Sex Assault: Holding college campuses accountable

Sex Assault: Holding college campuses accountable
As of October 2015, 145 colleges and universities were under investigation. (Source: Fox Wilmington)

WILMINGTON, NC (FOX WILMINGTON) - "It's definitely happening at every single campus, the mentality though of 'it doesn't happen here' I would say still very much exists," said Laura Dunn, who reported being sexually assaulted as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2004.

More and more students are reporting being sexually assaulted on college and university campuses.

"When you hear stories from my daughters about what happened on their college campus – not to them, but to others – when you see data that shows that literally 1 out of 5 women are assaulted on college campuses, that it's a higher rate on college campuses than in the general population, we've got to bring this to an end. This is almost an epidemic," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA).

16 sex offenses were reported at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2014, a jump from the 9 reports that were filed in 2013.

At UNC Chapel Hill, 19 students filed sexual misconduct complaints from August 1, 2012 through August 27, 2014. The school revised its policies and procedures regarding sexual assaults in 2014. The University said they will produce information on reports made under the revised policy later this year.

The school is one of more than 100 colleges and universities under investigation for possible Title IX violations. Federal law requires schools to provide adequate accommodations for all students, including sexual assault survivors. As of October 2015, 145 schools were under investigation. That includes several schools not too far away: Guilford College, William and Mary, James Madison University and VCU.

DOCUMENT: List of sexual violence investigations open at the post secondary level

"When you hear the stories, particularly from victims who have had their lives dramatically altered by these incidences, and in many cases the perpetrators having no sanction. You just got to says 'enough is enough," Warner said.

That is why he is advocating for the Campus Safety and Accountability Act. It would give students confidential advisers, change the disciplinary process, add new reporting requirements and strengthen the penalties for schools the break the rule.

"[We are] trying to make sure that the college can't sweep these things under the rug. That they have to report the data in a clear and appropriate way," Warner explained.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington is not under investigation, but they are keeping a close watch on the schools that are.

"Knowing so many people are under investigation, we are really keeping our mind on, 'What do we want to be able to show that we are doing if someone wants to come and take a look around?,'" said Dr. Rebecca Caldwell, the Director of Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention at UNCW.

Caldwell explained the school has been constantly revising their own misconduct policy to include new guidelines. This summer an amnesty clause was added, so students who report an assault or a witness will not be held accountable for minor infractions, like underage drinking.

DOCUMENT: UNCW's misconduct policy

The school has also created a bystander training intervention program called My Stand.

"We've worked hard not only to kind of lay the basis, but try to be part of moving the needle forward a little bit," Caldwell said.

Many of the changes the new legislation calls for UNCW already has in place, such as providing confidential advisers to both the survivor and the accused.

Advocates argue, if passed, this legislation, would give students the same resources no matter where they go to school.

"It may be kind of the final push to get things in place we have been guided to do over the last five years," Caldwell explained.

While the law is an important first step, survivor Laura Dunn says there is still a long way to go.

"I think this fight is a fight that needs to go on for five, ten, maybe 15 years before we fully get it right," Dunn expressed.

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