UIPD trains officers on sexual assault protocol

By Joe Longo

“I didn’t see anything in there that no one doesn’t already know,” said Pat Wade UIPD spokesmanJT. “The report did a good job of putting research to the stuff we knew anecdotally, but it’s stuff we’ve known for years.”

Part of a $1.7 million study of sexual assault on all University of Texas campuses, the 174-page blueprint primarily served the UT system. However, it was also released publicly to aid campus law enforcement nationwide.JT

Wade believes the University is ahead of the curve in combatting sexual assault on campus.

In the ‘90s, UIPD implemented a sexual assault response team. They formed working relationships with local hospitals, the University and advocacy groups to address sexual assault and assist survivors.JT

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In October 2015, the UIPD revamped the response team and implemented an official Special Victim’s Unit. Lt. Joan Fiesta said three specialized patrol officers trained on handling sexual assault serve as the first line and mentors to other officers on issues related to sexual assault.JT

In addition to employing experts in the field, Fiesta is working on basic sexual assault training for all UIPD officers.

“They’ve had training in their academy — in their field-training process,” Fiesta said. “(But) because of the infrequency of sexual assault, they don’t have the practice.”

Because sexual assault is a highly underreported crime, UIPD takes an active effort to make people reporting crimes comfortable and safe.

UIPD Detective Rachael AhartJT meets with witnesses in plain clothes and at locations of their choice. These subtle efforts can make a major difference in encouraging survivors to speak about their assault. Yet, many still refrain from going through with an investigation.

“We always tell them you don’t have to make a final decision right now,” Ahart said. “If you change your mind and want to look at this more, we’re perfectly fine with doing that as well.”

Because many reports come months or years after the actual assault occurred, investigations often lack substantial physical evidence. Thus, UIPD Detective Gene MooreJT encourages survivors to proceed with a sexual assault kit immediately following the incident.

The trauma of assault and uncertainty surrounding legal proceedings leaves many survivors hesitant to go through with the examination.

“We have more now than we will two years from now,” Moore said. “In that regard, it behooves us, and maybe them, later. But, they can always stop (the investigation).”

Ahart noted that, in recent years, digital messaging provides a timestamp of events occurring around the time of the assault, which helps fill in fragmented testimonies from survivors that report the assault months or years later.

“There’s not questions about what was actually said, or what was reported,” Ahart said. “Sometimes via text is the way someone will tell a friend or a family member about what had happened to them.”

UIPD officers acknowledge that many survivors, especially college students, hesitate to report assaults that occur because one or both parties were intoxicated. Moore said Champaign County does not issue drinking tickets to sexual assualt survivors.

Not all survivors want to go through legal proceedings, Ahart said. In a February assault at a University fraternity,JT the survivor did not file a police report, so no investigation was conducted. However a Campus Safety Notice was released.

Instead, the survivor reported the incident to a Campus Security Authority. CSAs are University employees with “significant responsibility” for student affairs trained to report the data about a survivor to University police, Wade said. Information the UIPD receives from CSAs can only be used for data collection and to issue public safety notices. A police report cannot be filed from a CSA’s data.JT

“The goal of that is to strike a balance between informing our campus about public safety issues that may be pertinent to them, but also respecting the wishes of the survivor,” Wade said.

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