At MU, few students get punished over sex assaults

COLUMBIA (AP) — A University of Missouri-Columbia crisis center received nearly 100 reports of campus sex assaults in 2012, but only two students were punished for such offenses, a newspaper investigation has found.

One student on the flagship campus was expelled for a sex offense and the other was suspended, the Columbia Missourian reported.

The campus police department received 14 reports of sex offenses in 2012, while the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center tallied 92.

Those statistics include offenses committed by non-students, though the school declined to provide a statistical breakdown of offenders.

School officials said many victims choose not to file complaints with the Office of Student Conduct or university police. The RSVP and campus police don’t routinely notify the conduct office of potential problems.

A recent national study found that 16 percent of college students were the victims of unwanted sexual contact, but only 3 percent told authorities. At a university of Missouri’s size, that’s the equivalent of more than 5,000 incidents in one academic year.

Donnell Young, the assistant director of student life and student conduct, said his office received two reports of “non-consensual sexual behavior” last year, both of which ended in penalties for the offenders. He declined to specify what the behaviors were but said they violated a university code of conduct prohibiting acts ranging from sexual harassment to rape.

Center coordinator Danica Wolf said she tries to follow victims’ wishes rather than steer them toward turning in their fellow students.

“I provide survivors with options and information and let them make the best decision for their individual situation,” she said.

Wolf said eight victims told her last year they would report their assaults to the student disciplinary office. Neither Wolf nor Young knew why that office ended up with only two reports.

“We want people to come forward, but when they do, there are so many obstacles placed in front of them,” said Tracy Cox of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Some victims are discouraged because they know the perpetrator or don’t want to believe they’ve been victimized, she said, while others are afraid they won’t be believed.

Last year, a student withdrew from Missouri after publicly accusing basketball player Michael Dixon of rape. The accusation was followed by a storm of harsh criticism on social media, some directed at Dixon, but much at the victim.

Dixon later left the team midseason after another accusation from 2010 was made public and transferred to Memphis. Dixon wasn’t charged criminally in either case, though he did appear before a student conduct board and was suspended for two games in 2010 by former coach Mike Anderson.

The university police department’s annual campus crime report instructs sexual assault victims to seek medical attention and support from counselors but emphasizes that they have no obligation to prosecute.

“You are the person in control when you contact the police department, and you decide how you want the incident handled,” the report reads.

“However, IT IS YOUR CHOICE.”

The Missourian said it was denied access to some public records by the University of Missouri system despite a 1998 law that requires universities to provide outcomes of disciplinary cases in which students were found responsible for violent or sexual offenses. The newspaper said university officials cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

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