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The Northerner

Documentary takes a look at sexual assault

Karen Plunkett, Reporter

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Unlike several other universities across the country, NKU is tackling the problem of sexual assault head on.

The 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which takes takes a look at sexual assault on college campuses and the toll it takes on the people involved and the lengths institutions take to cover up these crimes, was screened on NKU’s campus on April 21 with a discussion panel after.

“Unfortunately in any higher education environment there will be predatory individuals regardless of the culture. All we can do is do our best  to uphold the standards that we’ve set and stay proactive in the process.” Ben Anderson, Interim Director of Health, Counseling, and Student Wellness.

Coordinator of Norse Violence Prevention Center Gabby Molony led a panel after the screening allowing this audience a chance to have their questions answered. The panel consisted of Greek Life Coordinator Adam Dralle, Associate of General Counsel Sara Kelley, Associate Dean of Students and Title IX Coordinator Ann James, two university police officers, Ray Haley and John Graffin and Director of Health, Counseling, and Student Wellness Ben Anderson.

Through programs like this NKU is encouraging students to come forward if they have been sexually assaulted. “The Hunting Ground” displays how a lot of universities have discouraged students from reporting these crimes and often blamed the victims in an effort to protect the university’s reputation.

The film shows several administrators telling victims to not report these crimes, asking the victims what they were wearing or drinking at the time of the assault. Audience members at the screening had many questions as to where NKU’s loyalty stood, whether it were with the victims or with the reputation of NKU.

“Some of the things in the documentary to me were quite shocking because I can tell you that if a student comes to the Dean of Students office to make a report I’m likely the person you would meet with and I would never discourage a student from reporting, ever,” James said. “To suppress a report or discourage a student from reporting is never anything that I have been pressured to do. It’s never been something that has even been mentioned.”

The University Police also have never felt pressure from the administration to cover up any crimes.

“I’ve been here for six and a half years at this campus and I also have never received any pressure from the administration to do something or not do something when it comes to enforcing the law.” Haley said.

In the documentary several universities chose to cover up a lot of these crimes if their athletes were involved .

“We work closely with athletics, I’ve been in this role for four years now and have not had a situation where I felt any pressure from athletics and we have had cases where athletics have been involved and they have been very cooperative and wanted a fair outcome, so it is a good relationship,” James said.  

In the documentary many of these assaults that occurred were during fraternity parties or committed by fraternity men.

“My perspective is that Greek Life is very aware of it,” Dralle said. “I don’t think any sorority or fraternity across the country is immune to these sorts of things that happen but we want to make sure that the students are leaders in that and being proactive about it and they want to be the ones on the front lines of campus spreading the word and helping preventing these issues.”

In the documentary there are students who talk about the culture of their college campus and how people talk openly and warn other students about where are the typical places that sexual assault happens even though the administrators are trying to steer students away from talking about the crimes.

“I think maybe the culture that I see is that it does happen, we are aware of it. Our focus is on preventing it, putting time, money, energy, and efforts into the Norse Violence Prevention Center, to do training and awareness, to provide resources,” Kelley said. “Our new sexual misconduct policy will be rolling out in this next board meeting. I’m proud of us as an institution; we are far from perfect but we strive to put our students first and address this really important issue head on.”

Reporting an incident to the University is a separate process than reporting a criminal one. Coming to the Dean of Students office is the way to report it to the University so they can do an investigation for deciding the discipline of the student being accused.

“We understand that it can be intimidating to come to the Dean of Students office or the University Police so the Norse Violence Prevention Center is our way of creating a safe place for students to go that’s perhaps less intimidating to make that report and to get services.” James said.

The Norse Violence Prevention Center open in the Fall of 2014 to help support students who have dealt with violence.

“As far as reporting goes if a student goes to the Norse Violence Prevention center we will lay out all of these options and all of these resources and really give the student a detailed outlook of what that journey is going to look like so then they can make the best decision for themselves.” Molony said.

The Clery Act is a law that NKU follow which requires all colleges and universities to keep and disclose information about crimes on or near their campuses.  

Those who work on campus are also people to whom students can talk to.

“Any faculty or staff member at the university is a mandatory reporter. If you disclose to them they’re obligated to report it to at least the dean of students office,” Dralle said.

NKU has worked closely with faculty and staff to guide them if a student chose to talk with them about an incident.

“We’ve been working with faculty and staff on understanding their responsibilities of Title IX and also so they know the resources so if you go to one of them that they can assist you in getting the resources.” Kelley said.

The campus police encourage students to come to them in terms of pursuing a criminal investigation.  

“From our point of view we would like you to contact us as soon as possible, if you wait too long we lose valuable evidence,” Haley said. “There are things that we need to do from the law enforcement standpoint in order to get your case through the system and get you justice.”

In the documentary the students who committed these crimes were rarely disciplined. Here at NKU if a student is found responsible for sexual assault the most severe thing that could happen is to expel them.
“It’s very dependent on the nature of what occurs and what the student is found responsible for,” James said. “If a student is found responsible for sexual assault the most severe thing that we could do to a student is expel them, suspend the student for a temporary period, we could also put a student on probation.”

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
Documentary takes a look at sexual assault