Colorado Springs workshop underscores need to change culture to prevent college sex assaults

June 9, 2016 Updated: June 10, 2016 at 6:10 pm
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photo - Baylor junior Julieth Reyes covers her mouth with tape during a June 3 rally of current and former Baylor students warning of sexual assaults on and off the Waco, Texas campus. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, via AP)
Baylor junior Julieth Reyes covers her mouth with tape during a June 3 rally of current and former Baylor students warning of sexual assaults on and off the Waco, Texas campus. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, via AP) 

There's no single cure for the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.

This was the idea underscored repeatedly by clinical professionals, higher education officials and university law enforcement at a two-day conference held Wednesday and Thursday at Colorado College to combat sexual violence on campus.

David Lisak, an expert in sexual assault prevention policies, emphasized the need for a change in society's views of sex and gender.

"Rape comes out of a culture that fosters it, that permits it, that camouflages it," Lisak, a clinical psychologist, told the crowd. "The core of this is changing culture. It's prevention, it's education and it's culture change."

Last week, a former Stanford University athlete was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a frat party. The case, which many say illustrates the leniency in how the criminal justice system handles perpetrators of sexual assault, has sparked outrage nationwide.

Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges and universities must make known to students school policies that forbid sexual violence and respond promptly to any reported violations.

But Loretta Martinez, general counsel for Metropolitan State University of Denver, said the role of higher education officials in combating sexual violence on campus goes beyond assuring their institutions follow federal requirements.

"If we're going to make that cultural shift, it's going to have to be something that we do based on student success, not compliance," Martinez said during a workshop at the conference.

More than 150 officials from 56 colleges and universities in 17 different states attended the conference, including representatives from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado State University-Pueblo, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado College.

In 2015, five sexual assaults were reported to UCCS police, four of which occurred off campus, according to the school's department of public safety. The university conducted one formal investigation last year and found no evidence of sexual assault, said Julia Paris, UCCS's Title IX coordinator. A second case was resolved informally, which did not require officials to determine whether the accused had violated the school's policy. The school found no basis to proceed with investigations for three of the reports, Paris said.

At CSU Pueblo, three on-campus sexual assaults were reported to the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office.

Law enforcement at Pikes Peak Community College received one sexual assault report in 2015, which police determined unfounded. The person who made the report was arrested for false reporting, said Jim Barrentine, the school's police chief.

Officials at Colorado College were unable to provide any information about sexual assault reports made in 2015.

Sexual assaults reported at the Air Force Academy nearly doubled between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years, from 25 to 49 total reports, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Defense.

Kimberly Dickman, a sexual assault prevention and response analyst at the Air Force Academy who led several workshops at the summit, said communicating to students what healthy sexual relationships look like is one solution to sexual violence.

"People who are educated can stop sexual assault," Dickman said.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college. However, more than 90 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported, according to the center.

And while drugs and alcohol are often cited as factors that increase the likelihood of sexual assaults in the college setting, Pueblo Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Kristi Roque said perpetrators always make a conscious decision to rape.

"It's not about someone who's had too much to drink or someone who's at a party," Roque said in a phone interview. "It's about the perpetrator."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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