NOTE: After The Times-Delphic went to print, we received information stating that the Coordinator for Sexual Violence Response and Healthy Relationship Promotion has been chosen. As a result of the recommendation from the Sexual Assault Task Force, Alysa Mozak will be filling the position.
This past July, the Drake University administration was planning to add a new member, a coordinator for sexual violence response and healthy relationship promotion.
Lorissa Lieurance, director of residence life, said the candidate will collaborate with university officials to develop an improved plan to address sexual and relationship assault.
A team of two faculty members, two staff members and two students conducted several phone interviews with over 100 applicants for the position. As of now, no final candidate has been chosen.
The position is just one of the university’s steps to reduce sexual violence, Bakari said.
“For victims, they’ll know there is that someone they can go to who can help them through the process,” Bakari said. “In decisions of this magnitude, students need support. They need an advocate.”
One in five women becomes a victim of sexual assault during college, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Many claim sexual violence is the most underreported violent crime in America, with 60 percent of assaults never publicized.
This is a fact the university is actively trying to change, Bakari said.
Last academic year, Drake had one report of a sexual assault compared to four reports the 2009-2010 academic year, Bakari said. However, Lester Wheeler, campus security services operations manager, explained that that number doesn’t accurately represent all incidents of sexual violence.
Wheeler compiles a weekly security log that states the nature, date, time and location of each crime and the disposition of each complaint. He confirmed five reports of sexual assault within the log records dating back to last August.
The reports include forcible fondling, unwanted physical contact and three general reports of sexual assault. Two cases occurred in November 2010. One occurred in December, and the last two happened in February and in April.
“You can’t touch anyone. You just can’t do it,” Wheeler said. “It’s against the law.”
Due to federal government regulation, campus security services reports all sexual assault crimes on a calendar year basis.
“In August the crimes for the previous year are submitted, causing the numbers to be a year behind each time,” Wheeler said.
Although five sexual assaults were listed in the security log, Wheeler said reports must meet certain criteria to be included in the government and administrative records.
A sexual assault must either occur on campus, on Drake Real Estate property, in a sorority or fraternity house or on a location adjacent to Drake property to qualify.
Any sexual assaults that happen in Drake West Village or in campus bars are not included in the sexual assault report, Wheeler said.
Bakari acknowledged that sexual assault happens more often than it appears in the security logs or in government reports.
“There are some things that are going on that we just don’t hear about,” Bakari said.
The Alcohol Effect
Though not necessarily an element for violence, alcohol has been highly involved in Drake sexual violence cases, Bakari said.
“In every incident that I have had in the seven years I’ve been here, every last one, both parties were intoxicated,” Bakari said. “Alcohol can make it complicated. Alcohol influences our decision making and judgment.”
Drake strongly encourages victims who have been sexually assaulted after consuming alcohol or drugs and witnesses to such assaults to come forward without fear of disciplinary action, according to the student handbook.
Hans Hanson, director of campus security services, said the law enforcement system is beginning to place a higher value on the role of alcohol in sexual assault situations.
“They are leaning more toward the fact that if a victim has been drinking, then he or she is assumed not to be in a position to give or deny consent, and the assailant is clearly taking advantage,” Hanson said.
“As the courts look at sex offenses in the future, this reasoning will become more pervasive.”
Students for Women’s Issues member Cate O’Donnell feels strongly that blaming does occur against victims because of their alcohol consumption, clothing or other aspects of their behavior.
“I should be able to walk home naked, completely drunk with a man and not be raped. Ever,” O’Donnell said. “No woman or man ‘gets themselves raped.’ A person is raped by another person and only the rapist is to blame.”
Wheeler said the victim should never carry blame. He said some students believe circumstances can change a situation, which is the wrong mindset.
“Come on, that doesn’t mean you are allowed to do things against the law,” Wheeler said. “I wish we had a solution.”
Former Residence Hall Association President and senior Sean Walsh agreed and said the Drake atmosphere is not always the most supportive for victims to be open about their experiences.
“Unfortunately, at almost any college, sexual assault is a big problem,” Walsh said. “Students don’t report them because they obviously don’t feel comfortable.”
SWI began a campaign against rape in the spring of 2010 and, to O’Donnell’s surprise, the signs were torn down and urinated on by fellow classmates. Students told her they would rather not “alienate the rapists” than stand up against them.
“Rape culture is alive and thriving at Drake, and most students seem to turn a blind eye,” O’Donnell said. “I want students to stop pretending that it isn’t our issue. It is.”
Bakari said he hopes the new administrative position will address problems of rape culture by increasing education about responsibility.
“It’s being done a little bit, but not in an organized sort of way. We need to have these conversations with the men, asking them to be more thoughtful and conscious of women,” Bakari said. “We have an opportunity to create more of a campaign where men stand up and are accountable.”
O’Donnell said the new position is a good start to changing the campus mindset concerning sexual assault, but that the Drake administration, faculty and staff need to address the issue as a united front.
“We have to revolutionize our rape culture if we really and truly want to stop rape on our campus,” O’Donnell said.
During Welcome Weekend last fall, Peer Mentors gave each first-year student a sexual assault brochure and led a group conversation about violence prevention. Bakari said this was a new practice to reach students right when they arrived on campus.
Bakari said Drake aims to change the climate where more people will feel comfortable talking about cases of sexual assault.
“Victims may feel like they are going through another form of victimization and don’t want to report,” Bakari said. “Maybe there’s some guilt. Maybe they don’t want to go through stuff with the media or defense attorneys bringing out their whole life in public.”
Walsh sees the position as a positive way to open a discussion about sexual violence.
“With an added member, it will hopefully give a voice to people who are victimized or don’t feel represented,” Walsh said. “If people don’t talk about sexual assault, it’s not encouraging it, but it keeps with the status quo.”
Although Drake has seen male victims of sexual assault in the past, the victims are generally women and the assailant tends to be someone the victim knows, Bakari said.
Victims can choose to file charges within the university system or with the Des Moines Police Department. Lieurance said disciplinary action can occur even if the assailant withdraws from the university or is not involved in court proceedings.
“The university reserves the right to take whatever disciplinary action is appropriate to protect the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff,” Lieurance said.
Whether the victim files charges or not, campus security is required to add all instances of sexual assault to the security report, Hanson said.
Hanson said the process to find the truth of a case is usually lengthy.
“In almost all the cases reported to us there is no witness, so you get into the ‘he said, she said’ arena. It is hard for the courts to prove who is being honest,” Hanson said.
Bakari begins the investigation for every case of sexual assault he hears about. If possible, he will look at the security report and a rape kit, talk to any witnesses and the police, and listen to the testimonies of both parties.
Then, Bakari must determine if enough evidence exists to warrant charges against the assailant. If a student is found guilty, they will either be suspended or expelled from the university.
“I have to believe something happened and prove it based on the preponderance of evidence, not beyond on a reasonable doubt,” Bakari said.
Bakari and residence hall staff work with the victims to help in any way. Students can switch halls or move off campus if it makes them feel safer. They are encouraged to seek the Drake Counseling Center for support, which is free, or any of the local Des Moines hospitals that offer crisis advocacy.
Kerry Anderson, Drake student health center counselor and therapist, specializes in sexual assault cases. She declined to comment.
Bakari stressed that the university will continue working to improve its awareness and education about sexual assault and precaution measures.
“We’re concerned about students’ well-being and safety,” Bakari said. “It’s about getting students education and support so they can be happy at Drake and successful here, have a good experience.”