Sexual Assault

What’s Behind The Rise In Reports On Campus? 

Story By: Simone Corbett, Nicole Trejo-Valli, Bailee Wicks // Photos By: Jack Lambert


The Central Washington University campus has seen a jump in reported rapes. In 2015, Central reported 13 forcible rapes involving students, up from just two in 2014. The Central Wellness Center Annual Report for the 2015-2016 academic year tallied 135 cases of sexual assault/misconduct, domestic/partner violence, stalking, harassment and physical assault complaints.  

What's behind the drastic increase in numbers? Is it that students are feeling more comfortable coming forward with reports, or are more sexual assaults actually occurring at Central?  

Pulse interviewed police, administrative, athletic and wellness representatives on and off Central’s campus, and heard from one alleged assault victim, in an attempt to try to answer the lingering question: Why? 



Leaving the security of home is bittersweet. On the one hand, you are hours away from your family and friends and you now have to fend for yourself. On the other hand, you can make all your own decisions and you no longer need to explain where you are and when you plan on being back. But this newfound freedom can come with challenges. 

“As an institution, we are worried about the first six weeks of freshman year,” says Stacy Sleigh-Layman, Central’s executive director of Human Resources, who is also the campus ethics adviser and coordinator for Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits gender-based discrimination, including harassment, rape or assault, in federally-funded institutions.  

"Young people [are] away from home, alcohol and other drugs are usually involved, and the freedom to do 'whatever' is implemented," Sleigh-Layman says. Not all sexual assault cases happen in fall quarter, but Sleigh-Layman says the majority do occur in the first six weeks of classes. 

Part of that involves all of the new people you meet at the start of college. Central Police Chief Michael Luvera says that while "a far majority of sexual assaults are committed by somebody that you know," there’s also the fact that "you still have people that are trying to figure out who their friends are and aren’t" in those first six weeks.  

Another part, as Sleigh-Layman suggests, often involves alcohol and drugs. Mallory Morse, a health educator at the Wellness Center and member of the Center's Violence and Prevention Response Team, says the media often depict rapists as "a stranger jumping out of a bush," but "most of the time it is someone the victim knew and usually alcohol was involved."  

Richard DeShields, associate dean of Student Living, says while alcohol is not always a contributing factor, sexual assaults have proven to be more likely when it’s heavily involved.  

Morse agrees. "Alcohol is used as a weapon in many of these cases,” she says.   

Maria, a former Central student whose name we have changed because of the sensitive nature of her story, filed a report with Ellensburg police this fall alleging sexual assault after an incident with a fellow student. She told Pulse her story, which involved a person she knew as well as both alcohol and drugs. 

After meeting at a party, the male student asked Maria to go out for drinks. They had only briefly talked on Facebook and she wanted to "ensure this would be a purely platonic hangout," so she brought her roommate with her. While her roommate didn’t stay for too long, Maria did. She explained that he seemed harmless, so she continued to hang out with him and eventually they left for another bar.  

"At this point in the night, I had only had one mixed drink so I wasn't very drunk at all... He began to flirt with me and even though I was not flirting back, because I wasn't physically making him stop flirting with me, that meant it was okay for him. I wasn't too scared at that point because boys flirting with me never really makes me uncomfortable. So I just let it happen," Maria recalls.  

Before they went to the next bar, Maria says they “stopped at his place to smoke some weed. I wasn't very drunk but this is when I got really high." At the next bar, she says was enjoying the scene but her date appeared uncomfortable and anxious and eventually ushered her out of the bar. Maria explained, "I didn't want to leave with him, but a part of me felt bad about rejecting him because he seemed like a really nice guy. So I went home with him." 



Rape culture is a term originated in the 1970s by feminists. According to the organization Women Against Violence Against Women, the term “was designed to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence.” We assume it’ll never happen to us, and those who’ve experienced it often describe feeling like they stumbled into it or simply didn’t put a stop to it.  

People criticize the media and pop culture for normalizing rape and sexual assault by portraying women to be overly promiscuous and craving the attention of men.  

Yet sexual assault isn’t only a women's issue. It's also relevant to men and the LGBTQ+ community. “Anyone can be assaulted, you don’t have to be a female,” Sleigh-Layman says.  

On the flip side, some are concerned that universities have overcorrected, implementing policies that are unfair to alleged perpetrators. There has been a recent spate of lawsuits by alleged perpetrators, who claim they have been kicked out of school or otherwise punished based on allegations that were never processed through the criminal justice system. 


Greek Life and Athletics  

Two campus areas that seem to be attracting a lot of attention on a national scale for reports of sexual assault are the Greek system and athletics. 

