Sexual assault awareness continues to increase at UNL

Story, graphics and video by Jordan Huesers, NewsNetNebraska

Overcoming sexual assault

One in five women will be sexually assaulted. One in 71 men will be sexually assaulted at some point during his life.

For Jhalisa Robinson, this happened at the mere age of 6.

As Robinson became an adult and left home to attend college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she was assaulted again her sophomore year.

“In my personal situations of dealing with my sexual assault, mostly right now, deals with healing,” she said. “I try to tell people not talking about it and not dealing with it doesn’t help. Talking about it and telling your partners about it helps them understand where you are sexually and mentally and how they can help you get to where you are trying to be.”

Robinson said she talks about her assault with partners she has trusted and tried to develop healthy sexual relationships with.

“Dealing with my personal experiences, I don’t put that on other people so they feel sorry for me. But so that they humanize me and understand me,” she said.

Robinson said she doesn’t mind sharing her story with others as long as they don’t use her past to victimize her. She doesn’t see it that way. Her one goal is to help prevent it from happening to other people.

As the president of UNL’s Students for Sexual Health organization, Robinson said many students come to her to share their stories of assault.

“A lot of girls come to me and tell me they’ve been assaulted and raped, and they don’t want to really do anything about it because they have no hope” she said. “A lot of the girls feel really distraught and hurt by the situation knowing how they are going to be treated.”

When Robinson talks with these victims she always suggests they go get the help they need.

“But at the same time, I respect their wishes if they do not want to because it’s not me, and it’s not my situation,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t fully understand the circumstances people go through. Sometimes they are worried they won’t feel safe or protected or will be beaten or hurt or hit.”

Robinson is an ear and shoulder for both men and women who are willing to come to her.

UNL sees increased reports

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department’s incident reports, the number of sex-related offenses substantially increased in the past few years. In 2011, a total of four incidents were reported. In 2015, 12 have been reported.

“We know the statistics are very high, and that statistic has not changed since it was initially identified in 1984,” said Janice Deeds, director of the Women’s Center at UNL. “No matter what we’ve done, all the work we’ve done, it continues to stay at about that rate. So the question is, ‘Why?'”

Nolan Conradt, UNLPD education and training officer, said UNLPD investigates every case of sexual assault that is reported.

“Our objective is to put a criminal case together by conducting interviews and collecting evidence,” he said. “Ultimately, it is up to the person reporting the incident how UNLPD proceeds in the investigation.”

Sexual assault awareness gained national attention recently with many institutions undergoing Title IX investigations.

“At first it made some people kind of afraid because if they find something wrong, you could be sued. That was sort of chilling for some,” Deeds said. “But on the other hand, as soon as the reports of how many schools were being investigated, I think it gave victims the courage to come forward. I think it said to victims, look, all over this is happening. And it can’t be you. It can’t be your fault. There is something else we need to do as institutions and as a nation to fix this.”

The national “It’s On Us” campaign, which raises awareness to help end sexual assault on college campuses, has also drawn a lot of attention to the topic.

“Sexual assault awareness is important because humans have the right to be safe and not have their bodies violated,” Deeds said. “So from that basic fundamental level, it is important. It is a human right to not be endangered.”

Groups raise awareness

The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska recently coordinated an “It’s On Us Week of Action.” Josie Jensen, member of the “Its On Us” campaign committee and member of the campus life and safety committee for ASUN, said the campaign asks students to pledge to recognize sexual assault, to intervenes when something doesn’t seem right and to create a culture where sexual assault is no longer OK.

“Most students go into college believing that statistics don’t apply to them, and everything will be OK,” she said, “However, that’s not the case for everyone. We have to take steps in order to change those statistics.”

Students were able to partake in various activities each day of the week, including a panel discussion and an open-mic night.

“We had a decent turnout for each of the events,” Jensen said, “However, most people who attended are already passionate about the topic. We need to reach more of the people who don’t know much about it. I would say it was successful, but there is always room for improvement.

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Janice Deeds, director of UNL’s Women’s Center

Deeds, who has been the coordinator adviser for PREVENT, which is a violence peer education group, said UNL continues to make promising strides toward raising awareness, with the addition of a Title IX coordinator this year. PREVENT consists of peer educators who go to classrooms, residence halls, student organizations and more to present information about relationship violence and sexual assault.

“PREVENT is pretty successful and continues to grow in terms of students being aware about it,” Deeds said. “The main thing about peer education is it is the informal opportunities. I can stand in front of a class and speak, but if I am in a meeting or in a class or in a room with my friends, I have a lot more opportunity to act. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Voices of Hope, Lincoln’s crisis center, works with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking. The agency also works with smaller groups, such as adult survivors of child abuse.

