By Emma Gauthier and Allie Lewis
Sexual assault is an ongoing and pervasive epidemic happening at college campuses across the country – and the University of Rhode Island is not immune.
According to the University’s 2015 Clery Report, there were six reported sexual assaults on campus. Many instances of sexual assault, however, go unreported.
Only an estimated 20 percent of female students victims between the ages of 18 to 24 report to law enforcement, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). This number could potentially be even lower, considering RAINN’s disclaimer that “sexual violence is notoriously difficult to measure, and there is no single source of data that provides a complete picture of the crime.”
Last week The Good 5 Cent Cigar published a column written by Staff Reporter Kelsey Santmyer about the lack of action she claims took place after she was sexually assaulted at a Greek Life social two years ago.
“I was under the impression that I couldn’t report what happened and I wouldn’t be supported,” Santmyer said.
Vice President of the Division of Student Affairs Kathy Collins said that “one sexual assault is one too many on any college campus,” in response to Santmyer’s column.
According to Collins, the University started an advisory council to exam current procedures.
“We constantly want to be evaluating our policies, our practices and the work we do to address this issue,” Collins said.
This year the University has changed how they respond to students who report a sexual assault to health services. The student is immediately seen and if they wish to have a rape kit done, it is not done on campus. Collins said the student is transported to a medical facility.
Some student EMS drivers have recently volunteered to transport students in regular cars, however, because this can be less traumatizing for the student who already experienced trauma.
Also, the University has started a bystander intervention program. This program tries to reach as many students as possible and educate them on proper procedure if they witness potential danger. Students are taught ways in which they can directly intervene, delegate to others or distract potential attackers.
“Nationally statistics say that sexual assaults will happen in the first 6 weeks of school,” Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Naomi Thompson said. This makes it even more crucial that students learn to be an active bystander as soon as possible.
Thompson and Collins work with violence and prevention programs through the Women’s Center, Counseling Services and Health Services. Their objective is to provide students with the knowledge of what resources are available to them.
Santmyer decided to share her story in hopes of inspiring others not to stay silent. Santmyer took on alumni status in her sorority in order to write the column for the Cigar.
Her column, “Rapists shouldn’t be able to hide behind their letters” has received a lot of attention and mostly positive feedback.
Santmyer’s sorority sisters were instructed by their sorority not to comment on or share the article. Before writing the article, Santmyer had reached out to her sorority to try and work with them to bring awareness to sexual assault.
“I was told by a member of exec that I only contribute to the problem and I don’t contribute anything productive to the organization,” Santmyer said.
Santmyer said her assault took place the second semester of her sophomore year, afterwhich she was fed misinformation on how to proceed. She said she was also made to feel she would be in trouble because she was underage drinking. Also, she felt she would lose her sisterhood.
The following semester Santmyer and her sorority’s president went to the Assistant Director of Greek Life, they were told the Dean of Students would be made aware, which he never was.
Santmyer’s rapist is currently suspended from attending the university until May 2019, but he never faced any legal ramifications from the University or the police. She does not believe this is a solution.
“It’s just delaying the possibility that he could do this again,” Santmyer said.
The URI Panhellenic council, Interfraternity council and Office of Greek Affairs declined to comment for this story.
*Panhellenic Council President Hailey Flavin commented after the Cigar went to print:We are supporting Dr. Kathy Collins and Naomi Thompson with their response for the division. The Greek Affairs office has worked with them over the past several days to create this piece and we fully support them in what they have submitted.Thank you and best regard,Hailey Flavin