CWU fall color

Central Washington University's historic Barge Hall towers above a layer of colorful leaves as fall settles on the CWU campus, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013. (Brian Myrick / Daily Record)

Right inside the Central Washington University police building is a sign that pledges support to victims of sexual assault and violent crimes.

"We will meet with you privately, at a time and place of your choosing, to take your report," it reads. "We will NOT notify your parents without your consent.”

The CWU Police Department's commitment also guarantees professionalism, courtesy and sensitivity, the opportunity to have an advocate present, assistance in finding counseling or emergency housing, availability for questions and a full investigation to achieve the best outcome.

CWU Police Chief Mike Luvera said his department works to empower sexual assault and violent crime survivors by making the process as easy as possible.

"If they want to meet us here at the office, great," he said. "If they want us to not be in uniform and meet them somewhere else, we can make that happen. If they want somebody with their faith there we can do that. We'll go wherever we need to go and do what we need to do so they feel comfortable to give us information."

Reporting

Students have the ability to choose which process they take when reporting a sexual assault or other violent crime — either going through the police, the university or both. The two investigation processes are different and often the university makes a decision before a case makes it through the criminal process in court.

"They can't wait until there's a guilty verdict because they have a different process, different rules," Luvera said.

The issue of sexual assault on campus, and how it is handled by colleges, has received tremendous scrutiny nationwide in the past two years. A major survey by the Association of American Universities this fall found that 27.2 percent of female college seniors had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact since entering college. Almost three-fourths of victims did not report the episode to anyone in authority, including law enforcement, even in the most serious assaults, the survey found.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges nationwide facing Title IX investigations over handling of sexual abuse complaints. At the same time, the White House set up a task force to bring more transparency to the issue and reduce sexual violence on campus. As of this week, the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights was investigating 192 open sexual violence cases at 157 colleges nationwide, including the University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University and Whitman College.

CWU isn’t on the federal list, but administrators and law enforcement in Ellensburg said sexual assault on campus is something they take seriously. The university offers prevention training, emotional support for those who have gone through an experience, and assistance in handling the reporting processes.

Police side

If someone is the victim of a violent crime or sexual assault, Luvera said the first step is to get care and get to a safe place.

Then they can decide whether to involve the police. Victims drive the investigation on the police side and can sometimes take it all the way to a conviction.

At the hospital, a person would talk to a sexual assault nurse examiner, a trained medical professional who would provide treatment and collect forensic evidence.

If someone walks into the station to report an incident, police ask who they can call. Oftentimes it's a family member, friend, advocate like CWU's sexual assault coordinator on campus or someone from ASPEN (Abuse Support and Prevention Education Now).

"We really try to involve advocates because they know the other processes," Luvera said.

The university has obligations required that are separate from what the police do, though the two investigations sometimes share information.

If a student reports a sexual assault to the Dean of Student Success or the Title IX coordinator but doesn't want to report it to the police, the police will just receive the information that an assault occurred, to be able to include it on an annual report. The police won't learn the name or any further information.

"There are cases on there (the CWU Annual Security and Fire Safety Report ) that I know nothing about other than somebody on this side told me a sexual assault occurred on campus," Luvera said.

University

Once the university receives a report of a sexual assault, it must investigate, said Richard DeShields, associate dean of student living. Students can report an issue to any staff member or department on campus. When an incident is reported, a violence prevention and response coordinator does outreach to ensure a student is receiving appropriate resources and help.

Sometimes campus no-contact orders may be put in place to ensure students don't contact each other while an investigation is ongoing. Retaliation is discussed with both parties, and students will learn their rights outside in the community as well, such as their ability to apply for an anti-harassment order through the courts or a full criminal investigation.

They also learn about the university's discrimination and grievance process, so if they think the university has missed something, they know what rights they have.

"If they think the university is not doing its job, they know where they can go beyond university to report that," DeShields said. "We just don't want to be seen as pushing it under the rug."

The university's system follows a preponderance of evidence, meaning it operates under the belief that more likely than not the incident occurred. The university will consider evidence like text messages or video, but often has to make a decision faster than the police.

There can be times when the police don't have enough evidence to make an arrest, but the university could still expel or suspend a student.

"The university can make decisions separate from the courts and a person could go through both," DeShields said. "We will move through our investigation to make sure we're meeting deadlines for Title IX and the Violence Against Women Act."

Once a decision is made with the accused party present, the person who reported the incident is made aware of the outcome. At that point, either the accused or the reporting person can appeal the decision under the new student conduct code, DeShields said.

Then the case would go to the student conduct council or to a review officer who would revisit the case and make a final decision.

"We do believe we need to make sure we're giving both sets of students due process," DeShields said about the appeal opportunities.

DeShields emphasized that while the process is structured and has timelines and guidelines that must be followed, there is a humanistic part that many might not see. Central offers care and counseling to students who need it after a violent experience.

"Our process also looks at the wellbeing of the student," he said. "We understand this has been traumatic and that will lead to other needs for the students. We work with professors, we work with the registrar on timelines."

ASPEN

Dawn West-Hurley, program manager for Abuse Support and Prevention Now (ASPEN), said Central has a protocol to call ASPEN for every report to ensure the victim is not alone.

West-Hurley said ASPEN's role is to offer support services and somebody that can be the voice for the victim when they don't feel like they have one. They also can be a liaison between the student and officials.

ASPEN provides 24-hour resources for legal advocacy, medical advocacy, emergency housing, support groups, information, prevention education and advocacy-based counseling, but it's up to the survivor as to how involved ASPEN advocates get.

"It's case by case," West-Hurley said. "It's really dependent on what the survivor wants or needs from us. Some cases we follow all the way through. Some we just provide supportive services or resources."

Prevention

Central Washington University police spend time talking about sexual assault and other violent crimes during Wildcat Welcome Weekend presentations, at residence halls, with athletes and other student organizations, and with faculty and staff.

Green Dot training offered by the Wellness Center teaches bystanders easy ways to intervene in situations to prevent something like an assault from happening.

Courtesy Assistance Teams, students hired and trained by CWU police, can be called (509-963-2950) to walk students to cars or to their dorms to ensure safety. The students have a specific uniform, and have the ability to be in immediate contact with police officers out working.

The department also offers the national Rape Aggression Defense Systems program, a 12-hour course that talks about why crimes occur, general crime prevention and what people can do when at home or driving to prevent crime. From there, students learn simple defensive maneuvers like punches, strikes and kicks which will help the person fight back to get away from their attacker.

"The course is designed around the idea that a woman is probably going to be outsized," Luvera said, adding that there is also a course for men to take. The course culminates with an option to practice those in a simulation against a trainer. Both the instructor and the student are in suits and they run through scenarios.

Students can earn P.E. credit for the course, and it's recently been offered to Central employees. Once someone has taken it and paid for it, they can return in additional quarters to repeat the class for free if they choose.

Contact reporter Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kvnews.com.

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