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Most University of Utah students don’t know where to report a sex assault or get help on campus

First Published      Last Updated Oct 25 2016 09:46 am

Survey » The school, along with BYU and Westminster, is investigated by the feds for handling assault complaints.

More than half of University of Utah students say they don't know where to report a sexual assault or where to get help and support on campus, according to a survey.

The U. sent the sexual assault campus climate survey in January to all degree-seeking students. About 14.4 percent of students — 4,014 — responded, which Elizabeth Duszak, assistant director of the U.'s assessment, evaluation and research, said is pretty typical, if not high.

The survey results were released Monday, showing that 52.4 percent of students did not know where to make a formal sexual assault complaint, 61 percent did not know what happens after they make such a complaint to the school and 51.9 percent did not know where to get help and support on campus.

"The clear next step is we use this in terms of improving education to students," about where to report, for example, said Lori McDonald, the U.'s dean of students.

Under a federal law called Title IX, schools must address sex assault by not only disciplining offenders but also protecting victims and eliminating the "hostile environment" created in the aftermath of an attack. A student who may have been the victim of a sexual assault is entitled to immediate services, such as housing changes and class adjustments or more lenient deadlines.

The U. is one of three Utah higher education institutions — along with Brigham Young University and Westminster College — under federal investigation for their handling of a sexual assault complaints.

Officials at the U. began discussing a campus climate survey shortly after the White House in 2014 provided campuses information about conducting these surveys, meant to assess the prevalence and perception of sexual assault.

The U.'s survey showed that 18.8 percent of undergraduate females and 4.7 percent of undergraduate males who responded had been sexually assaulted during their time at school.

"One case is too many," McDonald said. "I want that number to be zero."

The reported perpetrators of the sexual assault were most commonly a casual acquaintance, hookup or a friend, the survey showed, and the perpetrator was a fellow U. student 48.5 percent of the time.

Nearly 73 percent of students surveyed say they had been drinking prior to being assaulted.

Institutions that receive federal funding are required — under the Clery Act — to publicly release data on crimes, including sexual assaults, committed on or near campus.

The federal data show that 30 sexual assaults were reported to the U. in 2015. The survey, McDonald said, is a more robust representation of the problem on campus.

Experts have said the Clery numbers vastly understate the problem because they account only for attacks that occurred on campus property and were reported to the school.

While the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped in their lifetime, a 2014 Department of Justice report found that 80 percent of rape and sexual-assault victimizations of female college students from 1995 to 2013 were not reported to police.

The U.'s survey showed that fewer than 5 percent of students who say they were sexually assaulted reported to a university entity — the Office of the Dean of Students, Housing and Residential Education staff or Public Safety.

A number of students reported that they were unaware of sexual assault response resources at the U., such as the Center for Student Wellness victim support advocates and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, which houses Title IX.

However, most students surveyed said they felt the U. would respond well — officials would take it seriously, maintain that person's privacy and treat the accused person fairly, for example — if they reported the assault there. Nearly 12 percent of students felt the university wouldn't actively address the factors that led to attack, according to the survey.

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