As thousands of new students move into Boise State’s residence halls each year, and many adjust to living on their own for the first time, it helps to know what campus resources and processes are available if they, or someone they know, are victims of sexual and/or gender-based violence.
According to a national survey conducted by the Association of American Universities, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males will experience some form of sexual assault as undergraduate students. Sexual assaults happen on campuses more frequently at the beginning of the fall semester, which is why the university calls the community’s attention to this particularly risky time period by sending out notifications and timely warnings in August and September.
“The safety and well being of the campus community is our top priority, because we cannot fulfill our mission without taking care of our community,” said Danielle Charters, Boise State’s Title IX coordinator. “We are committed to preventing sexual assault and gender-based violence. Our office, as well as other campus offices, continue to provide prevention education and training for our campus community.”
In fact, Boise State’s Gender Equity Center was just chosen to receive a $300,000 federal grant to strengthen education efforts to combat stalking, sexual assault and relationship violence on campus.
Since early summer, Charters has been working to update the university’s policy on gender based violence to conform with the new Title IX regulations that recently were finalized. While there are more than 2,000 pages of new regulations detailing how Title IX should be implemented at schools, Boise State has gone above and beyond those requirements to ensure the safety of the campus community.
“In drafting the new policy, the university added additional safeguards to protect students and staff,” Charters said. “We’ve expanded our policy to address some of the gaps that new regulations created – for instance, we have the authority to cover and investigate incidents involving two students who are off campus.”
With regard to recent campus notifications regarding sexual assaults, Charters recognizes that these notices can be worrisome, but is heartened that people are reporting them.
“Just because we have reports coming in doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an increase in the number of sexual assaults – it just could mean that more people are comfortable reporting, because they know they’ll be supported by the university, or they’re aware of the services we offer,” she said. “And that’s what we want.”
Reporting sexual harassment including sexual assault
Under Title IX and University policy 1065, the university requires employees who witness or hear about a sexual assault or gender-based violence involving one or more members of the campus community to report it to the Title IX coordinator. Students and all other members of the campus community are strongly encouraged to report. This can be done online or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. It can be reported anonymously, or via the Rave Guardian app (more on the app in the Resources section below).
It also is important for the campus community to understand how the university responds to reports of sexual assault, including campus outreach via “timely warnings,” if Boise State’s Public Safety Department, in consultation with university administration, determine that an alleged perpetrator presents an ongoing threat to others. Though these timely warnings may be frightening to receive, the intent is to keep everyone in the campus community informed about potential threats, using the information that is available at the time.
Below you’ll find a detailed description of what happens when someone reports a sexual assault on or near campus, as well as a list of campus resources for students.
Responding to reports: ensuring safety
When sexual assaults are reported on campus, Charters’ first step is to reach out to the reported victim and ensure that they feel supported and safe on campus, and are connected to resources.
This includes collaborating with a number of campus partners, including, for example, Boise State Counseling Services, the CARE team, Dean of Students, Gender Equity Center, BroncoFit, Residential Life and Housing, the Associated Students of Boise State University (ASBSU) and Public Safety.
“We have strong support networks in place, so are able to implement the right support services for people who report to us, irrespective of whether they want to go through with an investigation,” Charters said. “The very first thing we do is ensure they’re safe and that their needs are met.”
Whether a formal investigation begins is most often up to the victim.
“If a reported victim chooses not to participate in an investigation, that usually brings the case to a close,” Charters said. “People don’t always understand that.”
What this means is that if there are 10 reports of sexual assault over a year, and nine reported victims don’t want to pursue an investigation, the university will typically not pursue an investigation for nine of those cases.
“So if the average student looks at our numbers and sees that over the course of a year, 10 assaults were reported but only one is investigated, they might assume we’re not doing our job,” she explained. “But we are, to the best of our ability and based on the information we have, and consistent with the wishes of the reported victim.”
Sanctioning is another important piece of how the university responds to ensure the safety of our students and campus community members. If the university finds that a student or employee violates policy 1065, that individual’s sanctioning can include a range of options that include but are not limited to suspension, expulsion and termination.
What is a ‘timely warning’ and when does the university send them?
At the same time Charters is reaching out to those who have been assaulted, the university is assessing whether the information available indicates that the alleged assailant(s) present an ongoing threat to the campus community, such that a “timely warning” should be issued.
Timely warnings are sent out when incidents happen on or very close to campus, and there is reason to believe that an ongoing threat to the campus community may exist.
Some examples of circumstances where a timely warning would likely not be issued would include: reports of a sexual assault far from campus (such as in another state), reports of sexual assault that were not recent, and reports of sexual assault where the alleged perpetrator is in police custody and therefore does not present an ongoing threat to the campus community in the near future.
A timely warning will contain as much information as the university can safely broadcast, while protecting the privacy of the parties involved in accordance with federal law. Sometimes, the university is not provided a lot of information.
Determining whether to formally investigate a reported sexual assault or pursue informal resolution
“Sometimes we don’t have enough information to investigate, which is particularly problematic when it’s an anonymous report,” Charters said. “There is no way to follow up on those.”
When the university does launch an investigation – with the victim’s cooperation – into a reported incident of sexual assault, Charters stresses that investigators are neutral throughout the process.
“We’re fact finders,” she said. “That’s why we provide supportive measures. We’re not an advocate for either side, we’re simply trying to get to the truth. We cannot assume guilt.”
If an investigation does take place, it can culminate in a live hearing under the new Title IX regulations. In these cases, the university has several trained adjudicators to serve as the decision-maker to ensure there are no conflicts of interest and that the process is bias-free for both parties. In a live hearing, parties will be in separate rooms and their advisors will ask any follow-up questions that the parties would like the decision-maker to know about.
Campus resources for students
While assault is never the fault of the victim, there are proactive steps students can take to ensure they feel safe on campus.
In addition to knowing about the 70 emergency blue phones located throughout campus, students are encouraged to download the Rave Guardian app onto their phones. This app is free to anyone with a Boise State email address; students can use it to request a public safety security escort at any point on campus.
The app also has a panic button equipped with GPS that will alert public safety to your location, and a timer that you can set when walking from one location to another – if you fail to arrive during the allotted time, it will call public safety.
In addition, the university has a helpful Support and Reporting Options resource page, and ASBSU is launching a committee on sexual assault prevention.
Charters, who joined the Office of Institutional Compliance and Ethics in 2019, also plans to organize additional training sessions in conjunction with other campus resources to help new students practice navigating, and role-playing, scenarios around consent and bystander intervention.
“Prevention programming and changing behaviors is more important than ever,” Charters said.
She is committed to working with all campus groups that are connected with Title IX on creating more preventative programming and education outreach materials moving forward.