DeKALB – Raquel Chavez thinks more Northern Illinois University students might report sexual assaults if only they knew where to turn.
Making it easier for sexual assault survivors to access resources will be one focus for Chavez, a senior at NIU, as well as a dozen university officials in the next three months.
University President Doug Baker announced Wednesday that he has formed a task force to address concerns about sexual assault on the university campus.
Twenty people will meet weekly before making recommendations to Baker on how to enhance sexual assault policies, procedures and resources Oct. 1.
“I hope that women and men, when they’re assaulted, feel they have somewhere to go,” Chavez said.
Baker said the decision to create the task force stemmed from a review by a task force President Barack Obama created earlier this year in response to complaints about how some universities treated campus rape victims.
“It’s an issue nationally, and we want to be proactive,” Baker said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good data set, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can.”
In 2012, there were 11 forcible sexual assaults reported on NIU’s DeKalb campus, according to the most recent safety report the university completed under the Clery Act. A forcible sexual offense is defined as one committed on a person against his or her will or on a person who is incapable of consenting.
In 2010, there were six forcible sexual offenses reported, and in 2011, seven were reported.
However, those numbers don’t necessarily reflect the number of such crimes that actually occurred on campus. According to a White House report, only 2 percent of survivors who were sexually assaulted while incapacitated and 13 percent of forcible rape survivors report the crime to campus or local law enforcement.
Although NIU offers several resources to students, such as self-defense classes, counseling, advocacy and health services, Chavez believes students might not seek help if they don’t know about the programs.
Beyond examining what resources are already available, task force recommendations will deal specifically with how to comply with amendments to the Violence Against Women Act and the Clery Act, which requires universities participating in federal aid programs to compile statistics on reported crime on and around campus.
Universities must expand the categories of crimes reported under the Clery Act to include domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
The university also will need to adopt new student discipline policies to address and prevent sexual violence on campus as part of the White House Task Force recommendations made earlier this year.
To task force co-chairwoman Lesley Rigg, NIU’s vice president for research and innovation partnerships, the first task force meeting Tuesday made it clear the university has layers of resources to assist students from the prevention to survivor stages. But how those resources interact could be enhanced.
“What I learned is, most of the pieces of the puzzle are there,” Rigg said. “We – and I mean everyone, DeKalb, Sycamore – need to put the pieces together.”
She said within a year, the task force would seek feedback through a survey adapted from a federal survey that will measure where the NIU community would like to see improvements. In the meantime, she wants the campus community to know resources are available.
“What I would love is for students to know what is available, who they can turn to when they need help,” Rigg said, “and for those services to be available to more than just students.”