Sexual assault on campus is a nationwide issue, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln must do a better job at ensuring the safety of its students rather than protecting their already soiled reputation.
We all know that sexual assault is at an elevated risk on campus; there is no reason to brush it under the rug, as it has been done in the past. The best thing for the university to do is be completely transparent with its students and advocate for support and help.
While the university has committed to remodeling Neihardt into a new space for the Center for Advocacy, Response & Education (CARE) and mandatory sexual misconduct training for all students, it still has the opportunity for further improvement.
UNL needs to have a better system in place for survivors of sexual assault. Better avenues for reporting incidents should be created, names of convicted sexual predators should be dispersed as well as updates of each case for the safety of the university’s student body and the mental health programs in place for survivors need to be reinforced.
Of course, the initial assault is the most prevalent problem. It is common across all campuses that victims tend to not report to law enforcement. Among undergraduate students, 6.8% of males and 26.4% of females experience rape or sexual assault on campus. Only 20% of the females who experienced rape or sexual assault on campus reported to law enforcement, which is a stunningly low but unsurprising statistic.
In my experience and in the experience of people I’ve heard from, many victims are afraid to report through UNLPD due to the lack of help and justice they receive.
Common reasons for choosing not to report include a fear of reprisal, not wanting the perpetrator to get in trouble and believing the police would not or could not do anything to help, among other reasons.
It is heartbreaking knowing that victims are apprehensive to report what happened to them for reasons such as these. Knowing that there will be justice and getting the perpetrator exposed and off campus, unable to harm anyone else, can be an incentive for a victim to report. This is where UNLPD and UNL step in to ensure this can happen.
One way to increase transparency in the process is to inform students more thoroughly. UNL students deserve to be aware if one of their fellow students has been arrested, especially if the crime involves sexual misconduct. If the victim reports through UNLPD, UNLPD has the university’s best interest in mind when it sends out the initial email reporting an incident on university property. But in order for sexual predators to be exposed to the student body, UNLPD needs to do more.
The UNL policy regarding sexual misconduct states that if a student is found to have violated the Sexual Misconduct Policy, the following sanctions may be imposed: a formal written warning, probation, loss of university privileges and other sanctions that may not result in expulsion. If the convicted individual happens to return to campus at some point, it is important that students are aware of the history of that person.
Not only should the university send students an email regarding a reported act of sexual misconduct, but they should also keep the community updated of the individual’s legal proceedings. That announcement should also include the individual’s name if they are an adult or if they will be tried as an adult.
If the crime was committed by a student enrolled at UNL, it is the university’s responsibility to take accountability regarding the fact that it happened on their grounds by a student of their own. By this I do not mean it is directly their fault, but rather they are now responsible for informing the student population and providing support to the survivor.
Some may argue that the individual will have a damaged reputation if their name is released to students, and the individual will be met with hardship on campus or in life. Frankly, I’d like to refute that argument by simply saying: good, they deserve it. I have hardly any compassion or sympathy for a person who chooses to commit such a crime, and people should have the right to know for their own safety.
Reporting is a difficult step for victims of sexual assault, but a long road of healing is still awaiting them.
UNL needs to ensure victims receive the help and support they deserve. The support systems that UNL currently offers, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and CARE, do not do enough to support victims.
In my experience with these resources, I was given a cookie-cutter “recovery” plan. The sessions I attended did not feel personalized to my experience at all, and I ended up discontinuing CAPS and CARE because I felt like it wouldn’t be beneficial to my well-being in any way.
The first question I was asked was “So, what are you here for?” even though I had already submitted an entire file pinpointing exactly the reasons why I was there. For those who have not been through therapy or counseling services, this is an extremely ill-mannered question to ask right off the bat.
It’s almost equivalent to saying “What’s wrong with you?” It startled me and made me feel as if I was just another client. There’s a certain amount of sensitivity and subtlety that needs to be taken into account when a student has the courage to willingly pursue help, and I did not receive that during my experience at CAPS.
Being raped or sexually assaulted in any way is an extremely traumatizing experience. Not just any fresh-out-of-grad-school person with a counseling license has the touch to properly accommodate and sympathize with a survivor. I am not intending to downplay other issues that students may need to seek professional help about, but rather I am advocating for professional counselors that specialize in these areas to meet the individualized needs of each student.
I have never been more frustrated at authority and heartbroken for my fellow students who are reluctant to report the atrocious, traumatizing things that happened to them due to their completely valid premonitions of receiving no form of justice or support.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to take that leap to get the help you need, and as long as UNL remains apprehensive to change its ways, I will be forced to look elsewhere for that help and support.
All in all, UNL and UNLPD have a great amount of work to do in order to ensure the safety and well-being of its students, to support survivors and to prevent sexual misconduct in the future. Communication to students is vital; awareness and safety of UNL students and students across campuses everywhere should be the most important thing.
UNL and all campuses across the country need to believe, uplift and support survivors, not their reputations.
Emerson McClure is a sophomore journalism and advertising & public relations major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.