By: Robyn Gee
Journalism students at the University of Minnesota Duluth, recently published the results of an eight month investigative series that takes a hard look at the culture of reporting sexual assault incidents on their campus. The stories were published in the UMD Statesman.
Emily Haavik, 21, and Travis Dill, 26, started by looking at data from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and other existing data sets. According to CIR, one in five women who attend college will be victims of rape or attempted rape during their college career. But when Haavik and Dill looked at their own campus, they found zero incidents reported in 2008, one reported in 2009, and two reported in 2010. And in 14 years, the university had not issued disciplinary actions against any sexual perpetrators.
Haavik and Dill got their hands on the UMD police reports and sifted through them for cases of criminal sexual assault. They looked at surveys from the health services department at UMD. And they put out calls for victims to tell their stories via Facebook. Eventually, four people came forward.
“The first person we talked to who had been sexually assaulted hit me really hard...The whole time she talked about it, she wasn’t very emotional. But at the end, she talked about telling her parents and she said her dad didn’t believe her ... And she started crying... That can be one of the most painful things -- friends and family think you’re crying wolf, or you’re overreacting,” said Haavik.
Dill agreed, and said the hardest part of the investigation was reading through the incident reports. “Just the lack of empathy for these people was the biggest thing that bothered me,” he said.
The federal government sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to colleges and universities that advised schools to provide education about sexual violence on campus and how to report it. Dill said UMD has a good sexual assault protocol, but doesn’t do much to deliver the information to students, besides providing a short video to incoming freshmen. “In my personal opinion, I’d like them to implement something as soon as possible. But I feel like they’re taking their time to figure it out. That’s understandable, I don’t feel like they fully grasped the problem...I wish they would make more progress more quickly,” he said.
Haavik and Dill published a print edition of their stories during Welcome Week at UMD. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the first few weeks of a college student’s freshman year is when they are most vulnerable to sexual assault.
Dill said being part of this investigation gave him a new perspective on freshman activities. “We have a semi-tradition of having parties on move-in weekend. But we also have students that will put up sexist signs, and make billboards that they hold up [in front of off-campus housing]... Doing this research made me question all that activity. I didn’t think it was right in the first place, but I see it as a reinforcement of an environment where people aren’t able to come forward and report sexual assaults,” he said.
Haavik is hopeful that the culture on her campus will change in the future. The new director of the UMD police, Capt. Scott Drewlo, has a relationship with the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA). She said he plans to have an advocate from PAVSA present when students are reporting incidents of sexual assault, so that students are not pressured to recant their accusations--something that happened in one of the case files that Haavik and Dill read through.
Haavik said although it was an arduous investigation, and a hard topic to think about for eight months, the investigation was worth it. “[The victims] were brave enough to tell their stories. The fact that they were willing to talk to us meant that we had a responsibility to tell their story,” she said.
Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
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