

She hopes to implement new procedures by the beginning of the following academic year.


“The whole premise of the grant is prevention education.

 

We’re still kind of in the research phase of the project, but our goal is to have a prevention program in place by the time the freshmen come to campus in the fall,” Shaw said.

 

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