According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 11.2 percent of college students ages 18 to 24 years old, will experience some form of sexual assault while enrolled at a higher education institution. Only 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported to law enforcement.
NAU leads Arizona public universities in reported sexual assault, according to 2016 Annual Security and Fire Safety Reports. UA reports the least number of sexual assaults, and ASU falls in between the two. All three universities' reports show that less than one percent of their students experience sexual assault on campus.
In August of 2015, ASUPD and police chief Michael Thompson launched a Special Victims Unit. ASU is one of four universities in the nation with an SVU devoted to addressing sexual assault on campus.
Jasmine Lester said she was raped by two ASU students before creating her organization Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault. Now an alumna, Lester isn't confident in the SVU's ability to minimize victim suffering.
"The goal of SDASA is to provide support and to connect victims and their allies with resources and options that put student safety before ASU's reputation," Lester said. "We try to help the University implement policies and practices that validate victims’ experiences and more proactively combat cultures of sexual violence on campus."
In an interview, Thompson recognized that some sexual assault victims report feeling re-assaulted by the investigation process. He said that the SVU lessens the likelihood of victims feeling as if they were better off not reporting the incident at all.
“ASU Police Department's Special Victim’s Unit shows our dedication to ensuring that a victim's sexual assault report is handled by a team, specifically trained in having a victim-centered, trauma informed approach,” Lynn Spillers, ASU SVU victim advocate, said. “We want victims to feel respected and treated with dignity throughout the entire process.”
SVU detective Jennifer Bryner said that officers support the addition of the specialized unit.
“We are proud to be one the first Universities in the country to have a dedicated Special Victims Unit to better support victims,” Bryner said.
She explains that the officers have been open to the new training. Patrol officers are trained in the initial reporting process, but are supposed to contact the SVU victim advocate, Spillers, who will aid the victim through the rest of the reporting process and connect them with any desired resources.
“The more comfortable we as detectives are in our ability to investigate, the more comfortable our victims will be in trusting us throughout the reporting process,” Bryner said.
Ultimately, SVU detectives will conduct in-depth victim interviews using the training that helps them better understand trauma.
Reach the reporter at Kendra.Penningroth@asu.edu or follow @KPenningroth on Twitter.