Is sexual assault a problem at UAF?

Sherry Simpson/ Sun Star

The following report appeared in the Nov. 26, 1982 edition of the Daily News-Miner: “State troopers are investigating a sexual assault reported by the University of Alaska Security Department last Friday.”

“The assault allegedly occurred in the sixth-floor hallway of a Bartlett Hall at about 11p.m. during a party.”

“Troopers described the suspect as a white male with collar-length brown hair. He was believed to be wearing levis and a yoked, plaid, or checked western-style shirt. The suspect is 20*25 years old and about 5 feet 11 inches tall. He has a medium build and weighs 175-190 pounds.”

Though this incident was not a rape. according to Assistant Dean of Students Dick Stenard, it “should be treated seriously.” Earlier, he commented, “There’s different degrees of sexual assault, but they all should be treated seriously. So I think there needs to be an awareness–what’s appropriate, what isn’t appropriate, and what are the alternatives when somebody’s not acting in an appropriate manner.

Last year, his department sponsored advertising by Women in Crisis Counseling and Assistance in the Sun Star. Is sexual assault a problem at UAF?

“Of course it is,” he said. “If you even have one incident, it’ a problem. And we don’t know how big the problem really is.”

Determining the extent of sexual assault on campus is not easy because often women do not report incidents. Federal statistics estimate that yearly, only 10 percent of sexual assaults are actually reported, Susan McInnis, counselor at WICCA, said.

“They’ve been saying that for years and they do not change their tune,” she said. Women have come up to her so often after presentations she’s given to say they had been assaulted before but never reported it that “that tells me the Feds are absolutely right when they say 10 percent are reported, and I think this is because they too are realizing how difficult it is for a victim to report.”

Between September 1981 and August 1982, WICCA counseled six university students who were sexually assaulted. McInnis estimated 60 percent of the students also reported the incidents to UAF security. No arrests were made in any cases. “Some were and some weren’t acquaintance rapes,” McInnis said.

Although he did not have exact figures available at the time of the interview, Dale Florian, director of security, estimated that in his three years in the position, he has received between six and eight complaints “that have had something to do with sex or sexual assault.” No arrests resulted from any of those complaints he said.

For a myriad of reasons, he said, investigations may go nowhere–the victim withdraws the charges, substantial evidence is lacking, or a victim maybe reluctant to pursue investigation of her own. Florian said if the facts indicate they can pursue the case criminally or administratively, they will do so only with the victim’s permission.

Asked whether he thought the proportion of sexual assaults on the UAF campus to the population indicates a problem, he responded, “No, not in relationship, to either any other community of this size, or any other campus of this size. It’s not extraordinary and it’s not overwhelming. No if somebody comes back and says “You just don’t know what’s going on,there’s all kinds of things happening, my only response is “But it ain’t being reported to us,” and I can’t respond to something that’s not reported to us.” Earlier, Florian said he does not include the “University Rapist” sexual assaults that occurred on the bike paths around the university in 1980 and 1981 as university incidents because they occurred on the “perimeter” of the university.

Recently, a Fairbanks man who had been suspected of committing those sexual assaults was found guilty of two counts of second-degree sexual assault and two counts of attempted first-degree sexual assault. Authorities identified Daniel Stedman Bolhouse, 25,in January 1981 from information obtained from the assault of a university student. He was arrested in Hawaii in August.

Misconceptions about the legal process following a sexual assault may often prevent victims from reporting the assault, McInnis said, but the biggest factor is “they just want to forget it–they want to put it behind them.” At WICCA, care for the victim is the priority, she said, and they encourage women who don’t want to report an assault to come in for a medical exam, anyway, to check for interal injuries, VD, or pregnancy.

For those who do wish to report the incident, the organization provides a legal advocate to accompany the victim to interviews with the police or troopers, or to the hospital. They also give victims the opportunity to talk the incident through and provide her with information that may help her deal with the incident. “Most women who have been assaulted take years to get through it, ” she said.

Florian said the first question he asks a woman who reports a sexual assault to security is “Would you like to have or may I have permission to have WICCA called?” If they rather not speak to someone from WICCA, he suggests someone from the Health Center, a female friend or a relative.

In 1981, WICCA counseled 69 women involved in sexual assaults, she said. Based on January through May 1982 statistics, they project 62-65 sexual assaults will be reported this year, a figure the police department and troopers project also, she said. Overall in Alaska, 419 sexual assaults were reported in 1981, according to the FBI, she said. Per capita, that works out to 102.2 rapes per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the nation. The next highest is in Washington D.C., with 73 rapes per 100,000, she said.

“Everybody asks and nobody knows” the reasons for Alaska’s high rate, she said. She speculate that Alaska’s young, mobile population, the level of alcohol abuse, extreme climate, independent attitudes of both sexes and a “macho” image associated with life in Alaska may all be factors.

Referring to estimates that only 10 percent of sexual assaults are actually reported, McInnis said, “If there are 419 reports in the state, then, my God, do we have to cope with 4,190 (in the state), or 690 in Fairbanks? We don’t know and I will not say that that is the case. But I will say that the number of actuals is going to be higher than the number of reports, and if you add to that the sad fact that we can’t prosecute every one that’s reported for one reason or another, you know sexual assault is a problem.”

Attempts to increase student awareness of the problem have come from several angles. Plans have been made for a 12-week course on domestic-violence, sexual assault and rape awareness for next semester through TVCC and by WICCA, said Wendy Redman, assistant to the chancellor and director of the Women’s Center.

Informal talks in dorms, training sessions for students and resident advisers, workshops and forums, increased campus lighting, and media exposure have all been measures taken by the administration and WICCA to increase sensitivity to the problem.

But the last reaction desired is fear, McInnis stressed. She said she was “infuriated” to learn that women were hiding in their dorm rooms one year after a rash of incidents.

“Don’t stop going out,” she said. “We have a right to go where we want.” Fear builds on fear and makes people more vulnerable, she said. “If the world is frightening, we must learn to adapt…You can’t crawl under a blanket and hide.”

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