[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Monday that his office will begin offering a training course to college first responders to improve the response to sexual assaults on campus.
The initiative follows a survey the Sheriff’s Office conducted late last year of 2-year and 4-year colleges in Cook County. The survey, which garnered a response rate above 60 percent, showed that far fewer student victims are coming forward to report assaults than could be expected. Experts believe that a properly trained staff can help improve the overall college atmosphere toward sexual assault, leading to more victims coming forward and more incidents being investigated.
“We must work together to ensure that students who are sexually assaulted feel safe coming forward,” Dart said. “Without that first step, we cannot start to eradicate this danger on college campuses.”
The survey found most colleges would welcome such training and would send staff. The Sheriff’s Office has begun reaching out to colleges to seek input as the training is launched. The training will be first offered to campus police and security personnel and focus on the dynamics of sexual assault, victim support and how to hand off cases to investigators.
Registration will start this month out of the Sheriff’s Police Department Training Academy.
The 45-question anonymous survey was sent to 46 colleges in Cook County and 30 responded. The survey covered all aspects of a colleges’ response to assaults, from policy and procedures to training and education.
Among the results:
• While the responding colleges covered at least an estimated 80,000 female students, the colleges reported handling far fewer than 100 cases in the 2013-2014 academic
year. It is impossible to know how many cases went unreported, but the low figure suggests students may not feel comfortable coming forward. The National Institute of Justice has said that several studies indicate that between 18 and 20 percent of female students experience rape or some other form of sexual assault during their college years.
• Most colleges reported working toward improving their response to campus sexual assault and to implement the requirements of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.
• Ninety-three percent of responding colleges have a policy dealing with sexual assault and 87 percent indicated that they intend to rewrite or update their policies in light of recent changes to federal law.
• Of the 11 colleges that said they conduct criminal investigations, only three departments reported investigating a sexual assault during the 2013-2014 academic year. Meanwhile, 10 colleges reported making a total of 21 referrals of sexual assault to local law enforcement.
• Of the 25 colleges that provided such data, 10 reported that they held no administrative or student conduct hearings in the 2013-2014 academic year. And three reported that they don’t have such hearings. For the rest, a total of 46 hearings were reported, with 28 of the accused being found to be “responsible” for the assault. Of those 28 students found responsible for sexual misconduct, 16 were either suspended or expelled.
Sheriff Dart has invited colleges to participate as his office draws up the curriculum for training he plans to begin offering in the coming weeks to college first-responders.
Almost universally, responding institutions said they would welcome the opportunity for more training for their staff and security personnel to identify sexual assaults and properly respond to them. Such training will help improve the campus environment and likely lead to more victims coming forward, fewer broken lives and more accountability.