What kind of education is provided to new students about sexual misconduct?

The majority of sexual assaults happen in the fall semester and incoming students are at much higher risk. For these reasons, we are enhancing and expanding our efforts to educate new students on university policies on sexual misconduct, affirmative consent, and campus resources for support and reporting. All incoming students must complete an enhanced mandatory online course and in-person bystander training.

Our efforts to combat sexual misconduct fall into two major categories. First, we need to continue to educate students about sexual misconduct prevention, which includes understanding the definitions of prohibited behavior and affirmative consent. Education is already provided in many forms, but we need to expand that to reach wider audiences. Secondly, victims of sexual misconduct need to know where to get help and report it (if they choose to do so) so that the university can respond appropriately. They have many reporting options (including campus police, Boulder police and the Office of Institutional Equity & Compliance).

Why is the focus of education about sexual misconduct on bystander intervention skills?

In the past, sexual assault prevention has focused on either the perpetrator or on the target of sexual assault, but neither approach has led to any reduction in sexualized violence. Perpetrators of sexual assault are refractory to interventions that target changing their attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, the focus has shifted to emphasize the role that everyone can play in identifying perpetrators and intervening in potentially harmful situations as bystanders.

Bystanders are particularly important in situations where someone is being targeted by a perpetrator because of their level of intoxication, or if a person has been intentionally drugged in an attempt to facilitate a sexual assault. Impaired or incapacitated people are usually unable to protect or advocate for themselves. That is why increasing students’ ability to identify these high-risk situations and effectively intervene has the greatest potential for preventing sexual assault.

So is my daughter or son safe at CU? What can you tell me about their safety?

Sexual assault is a national problem for all communities and we all need to have conversations on how to stop it. It’s occurring on college campuses and in environments away from higher education, too. Because we know that the vast majority of sexual misconduct is perpetrated by acquaintances, friends, and dating partners, it’s important to talk with students about the realities of these issues.

Here’s our focus: We need to reduce the frequency of sexual assault on and off our campus. That starts with training our students about consent and prevention from the moment they go through New Student Welcome and throughout their time at CU. We require all incoming students to take a mandatory online training and quiz on consent and sexual misconduct. Furthermore, once on campus, they have to attend an in-person bystander training class within their first semester.

Eighteen months ago, the Chancellor reorganized our Title IX programs, brought in new leadership and expanded the number of staff involved in investigations, training/education, and protective and safety measures. For survivors of sexual assault, we have highly-trained investigators and counseling staff to aid them. And after a professional and thorough investigation, if we find respondents responsible for sexual assault, we take appropriate disciplinary action (up to expulsion).

Why don’t you just turn these investigations over to police, who can press criminal charges?

While sexual misconduct can also lead to criminal charges, the university has an independent obligation under Title IX to respond timely to any allegations of sexual misconduct. Such response must ensure the provision of a safe and a non-discriminatory environment for the victim and the larger community. There can be concurrent university and criminal investigations, though there are different standards that apply, including the burden of proof. A prosecutor has to prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt. For Title IX proceedings, the threshold is lower – it has to be more likely than not standard for determining whether a policy violation occurred.

How do you compare to national averages for higher ed institutions?

When you look at the AAU survey of 27 universities, the White House study and other surveys, the instances of sexual assault for undergraduate women generally range percentage-wise from the low 20s to the mid 30s. So we are within that range. It’s difficult to make an apples to apples comparison because each survey has different factors and definitions. For example, the AAU survey included unwanted kissing. Ours did not. Our survey included tactics such as coercion. AAU did not. We’re not spending much time comparing ourselves to other universities because whether we are higher or lower than the averages, our rate is still too high. Whether we were in the low 20s, the 30s or in the middle, our response and action items were going to be the same. So we certainly have more work to do in education, prevention and investigations.

Why not just ask survey participants if they were raped? Why also include touching and other forms of sexual assault?

“Rape” is not a word we use in our CU policies, nor is that word used in Colorado state statutes. Under our sexual misconduct policy, sexual assault includes non-consensual sexual touching and sexual intercourse/penetration. Nationally, it’s a best practice to use the phrase “sexual assault,” and that’s what other universities do, and it’s the phrase the AAU used in its survey.

According to your Clery stats, you had 10 sex offenses on campus in calendar year 2014. OIEC investigated 36 student sexual misconduct charges (some involving multiple charges for the same student) where a student was found responsible. Yet, this survey shows there were thousands of victims of sexual assault. Why the discrepancies?

Clery statistics only involve sex offenses reported to police that occur on campus or adjacent to campus. OIEC, under federal law, responds to any sexual misconduct report that occurs anywhere, including off-campus, that alleges misconduct by a person (student or employee, for example) affiliated with our campus. Also, the survey responses reflect rates of sexual misconduct over a student’s entire time at CU. Those incidents could have happened last year or several years ago, so it’s not an annual comparison. Regardless, this survey shows that there is a gap between the number of sexual misconduct cases occurring and the number that are reported. We need to close that gap.