Cal Poly ahead in efforts to prevent sexual assaults

New White House task force recommendations are already in place at Cal Poly, officials say

nwilson@thetribunenews.comApril 30, 2014 

An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly already has sexual assault response and awareness programs in place that are consistent with a list of recommendations released this week by a White House task force, top university administrators said.

The task force recommended actions that colleges and universities should take to protect victims and make the public aware of problems related to sexual assaults on college campuses.

The university reports three sexual assault or assault attempts against female students since January.

The recommendations include identifying confidential advocates who are available to meet with those who report crimes but who aren’t required to turn the case over to law enforcement officials if the victim doesn’t want to press charges.

Other recommendations include conducting surveys to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses because studies show it’s a crime that often goes unreported.

Cal Poly Dean of Students Jean DeCosta, said the university’s Sexual Assault Free Environment Resource program provides about 25 volunteer advocates trained to respond confidentially to reports of sexual assault.

And Cal Poly recently conducted a survey that’s expected to provide some information on whether the university is perceived as a hostile or safe environment to report sex crimes.

“We’ve reviewed the task force’s list of recommendations, and we’re doing those things already,” DeCosta said. “We have advocacy training, we’ve conducted a campus climate survey, we offer confidential reporting. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for strengthening the program, and we’ll continue to look at ways of doing that.”

Cal Poly University Police Department Chief George Hughes said 15 incidents of sexual assault were reported on campus over the past five years.

Hughes didn’t have specific information readily available on the details of those cases and whether they were prosecuted.

But Hughes said he believes reports have gone up in recent years in part because students are comfortable with reporting the incidents.

The university is required to publicly note incidents of reported forcible and non-forcible sexual assault as part of the Clery Act.

Senior Jerusha Beebe, a member of Cal Poly’s Women’s and Gender Studies Honor Society, said Cal Poly overall does a good job of providing resources and response to sexual assault. As part of her studies, however, she’s looking into how well the school includes information in its annual report.

“Every year on Oct. 1, the university releases its Clery Act report, and they listed three reported (sexual assault) incidents in the last three years,” Beebe said. “I know there were more because we were received alerts of more during that time frame. I think there’s incentive to try to hide things because it makes the university look bad. But I do think Cal Poly is ahead of a lot of other universities in the outreach and training it does to prevent sexual assault.”

DeCosta also said that extensive educational outreach exists at Cal Poly, including programs aimed at males to prevent sexual assault, as well as the Greek community.

Cal Poly Vice President of Student Affairs, Keith Humphrey, said the university will ensure it meets and exceeds the recommendations in the White House report.

“Cal Poly strives to create an environment free from sexual assault, harassment and relationship violence and has many services in place — including our SAFER Center, comprehensive investigation processes, and strong support resources for all students involved in incidents of sexual assault,” Humphrey said.

University police have investigated three cases of assault since January.

The first occurred about 12:30 a.m. Jan. 7 as a woman walked from the A1 parking lot on Perimeter Road. The woman was attacked from behind by someone who put a pillowcase or bag over her head for the purpose of assaulting her sexually, police said. The victim escaped.

The second occurred about 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Grand Avenue parking structure. Police said a man approached a woman from behind and brought her to the ground before she was able to punch him and he fled. University police said they did not consider it to be a sexual assault.

The third occurred about 10 p.m. April 8, when a man attacked a woman outside Cerro Vista Apartments, university police said. The man grabbed her from behind, reached under her skirt and attempted to pull down her underwear before she fought him off and he fled.

Police have reported no arrests in the cases.

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