A sexual assault panel meant to spread awareness and information turned into a heated debate between some faculty, students and other audience members last Friday, October 28. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Panel, hosted by the Advocacy Alliance in the Student Union, discussed awareness, Haven, the recent arrest of Luis Alberto Molina, resources for students to stay safe and options for victims of assault.
Dr. Davis, a TU professor of Psychology, led the panel and discussions. A grant to prevent violence against women had been made and accepted, she explained, and money would be used to help educate and train TU’s communities on sexual assault prevention. The Advocacy Alliance stays “engaged in numerous efforts to change culture on campus” she explained.
Jim Scholl, representing the University of Tulsa Initiative for Trauma, Adversity and Injustice (TITAN), introduced and presented the Campus Climate Survey, a summary prepared by the TITAN and the Advocacy Alliance. The summary noted 30 percent of sexual assault victims did not tell anyone they had been assaulted. 35 percent of those who told no one felt they would be blamed. The summary also notes that “the provided estimates are likely an underestimation of the actual rates” due to a 10 percent response rate and victims often not coming forward.
The summary also included themes that students noted contributed to feelings of insecurity around campus. Not enough patrolling, poor walkability at night in regards to lighting, ease for outside parties to enter campus, promotion of female subordination by Greek culture and a “burden on students not to get raped” were among themes listed. Based on the data and student responses, the summary listed some possible steps forward, including “creating a safe space on campus separate from university administration in which students can feel comfortable making a report” and ensuring student awareness and understanding of policies and how to report cases of sexual assault.
Kathy Bell, Sexual Assault Examiner and Tulsa Police Forensic Nursing Administrator, talked about steps one can take after being a victim of an assault. The examination area for assault victims is in a “secluded and remote area of the hospital”, so as to ensure the victim’s privacy. Anyone over the age of eighteen can make a report and use the examination room. Medical staff will take history of the event, document injuries, and make an assessment of the body and emotional reaction of the victim. They also offer emergency contraceptives, antibiotics, referral services, and a follow-up phone call or visit.
Kenneth Elmore, Assistant District Attorney for Tulsa County, noted that the worst part in handling these sexual assault investigations is often “dealing with other people.” He argued that too many victims are ignored by the friends they inform and it creates a culture where victims don’t feel they could build a case and consequently blame themselves. He continued, “Just because you go on a date, just because you go into somebody’s room, just because you kiss or make out or do whatever you want, anytime you say no, it stops right there. Anything that follows that is absolutely sexual assault.” He also affirmed that students’ pasts would not come under fire in the cases, as many victims do not come forward for fear they will be shamed for past relationships. “We just care about the truth, and what’s accurate,” he stated. If a victim is not sure if they want to come forward or not, Kenneth said that evidence of the attacks can be preserved in case the victim ever changes their mind. Evidence helps build a paper trail, he said, and even if the student does not press charges that evidence may be used against the attacker if he commits another assault.
Yolanda Taylor, TU Associate Vice President for Student Services, answered student questions regarding security, Haven, and the recent emails. When asked if programs other than Haven were considered, Taylor answered that there had been, but that Haven has been a very useful tool in getting feedback from students and that Haven was recommended by the White House Task Force on Sexual Violence. She explained that survey results are being examined as to whether or not it’s a program that needs to be proceeded with and whether or not the program should only be limited to first year students. She added that it is part of a much bigger picture to get more students involved and interested in awareness programs, and that Haven will remain necessary until that environment is adequately built.
One student questioned what steps were being taken to better secure the campus in the wake of Luis Alberto Molina’s attacks and arrest. One of the TU Campus Security officers present explained that further measures were being taken, including increased patrol and investigations. If a student feels unsafe, they said, they may call security for escort around campus or can call in suspicious individuals who will then be checked. Individuals are also randomly stopped around campus for “person checks” to ensure campus safety. These security efforts existed before the Molina attacks, the officer noted. She also clarified that Campus Security often does not have access to the fraternity houses, as they are technically not a part of campus like regular dormitories or apartments.
Many students complained that the campus community was not adequately warned of the attacks taking place on campus and had to learn of the severity of the attacks from the news. Taylor said that administration shared whatever information was known to them when they learned it. When one student argued that the Tulsa World shared information from Tulsa Police Department that Campus Security should have known, a woman in the audience said that in cases involving two different investigative bodies, information is often not communicated well enough and that it is likely the campus did not know the severity of the attacks either. A TPD officer present said they were conducting their own investigation at the time, and that the information had to be shared in order with reporters in order to answer media questions.
Other students claimed the campus was trying to dismiss the cases in order to defend its reputation. One who identified herself as a victim of one of Molina’s attacks said she believed the campus cared more about its reputation than security. Taylor refuted these claims, saying she’d shared all the information they had and that perhaps students themselves hadn’t realized the severity of the email alerts when they read them.
Scholl closed the panel with advice for administration and the student body, saying that both parties need to better discuss plans and moving forward to making a safer campus instead of blaming one another. There will be future discussions led by the Advocacy Alliance between TU administration and students.