UNL contracts with Voices of Hope to have an advocate on campus to offer all of its core services, such as crisis counseling, advocacy support and referrals, directly on campus.

Morgan, who wishes to keep her last name anonymous because of privacy reasons, acts as UNL’s victim advocate and works mostly with students. The services, however, are also available to staff and faculty. Voices of Hope mostly focuses on intervention work, but Morgan said she likes to put a heavy emphasis on prevention work.

“I am interested in having conversations about preventing violence,” she said. “A lot of my work is with students, middle, high school and college, having conversations about preventing relationship and sexual violence. A lot is around consent, healthy relationships and respect, and things like that.”

Administration makes efforts

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Juan Franco sent out an email that introduced an online training video, “Understanding and Preventing Sexual Misconduct,” early in September. The program is not require of students, but strongly suggested.

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Juan Franco, vice chancellor of student affairs, sends out an email to students encouraging them to take part in the program “Understanding and Preventing Sexual Misconduct.”

“I’ve been very pleased this year to have so many more administrators, faculty and staff talking about it,” Deeds said. “Up until this point, it kind of felt like we were the only ones who were talking about it. But now, hearing the Chancellor speak about it, the President of ASUN, it’s just been out there more. That’s what makes victims feel like it is alright, and that they are not alone.”

Deeds said the administration has also added new things to the enrollment process. For the last two years, sections about sexual assault have been added to the alcohol campus profile that new students must take when they register.

“While alcohol does not cause sexual assault, alcohol is involved in many sexual assaults. So understanding that was really important,” Deeds said.

Robinson finds fault with the presentations and education regarding sexual assault.

“It’s all victim blaming when we talk about rape,” she said. “It’s ‘Don’t do this’ or ‘Don’t wear that.’ It should be: ‘Don’t rape someone’ or ‘Make sure someone is sober when you have sex with them.’ It shouldn’t be telling girls, ‘Well, don’t pick up your drink after you set it down.’ Well no, tell people not to roofie people.”

Deeds said a misconception about sexual assault can be that people believe it is about sex.

“It is not, ‘I’m so hot you can’t control yourself,'” she said. Its someone wanting to have control. It has nothing to do with how sexy I am. If that was the case, if it was about sexual desire, babies and old people would not be sexually assaulted. But they are. It’s not about sexual attractiveness. So people should be able to wear what they want.”

Morgan discusses victim blaming

A look into the future

Deeds said to take the next steps, UNL must decide where it is OK to require people to take training on sexual assault.

“We can throw information out there. We can say, hey take this online training or come to this presentation, but that doesn’t mean people are paying attention or absorbing that information,” she said. “I think we still need to help people see it as their issue, something they should pay attention to.”

Deeds said educating people on sexual assault will help bring the topic to the forefront of discussions.

“At the root of sexual assault is the belief that a person is worth less than you are, so you have the right to do something to someone,” she said. “So we have to do lots of education about recognizing the value of other people and not dehumanizing other individuals.”

Compared to other schools, Deeds said UNL is envied in some aspects. PREVENT traveled to regional gatherings and taught peer education training programs because the group has done it for years and gained respect across the region. PREVENT has also presented information at national conferences. Deeds said other schools often appreciate and look to the university’s relationship with the university police.

“Our campus police are very victim-centered,” she said. “They understand the issues the victims deal with. They understand that not everyone wants to report. Their job is to fight crime but also to help students feel OK and to get to the resources they need.”

Conradt said UNLPD works closely with the Title IX department on campus regarding sexual assault investigations. Conradt also conducts presentations on awareness upon request from departments and organizations on campus.

“I feel we do a great job on awareness and working with student organizations in the UNL community,” he said. “We have well trained officers that investigate sexual assaults on campus.”

Morgan said Voices of Hope is very proud of the relationship it has developed with the Lincoln Police Department and with UNLPD, as well. The agency’s crisis line is printed on the back of all police cards. So, if someone were to get pulled over for a minor traffic incident, he or she would have that phone number.

“We have a lot of accessibility and visibility through the police department,” she said. “They value us as advocates, and they are quick to bring us into a case, which is very helpful because we want to make sure we have a full comprehensible response to victims.”

Robinson said people do not talk about sexual assault enough. She hopes people start talking about it more and doing something about it.

“It is a very ignored topic,” she said. “It is ignored because a lot of people see it as a ‘female problem,’ or something that women have to deal with. It happens way too often. The misogyny and patriarchy is just very irritating to be on a white, male-dominated campus and to not be heard, especially for the females. Stop blaming the victims. I wish people would be more sympathetic. Be there for when it happens for the people it truly happened to.”

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