On Nov. 7, Washington State University enacted a moratorium banning all Greek life activities for the remainder of the semester "because of a growing number of assaults, rapes, falls and trips to hospital related to alcohol," according to a KING 5 report. 

The move made national news, but it isn’t the only school where Greek life has dealt with punishments and even lawsuits relating to sexual assault. In October, the University of California, Berkeley, put a ban on its Greek parties due to reports of sexual assault.  

As for athletics, there have also been major headlines regarding sexual assault. In early 2016, a former Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, but only served a few months in jail, causing widespread controversy. 

This fall, Harvard canceled its men’s soccer season after players were discovered to have sexually rated female athletes. The documents recovered reportedly showed a “scouting survey” from 2012, which continued into 2016, ranking female recruits based on their physical appearances.  

Kari Johnson, Central's assistant athletic director for compliance/senior woman administrator, notes the football team is currently the only athletics team on this campus that is required by its coaches to attend “Green Dot” trainings every year.  

“Green Dot” is a violence prevention program that focuses on educating bystanders about how to reduce power-based personal violence on campus and in their life. “It’s really great,” Johnson says, “because it gets you put in [a scenario], like how would you respond, would you do anything?”  

Johnson expresses a desire to see a greater emphasis on trainings like “Green Dot” among all athletic teams. “We really want to join forces with the Wellness Center and provide more education to student-athletes about what actually is sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence. Doing those type of things is really important,” Johnson says.  


Defining Rape 

Central's Annual Security and Fire Safety Report of 2015 splits sexual assault into two separate categories: forcible and non-forcible sexual offense.  

A forcible offense is any sexual act directed against another, whether that be forcibly and/or against the person’s will, or when the victim is incapable of giving consent. Rape falls under this umbrella, as does forcible sodomy, meaning oral or anal sexual intercourse, and sexual assault with an object, where an object or instrument is used to unlawfully penetrate, however slightly, the genital or anal opening of the body of another person.  

Non-forcible sexual offense is the act of unlawful sexual intercourse. This can involve incest, or non-forcible intercourse between people in relation to one another in cases where marriage is prohibited by law, or statutory rape, as well as non-forcible sexual intercourse with a person under the age of consent.  

The Student Sexual Assault Response report on Central’s website states that no form of sexual assault, sexual violence or sexual misconduct will be tolerated at the university in any form. It also considers sexual harassment to be in violation of the university Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy, along with state and federal laws.   

“We want people to know that we want them to come forward and report so that we can try to prevent other cases happening on campus,” DeShields says.  

All acts of sexual violence are forms of sexual harassment covered under Title IX. These are typically committed using threats, coercion, physical force and/or intimidation. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, universities have in the past been sued for "indifference to known situations of harassment," including cases of rape and assault. 

According to a statistic often cited, including by President Obama, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. These numbers have been both affirmed and questioned by other studies. Calculating rates of rape and assault is a complicated and controversial business. How rape and assault are defined varies, as does the sample size used to collect statistics, which explains why numbers are often different depending on what source you check. Complicating matters, many sources suggest that sexual assaults are the most under-reported crime of all. 



That variance in statistics plays into the reporting of numbers at Central as well. Central’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report of 2015 includes 13 reports of forcible rape, four of forcible fondling, eight of domestic violence, one of dating violence and 17 of stalking. While a notable increase over previous years, this still represents small numbers on a campus of over 10,000 students. Is this representative of the issue of sexual assaults on campus? 

The Wellness Center stats vary drastically from the Central report because they encompass more kinds of cases. According to their Annual Report, there were a total 166 referrals made to the Center’s Violence Prevention and Response Team (VPRT) for the 2015-2016 academic year, of which 135 were cases of sexual assault/misconduct, domestic/partner violence, stalking, harassment, or physical assault, and 31 were categorized as “other.” 

The report notes the referrals were made to the VPRT, by “a conduct officer, other university office or a student self-referring. Outreach was initiated with those 166 students. Of those, 99 followed up with the VPRT." "The remaining 67 either declined services or never responded to the communication.” The numbers do not reflect whether the victims were students at the time of reporting or whether they occurred on campus. 

According to Sleigh-Layman, “police statistics include only those cases which meet the definitions in criminal law and within the confines of university property. The stats from the Wellness Center reflect all reports and contacts. Its definitions are much broader and include even anonymous complaints which cannot generally be investigated by police.” 

Morse says she believes the Wellness Center's data offers a more accurate depiction of sexual assaults involving Central students, primarily because "not everyone wants to report to the police," she says.  

