The beginning and end of colleges’ academic years tend to have higher rates of sexual assault cases, which sources attribute to the increased use of drugs, alcohol and the misunderstanding of consent.
One in five sexual assault cases nationwide are reported to law enforcement, Christain Champagne, the 6th Judicial District Attorney said.
People who are at the highest risk for sexual assault are between 18 and 24 years old, he said.
Difficulty of legal follow through
In a review of the Fort Lewis College Annual Security Report, The Independent found thirteen reported sexual assault cases to the campus police department since 2016.
According to the FLC police blotter, five of those cases have become inactive, meaning the investigation is no longer continuing.
A sexual assault case can become inactive for multiple reasons, including a lack of evidence or a student deciding they don’t want to move forward with the investigation, Matthew Dufva, an FLC police corporal, said.
“We always ask the victim what would you like to see happen, or what would you like from our department,” Dufva said.
According to a 2015 survey by the Association of American Univiersities who researched sexual assault and misconduct on 27 college campuses, 50 percent of sexual assault victims chose not to report the incident because they didn’t think it was serious enough.
Victims often choose not to follow through with litigation due the difficult nature of prosecution, self blame or undergoing a sexual assault exam, Champagne said.
During prosecution, people can become fearful of a process that can be intrusive and requires them to face their offender, Champagne said. There are laws that prevent intimidating the victim from things like inquiring about their sexual relationships and shaming them, he said.
“No sexual assault victim is ever at fault,” he said.
What is consent?
Sexual assault does not have to involve penetration, Molly Weiser, FLC’s Title IX coordinator, said. It includes being groped in the backseat of a crowded car and any other unwanted sexual contact.
Colorado law states that voluntary intoxication is not a defense against sex crimes, meaning an offender cannot be excused for being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they have sexually assaulted someone, Weiser said.
Along with drugs and alcohol having an influence over sexual assault cases, confusion around the meaning of consent is also a major contributing factor, Champagne said.
“Consent is affirmative, knowing and voluntary words or actions that create a mutually understandable and clear agreement to engage in sexual activity,” according to FLC’s Campus Assault Resources and Education.
Essentially, consent is the presence of yes, not the absence of no, Weiser said.
If you’re uncertain if you’ve been given consent for sex, evaluate your intentions, Rhonda Ferguson, the assistant director of Sexual Assault Services Organization, said.
“Are you misinterpreting something, or are you being coercive?” she said. “Are people not picking up on those signals because they don’t know, or are they ignoring them?”
Coercion includes asking multiple times for sexual contact, trying different tactics to persuade, or taking advantage of someone who is inebriated, Weiser said.
“No does not mean convince me,” she said.
Weiser said that misinterpretations of consent have resulted in cases of unwanted sexual contact and sexual assault at FLC. The cases that go to Title IX do not always go through the police department, she said.
Sexual assault respondents have told Weiser they thought they were given consent based on a compliment or minimal contact like a hand brushing up against them.
If there is a question in someone’s mind about whether the person they are pursuing can consent to sex, it’s time to step away from that person, she said.
Weiser says that any sexual relationship, whether it’s casual or serious, should involve communication and respect.
“What if, instead of penetration, we reframed our goals as intimacy and connection?” Weiser said.
Title IX and reporting assaults
All reported sexual assault cases that occur on campus go to Title IX, where the institution can take action to safegaurd the victim’s education.
These actions can range from referrals to counseling for the individuals involved in the sexual assault, adjusting a student’s schedule or housing to disenrollment of the offender, according to the FLC Grievance Procedure.
If someone reports a sexual assault to campus police, they are not required to meet with Title IX.
Similarly, reporting a sexual assault to Title IX does not require a meeting with law enforcement, Dufva said.
What is being done?
Weiser provides an in-depth and interactive presentations centered around consent, communication and how Title IX approaches sexual assault cases to groups on campus.
FLC’s new program for freshmen is called First Year Launch, which is a required course that includes education for new students about sexual assault, consent and Title IX, Weiser said.
Students and faculty can report sexual assault, personal or observed, to Molly Weiser of Title IX, SASO or the FLC police department.