College squares off against sexual assaults : OCCC offers resources for victims on and off campus
Title IX Coordinator Regina Switzer
Title IX Coordinator Regina Switzer

Starting college at an unfamiliar campus can be intimidating for anyone, but especially for those who have experienced and survived trauma.

Not only is the victim worried about where a class might be located, or how much books will cost but victims of sexual assault fear for their safety.

Statistics show that, nationwide, one of every 25 students is a victim of sexual assault.

One of those twenty five, was “Kate.” The Pioneer has changed her name to protect her privacy.

“I didn’t tell anyone at first because I was confused and I wasn’t very clear on what consent really was,” Kate said. “I was also scared about stigmas that I felt would come with talking about it.”

Too often victims of sexual assault suffer in silence.

“If I felt I could have talked to someone about it, it definitely would have been a lot easier for me to handle,” Kate said. “I wouldn’t have felt so alone and I could have processed and understood what had happened to me a lot better.”

Oklahoma City Community College Police Chief Daniel Piazza said the event of reporting a sexual assault can be traumatizing, itself. He said his department wants students to know that they will be supported in reporting a sexual assault.

“We’ve had cases where it happened off campus and they really didn’t want to come forward,” he said.

For example, on June 24, the campus police department reported that it was contacted by a college employee regarding a possible rape of a student that occurred off campus.

An OCCC officer responded to the employee’s office to get the victim’s information, and the Oklahoma City Police Department was notified. The Oklahoma City Police Department was asked to make contact with the victim, but the victim was reluctant to discuss the case with police.

This is not uncommon, OCCC Title IX Coordinator Dr. Regina Switzer said.

“One of the things that we all have to recognize, and as a society do a better job of understanding, is that sometimes people are not ready to report when the event happens,” she said. “Sometimes they can’t even talk about it for an extended amount of time. Just because it happened yesterday or two days ago or even two months ago doesn’t mean that they’re ready.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college and more than than 90 percent of victims do not report the assault.

At OCCC, sexual assault victims have many resources available to them, Switzer said. She said there are two ways sexual assault on campus may be reported.

“A report can come in through the campus police, or it can come in through a Title IX coordinator. The Title IX coordinator would start the investigation under campus policy,” she said. “The campus police would individually and separately do their own investigation as law enforcement.

If the case is reported through Title IX, the discipline will be determined based on the findings of the Title IX investigation, Switzer said.

If the case is taken directly to the campus police, the campus police department will contact the local police, who will work the case.

Last year, state Representative Emily Virgin, D-Norman, introduced a bill that would have allowed school districts to teach affirmative consent in sex-education or separate programs in grades 7-12. The bill was assigned to the House Education Committee, but did not advance.

The failure of Virgin’s bill means that Oklahoma students still have a gap in secondary school consent education.

OCCC, however, has taken initiative to prevent sexual assault on campus.

According to the college’s New Employee Guide, anyone contracted for services on the OCCC campus is required to complete Preventing Sexual Harassment training. This includes all faculty, supervisors and staff, including full-time, part-time, adjunct, temporary, student, and work study employees.

“We are always trying to put something out there to increase awareness and we’re going to do more of that this upcoming semester,” Switzer said.

In an email that will be sent out to all students, President Jerry Steward said his top priority was ensuring the safety and security of our students and fostering a safe educational environment where all members of the community can thrive.

“It is our obligation to provide our student employees with the information and training they need to ensure there is no unlawful discrimination and sexual violence at OCCC. Even one incident of sexual violence is too many,” Steward’s email said.

The college has implemented a Sexaul Misconduct Policy, which all students are encouraged to become familiar with. Every student will be required to complete online training in Preventing Discrimination and Sexual Violence in their first semester at OCCC, and then again each subsequent year.

In addition to training for students, employees, and faculty, Switzer said the college offers an array of resources for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

“We have licensed counselors that are on staff and their services are free to any student on campus,” she said. “We have counselors that are very good at responding to sexual assault. We also have on-campus advocates who help students with the internal legal process.”

According to OCCC’s website, the college encourages victims of sexual violence and misconduct to talk to someone about what happened so they can receive support, and so OCCC can respond appropriately.

Piazza, the chief of police, said the OCCC Student Support Services office offers counseling for sexual assault victims.

“There are great people down there,” he said, “I’ve seen them do really great work for the students.”

Switzer said a person who has been traumatized may have difficulty academically, so sometimes the student may need accommodations with regards to their schoolwork.In some situations, the student may need an escort. The campus police are available to walk students from their car if need be.

“It is very fact specific. We try to address that need as best as we can, and it’s very individualized,” she said.

Campus police said they are willing to come to students who are not comfortable coming into the police office.

“We try to serve the victim as best as we can,” Piazza said.

To make a confidential report of sexual assault or other form of sexual misconduct, a student can contact a licensed counselor in the Student Support Services Department in person, or an online complaint form can be submitted in order to discuss options with the college’s Title IX Coordinator.

To file a report with campus police, a student can come into the campus police department, push any of the interior or exterior call boxes on campus, or call the department’s non-emergency line at (405) 682-7872.

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