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First report released for task force to prevent sexual assault

First report released for task force to prevent sexual assau

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A task force aimed at combating sexual assaults on college campuses released its first report Tuesday as part of an effort to help universities and students deal with the issue.

Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was established by President Barack Obama in January.

It said in its report Tuesday that one in five women are sexually assaulted in college. Colorado College's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Tara Misra believes that number is even higher because the crime is underreported.

The task force has outlined strategies as well as recommendations for colleges and universities to implement on its campus. Some of those recommendations will become mandatory this fall.

The task force focuses on four major points.

The first is climate surveys. The task force will provide colleges with the tools to create surveys it can utilize on campus to see how prevalent sexual misconduct is among students.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed prevention strategies for reducing sexual violence. It will release those findings. It will also encourage bystander intervention through new programs.

The task force is also outlining how universities should respond when victims come forward. Universities are encouraged to have support staff and resources for victims.  The task force will also provide a sample confidentiality and reporting policy. It will give schools guidance on how to improve their investigative protocols.

The task force said the government will also be more transparent. It's created a website that highlights any university under investigation for its handling of a sexual assault case. This will benefit other universities because they will be able to learn from other's mistakes. The Department of Education has been ordered to provide more clarity on schools' legal obligations. The Departments of Justice and Education have entered an agreement to clarify each agency's role.

"We really haven't made a huge dent in reducing incidents or prevalence of sexual violence," said University of Colorado Colorado Springs associate professor Catherine Kaukinen.

Kaukinen helped secure grant money in 2010 to ramp up efforts to fight sexual assaults on campus at University of Colorado Colorado Springs, UCCS, and Pikes Peak Community College, PPCC.

She is thrilled about the task force's recommendations. She said both UCCS and PPCC are on par with expectations outlined by the task force. 

She praised the schools' education efforts that teach all incoming freshmen about sexual assault. The schools have also established a group to meet monthly to evaluate the schools' response to sexual assault awareness on campus. The group includes police officers, health center representatives and representatives from the office of discrimination.

Kaukinen said it's important to emphasize the role of bystanders and men in sexual assault prevention.

"The vast majority of men actually do not assault and victimize women and so you really alienate them with a message that is very perpetrator-offender based. So turning that (message) around and making men allies in prevention (is important)," said Kaukinen.

Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Tara Misra said Colorado College has also set the bar high when it comes to its sexual assault awareness efforts.

She said sexual assaults are the most underreported crime, and also the most prevalent crime on college campuses.

Misra was a victim of sexual assault in college and now works to make sure students get the help they deserve.

"It's such a painful thing for a young person to be navigating in addition to just being traumatized, the way that that impacted relationships with my family, my partner at the time, again I just want other students to not feel like they have to do that on their own," said Misra.

She said the publicity generated by this task force is important and long overdue.

Some of the recommendations outlined by the task force will become mandatory.


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