A panel of University of Minnesota officials gathered Wednesday to discuss a schoolwide effort to combat sexual violence against women. The discussion was inspired by a crime two weeks ago, when a female student reported she was kidnapped and assaulted by several men.
Panelists say the school and its police force have made significant progress against violence, but acknowledged that many challenges remain.
The Aurora Center, a campus-based advocacy group to prevent sexual violence, organized the discussion. The university uses a collaborative approach to handle sexual assault cases which involves many departments, including health services, student affairs and the police department.
The Aurora Center's director Jamie Tiedeman says when she first arrived on campus, she realized the first thing she had to do was get to know campus police officers.
"I needed to do every ride-along, every shift," she said. "I wanted to get to know their families. I wanted to get to know them personally. And I really wanted them to understand how we wanted a partnership."
Tiedeman says now a victim of sexual assault doesn't have to go to the police department to report a crime. Victims can come to the Aurora Center and the campus police will take their report at the center.
Tiedeman says campus police will also transport crime victims and Aurora volunteers to either Ramsey or Hennepin County offices to file protective orders.
“Two-thirds of the students on this campus who've experienced sexual violence have not reported it to anyone.”Ed Ehlinger, Boynton Health Service
Chuck Miner, deputy chief of the University Police Department, says the reported incidents of sexual assault are quite low compared to other large urban campuses. Miner says each year there are between 10 and 19 incidents -- most of which involve people who know each other. And he says that can make investigating the assaults difficult.
"There's generally very little evidence to go on," said Miner. "And there's generally no witnesses that witnessed these events, besides the two people involved."
University officials say they suspect many acquaintance assaults go unreported. They say a victim may be reluctant to take legal action because they attend a class, share a residence hall or have mutual friends with her attacker.
That was apparently not the case in the recent assault of a female student. The woman, who was kidnapped by three men driving a green minivan, reportedly didn't know her attackers.
The incident occurred just off campus, so the Minneapolis police department is handling the investigation. A police official says there are no suspects in custody.
Ed Ehlinger, head of the Boynton Health Service, says the latest school survey shows that nearly one-fourth of female students say they've been sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime. And 5 percent say they've been sexually assaulted at least once in the last year.
For male students, 13 percent say they've been assaulted, and 8 percent say they've been assaulted in the last year.
Ehlinger says one-third of students say they've talked with others about the crimes or reported them to authorities.
"So two-thirds of the students on this campus who've experienced sexual violence have not reported it to anyone," he said.
Ehlinger says the numbers show that more work needs to be done, not only to prevent sexual assault, but to help victims overcome the stigma and shame attached to sexual violence, and seek help.