No sex offense cases reported at Columbia in past year

By CiaraShook

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s initiative for 2010 is focused on offering prevention and social change on college campuses.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resources Center, one in five college women is a  victim of sexual assault before graduation. Bob Koverman, associate vice president of safety and security, reported as of press time, Columbia has not had any reported cases of sexual assault occurring on campus, which includes residence halls, buildings and sidewalks, in the past 12 months.

Though Columbia has had no reported cases of sexual offense on campus in the last 12 months, there’s no way of knowing how many cases occur, yet go unreported, experts say.

“If someone, whether it was a faculty member or a student, offered a complaint that a particular situation had taken place, but didn’t want to report it, that’s their prerogative,” Koverman said.

Columbia’s sexual offense policy adheres to the values of the institution in condemning any form of sexual offense that occurs on campus. In the event an offense is reported, the policy recommends the victim finds a safe place and seeks necessary medical attention as soon as possible. Students should contact a campus security officer, who will then contact the Chicago Police Department and Student Health and Support Services.

Koverman said if the offense is a criminal offense, the college immediately turns the investigation over to the CPD, and depending on the severity of the situation, Student Health and Support would be notified.

“We take all steps necessary to make sure the well-being of the student is taken care of,” Koverman said. “If we identify the suspect, we’ll make every attempt to apprehend the suspect at the same time.”

According to Annice Kelly, vice president of Legal Affairs and General Counsel, offenses are handled on a case-by-case basis. Cases are handled by Student Health and Support when a student is the victim, and by Human Resources when a faculty or staff member is the victim.

“We take every complaint seriously and we investigate every complaint,” Kelly said.

Jackie Sowinski Hamlett, therapist and director of Counseling Services, said under the Illinois Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act, Counseling Services protects a student’s information in the event the student tells a counselor about past or recent offenses that have occurred.

“We are bound not to release that information, unless a student gave permission,” Hamlett said. “We encourage students to speak to authorities, but that’s not our role to make that determination

for students.”

Hamlett said Counseling Services’ top priority is a student’s safety and their emotional and psychological state. If the assault or offense occurred prior to attending Columbia, the office’s priority remains to help the victim to process the assault and connect them to resources in the Chicago area, such as support groups.

All therapists at Counseling Services are available to assist students who have been the victim of sexual assault.

Dr. Blair Odland of Sage Medical Group, the healthcare agency that works at the Health Center, advised students that in the event of a sexual assault, do not come to the center but head straight to an emergency room.

“Because [a sexual assault] is illegal and [could lead to] a medical condition, we shouldn’t be seeing [those cases] here,” Odland said. “There’s a series of evidence collection that needs to be

done and if it’s not handled correctly, it could blow the case [against the suspect].”

Odland said one problem with handling sexual assault cases at a college or university is that different departments are decentralized and under privacy laws. He said the departments of the college get together only once a year to talk about the issue of sexual offenses and assault on campus, and talk after incidents occur.

“It would be possible that because of those silos created, because of restricted conversations, we haven’t seen hardly any [at Columbia],” Odland said. “As a national problem, it’s underreported, probably because people don’t report it to start with and even if they do, the people they might talk to are restricted in what they can report.”

Counseling Services, Safety and Security and Student Health and Support is available for students who have been the victim of a sexual offense.