The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses has become so prevalent across the country that the White House has begun taking actions to address the issue in recent months.
The Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault was established in January to “provide schools with additional tools to combat sexual assault on their campuses,” according to an official statement.
For administrators and victim advocates at USF, the issue of sexual assault hits close to home after a man violently conducted a series of home invasions and sexual batteries last year, sparking Dean of Students Michael Freeman to create a safety committee dedicated to protecting students around campus.
On Sept. 5, 24-year-old Chris Bates entered a Cambridge Woods apartment where he bound four men in duct tape and raped four female USF students. That same evening, Bates entered another apartment near campus where he threatened a group of nearly 30 at gunpoint.
Many students living near campus awoke the next morning to news of the attacks and alerts from police.
Bates was killed in a police shootout the next day.
Since the White House outreach, Freeman said the safety committee has talked to management at surrounding apartment complexes about violence prevention and what to do in the event of an assault.
The dean’s safety committee is made up of USF students, officers from University Police, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department and County Code Enforcement.
“It was really kind of (USF President Judy Genshaft’s) urging, it brought to mind how many students we have living adjacent to the campus, which is significantly more than we have living on campus,” Freeman said.
Freeman said a safety brochure is in the works to inform students of precautions they should take when off campus and to offer resources for victims. These packets will be handed out to all freshmen, as well as distributed to residents at various off campus apartments.
“Our thought was to develop a group to begin looking at off campus,” Freeman said. “For example, the apartments that our students frequent, and what kind of safety they have, what kind of information the students get.”
The committee is also working with management at student apartment complexes to make sure safety measures up to code, including fixing lighting and putting in sidewalks so students will not have to walk in risky areas.
“We’ve looked at the roadways, lighting, landscape, all of this in partnership with Hillsborough County public officials,” Freeman said. “There are all kinds of issues they’ve cleaned up for us.”
The committee has asked county police to focus on 42nd and 46th streets, where the majority of USF student residents live.
The White House task force also suggested an increase in transparency of universities’ treatment of sexual assault on campus.
Freeman said this is in line with the White House task force’s new goals to fully identify the scope of safety concerns on university campuses and determine how to not only help prevent campus sexual assault, but also how to best respond when a student is a victim of assault.
One in five women on college campuses will be victimized by sexual assault, according to the White House Report. There were three reported sexual assaults on the USF campus in 2013 and five in 2012.
The White House task force said the presence of a confidential platform where a victim can go without fear of their identity being revealed is important. Confidentiality is one of the main factors that contribute to a victim not coming forward for help after being sexually victimized, according to the task force.
Nanci Newton, the director of Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention at USF, said Victim Advocacy is one of the three confidential resources on campus, the other two being the Counseling Center and Student Health Services.
“We cannot tell anyone without your written permission,” Newton said. “It’s very safe to talk to us.”
A “comprehensive” sexual misconduct policy addressing how to handle a student accused of sexual assault was also recommended.
The White House also announced it will investigate 55 universities suspected of violating Title IX, a federal law that prohibits unequal treatment of students based on sex. The investigation will focus on how the universities treated sexual assault and sexual harassment claims.
“Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement. “No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn’t exist.”