She explains that data found in Central’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, also known as the Clery Report, only encompasses cases that are reported to police. However, because this report is mandated by the government, each case must meet specific definitions to be reported to Clery. For this reason, Morse says, the Wellness Center reports tend to have higher numbers because reported cases do not need to meet any specific criteria, and also include anonymous reports. 

Morse adds: "I don't think the increase of numbers is necessarily from an increase in incidents, I think it's becoming much less of a taboo thing for people to seek any type of health resource for themselves... specifically women—there's a lot more empowerment for them to find help." 

DeShields says the rise in reported cases of sexual assault is attributed by many to Central’s increased efforts in drawing awareness to the local resources available to students on how to report assaults.  

Dawn Brumfield, program manager at Ellensburg’s ASPEN (Abuse Support and Prevention Education Now), agrees, suggesting that more people are reporting their cases because they are now more educated on how to do so. "People are more aware of the process for reporting and are feeling more comfortable with reporting because of the resources that are available," Brumfield says.  

DeShields adds: “Since we know nationally that it's under-reported, those numbers should be on the rise because we need to be able to better allow students to know that we exist and respond to those needs.”  

“But when that number rises I also get very anxious and nervous about it because I want to make sure that we don't have a culture that supports sexual predators," he says. 

Luvera suggests that the rise in reported cases of sexual assault does not mean Central’s campus is less safe than other college campuses. In fact, he suggests there are likely "many campuses across this nation that are reporting zero sexual assaults," and he has a "hard time believing that’s accurate.” 

“When we get more reports we can give better services and when we give better services we’re going to retain more students and our students are going to share with other students that yes, this happens, but here is the system, this is what they [Central] do and they don’t shy away from it,” Luvera says. “We want people to know that we want them to come forward and report so that we can try to prevent other cases happening on campus."  

This fall, the President's office at Central sent out a survey on sexual assault to all students, faculty and staff members. The survey was conducted to help administrators gain a more accurate picture of the Central community’s experience with sexual assault, according to the email sent out with the survey.  

“We’re getting a more accurate reflection of what really is happening on our campus,” says Luvera, who says he appreciates the “head on” push from the office of President Gaudino himself to address the issues of rape culture and sexual assaults on Central's campus.  



Caught Off Guard 

Despite all this, some students are still caught off guard. "I went to Central for three years and because I didn't hear about sexual assaults, I thought they weren't happening. But they were. They happen all the time… Just because we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't happening,” says Maria. "All those words of advice we hear, like ‘Stick with your friends,’ and ‘Watch your drink,’ and ‘Always have your phone on you and charged,’ sound cliché until proven real.”  

Maria’s account, told to Pulse and detailed in the Incident Report from the Ellensburg Police, describes several sexual encounters over the course of the night at the man’s house. In the police report, she says told him she “did not want to have sex with him” but describes going along with the encounters. The police report reads: “She said she thought the ‘only way out was just to have sex’ because if they had sex, he would get tired, he would go to sleep and it ‘would be over.’”   

Maria told Pulse: "I clearly stated that I didn't want to have sex that night. I wanted to run away but I was stuck there. My ribs were aching for no reason, which is a problem I've had since the rape. My ear throbbed. I just broke down. I didn't understand what had happened… I just knew I was not okay with it. It was rough and I was in pain and I was tired... I stayed up for an hour or so crying. Then I faded into sleep."                      


Know Your Rights  

Unfortunately, sexual assaults are often some of the hardest crimes to convict because of a lack of evidence available in many situations (see Sidebar).  

For this reason, the Wellness Center offers multiple trainings year-round to educate the campus community on what to do if you are sexually assaulted or if you’re witnessing a sexual assault. All freshmen are required to attend “Green Dot” training sessions during their first six weeks on campus, and the trainings are available for all students, staff and campus faculty.  

The Wellness Center is both a source for education and an intended refuge on campus for victims of sexual assault in any of its forms and regardless of the victim's relationship to the assailant. Morse says one of the primary objectives is to treat victims in a manner that doesn’t take control away, but empowers the survivor to determine their own needs and how to meet those needs.  

“Our students fund our positions, the university does not fund it,” Morse says. “We are strictly here to help the students. We are free and confidential.” 

Maria, for one, has left Central and Ellensburg to try to heal. "I am leaving Ellensburg because of the anxiety attacks,” she says. "Because I can't be in the bars without having an anxiety attack. Because I can't walk outside my house at night without feeling like I am being watched. Because I am scared people are breaking into my home... Because I can't have a guy buy me a drink without fearing that if I don't have sex them they will get physically violent with me.” 

Maria's case, according to the police report, has been forwarded to the county prosecutor for review. The male student involved gave a similar account of the events, but the police report notes that he said "at no point during intercourse did [Maria] tell him no or appear to be uncomfortable.”  

