UA says reports of sexual assault are down

Published: Sep. 12, 2020 at 10:13 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Among the University of Alaska Board of Regents meetings filled with reduced budgets and slashed athletic programs regents discussed progress to reduce and respond to sexual assault and harassment on campus.

UA Chief Equity and Compliance Officer Mary Gower reported to the board that last month the university met the requirements of its Voluntary Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. The VRA came after the Office of Civil Rights found a wide array of problems in the University’s response to sexual assault and sexual harassment from 2011 to 2015.

Gower stated that three years of systematic improvements, training for both faculty and staff, and commitment from the Board of Regents helped improve the situation.

In fiscal year 2020, reports to Offices of Equity and Compliance were down 27%, and reports of sexual assault were down 55%, Gower said.

“Certainly I think there’s no question that COVID has had an impact, but even when I take a look to the half-year numbers that we reported earlier this year, we were essentially unchanged at the winter break from the year prior,” Gower said. “I had spoken with you about at some point, we believe we would be reaching essentially a plateau of reporting and I think that we’ve met the reporting peak at this point.”

University of Alaska Fairbanks Chancellor Daniel White believes the training put in place for students and faculty is the main reason for the decrease in reports.

“Of course the numbers are down this year. We don’t think that’s fully due to COVID because COVID really had the impact to UAF in March, and so for FY20 most cases were in,” White said. “We think there’s a decrease in cases because of the work that’s gone on in education and training across the University.”

While the percentage of cases of sexual assault were down, White noted that the school says there was an increase in the percentage of reports on dating and domestic violence.

“Obviously with COVID and people being more confined to their homes, that raises the concern and awareness around domestic violence and dating violence,” White said. “So more attention is being paid attention to that in our training here at UAF.”

University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said UAA is emphasizing training for faculty and staff and that it had hired a new Title IX investigator.

Though the leaders acknowledged there is work to be done, the board was proud of the achievements.

“Creating an environment without assaults and sexual harassment really takes everybody,” UA Interim President Pat Pitney said. “It’s peer-to-peer, what’s acceptable in our culture. So I believe the training is absolutely essential and it’s really how all of us hold each other accountable in how we act, what we say, and how we treat each other.”

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