The reality is that sexual assault is a major issue. It’s happening in your neighborhood, it's happening on your campus, and it may affect the person sitting right next to you in class.  

But you can play an active part in reducing sexual assault. If you see or hear of someone in danger, don’t just stand by and do nothing. Your voice matters, and your actions matter.  

"I believe that any sexual assaults are too many," DeShields says. "So just simply because we are having higher numbers, I don't rest assured that we need to stop doing what we're doing.”  



What Happens To The Offender?  

Hard to Prove  

Sexual assault isn’t easy to report and can be even harder to prove without factual evidence. ASPEN (24-hour assault response) recommends victims preserve all physical evidence available to properly document a sexual assault or rape by not bathing, showering or douching until after a medical examination. Also, keep clothes from the incident in a paper bag to preserve evidence. 


If No Arrest, Then What?  

If there is no arrest, it’s still not over. The victim can apply through the court system to order a no contact form. Or the school can pull students from classes, change their housing, and give specific times during the day that they’re allowed to be in certain areas. 


Innocent Until Proven Guilty  

When looking at a case it’s the officer’s job to give everyone an equal opportunity for an investigation into reasonable causes proving they're responsible for the crime. “[We] must separate our gut from the law," Luvera says. "[We would] rather have people who committed crimes be free, than people who didn’t commit the crime be arrested.”  

What To Do If It Happens To You? 

First, get to a place where you feel safe. That can be your home, a friend’s house, a doctor's office, or even a public place so you don’t feel alone. Then, it is important to review all options when it comes to sexual assaults. 


Reporting on Campus:  

You can report in many different ways on the Central campus. You can fill out a Behavior of Concern Report. That report then goes to the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. From there you will meet with someone to talk about what happened, then go over options for your safety. After that, the school will hold case hearings that the victim can decide if he or she wants to attend, and the school will make a decision on the case and let the victim know the outcomes.  

Another option would be to go straight to the Wellness Center and tell them everything so they can file a report with the victim’s story, which takes out the necessity of attending a meeting with Student Rights and Responsibilities. Sometimes it is difficult enough to tell the story once. The written report, Morse notes, means that “students don’t have to go through the story again with another person, so they don’t feel re-victimized.”  

It is worth mentioning that no matter if you go to the police first, Central will receive the report after the police investigation and conduct its own investigation. An investigation through Central is entirely different than one done by police. If a person looks 51 percent guilty, they will be held responsible at Central, but with a police investigation, the alleged perpetrator is innocent until proven guilty.  

If you talk about your case with a faculty or staff member, they are required to report it. 


Reporting to the Police: 

When reporting to police, a victim needs to know the difference between Ellensburg Police and Central Police. If they go to Ellensburg Police first, the Central Police do receive the report if the victim is a student. Both police departments hold their own investigations into whether there is probable cause or enough evidence for an arrest. Investigations can last months, so it can be a lengthy process.  


Reporting Anonymously to either Central or the Police: 

By reporting anonymously, the victim’s name would not be in the report, but the perpetrator’s would be. This option, although comforting to some, does not give the victim all the information about further hearings and the final outcome.  


Not to Report at all: 

Sexual assaults are one of the most under-reported crimes. Even if a victim decides not to report the incident, they can still receive free counseling and help from both the Wellness Center and the Student Medical and Counseling Clinic.  

When choosing to not report at all, the victim cannot mention the perpetrator’s name to faculty or staff members, or else it has to be reported due to safety concerns. 

How To Help A Friend: 

Going through sexual assault is not easy. It’s a very taxing, lengthy process and everyone reacts differently to the situation. If a victim confides in you about any sexual assault offense, here are some tips to help them out: 

If a friend confides in you, keep what is said confidential. This is key to providing a safe environment for them. After being sexually assaulted, many victims feel alone. It is important to stay with your friend to ensure their safety and provide emotional support. 

"Everything that we do is completely confidential, 100 percent," says ASPEN's Brumfield.   

Listen and accept what you hear. Do not press them for more details. Allow your friend to reflect on what has happened and to share some of their feelings if they are open. 

"No matter what, let them know that they're not to blame and they're not alone," Brumfield says. 

While neither term is wrong, Brumfield says ASPEN prefers the word “survivor” to “victim," because “survivor” "adds strength and is more empowering than 'victim'."  

Lastly, you need to confirm the seriousness of the problem and let your friend know that she or he is not to blame. Many victims blame themselves for what happened, especially if the perpetrator was an acquaintance. Be patient and understanding. Survivors have their own time for recovery. 


Watch out Winter Quarter for further investigation into the issue of sexual assaults on campus in The Observer. 

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