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Colleges Fail In Providing Sexual Assault Info To Students, Researcher Says

Not in Our Stat Statewide Summit on Sexual Assault

A Montana researcher says colleges and Universities nationwide aren't doing a very good job at giving students information about preventing and responding to sexual assault.

Jennifer Scroggins, an associate professor at Montana State University says schools appear fearful for their reputations.

“You don’t want people to think we’re a rape school, or a school where rape happened. But this is a problem for every school. Having a button on your front page of your website or not doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. If we want to be a safe place for students and we want to educate people, then we need to step up and say this happens, acknowledge that this happens, but we want to stop it from happening anymore.”

Scroggins’ work is being presented Monday at the Not In Our State Sexual Assault Summit at the University of Montana.

For the last six months, she's been looking at what kind of information schools provide for students online about sexual assault.

“So what I and a colleague and a student did was got a list of every single college and university in the U.S. and then we drew a random sample of schools so that we could compare. Its not just schools in Montana, its schools around the U.S. And what we did is we do these and we think, okay I’ve just been sexually assaulted, or I know someone who has been sexually assaulted, where am I going to go to find information.”

Scroggins first looked at the school’s main web page.

“If you go to a main website for a school, most schools aren’t putting anything about, 'if you have been sexually assaulted click here to report it and get some help.'”

When someone is sexually assaulted or wants to learn more about sexual assault, Scroggins says they tend to want something simple to help them understand what’s going on. That kind of simple information can be a hard to find.

“And what we’re finding nationwide is, although many schools have some information available about sexual assault, some just focus on policy. Here we don’t consider sexual assault appropriate at our school, so don’t do it. Some are as basic as that. Many schools will say if you are assaulted, call 911 or contact the campus police. But a lot of these results are buried. So if someone has just been assaulted or knows someone who has, they would have to, it’s kind of like doing research to write a paper, they have to sift a lot of information to find out what to do."

Scroggins used the search functions on school websites, typing in "rape", "assault", "date rape", things like that. At some, results came up blank. She says that was pretty discouraging.

“But we are looking if information does come up, where does it come up. Because like a Google search, you’re not going to sift through four pages of information to find out what you should do if you’ve been assaulted.”

Most of her search results found pretty general, not so helpful, information about sexual assault that was directed almost exclusively toward women. Information on men being sexually assaulted was almost nonexistent.

The information would say something along the lines of go out with friends, and don't drink too much.

Scroggins says the information she saw really put the emphasis of stopping sexual assault on the people who may be assaulted.

“Rather than saying at this school we don’t tolerate -- and this is what we will do if someone claims they are sexually assaulted, here is how we will treat the person who is convicted of sexual assault. They’re not putting up that information. They’re saying, well, ladies are the ones who are going to be raped, so here are a couple things you can focus on. And even then it is hard to find that information.”

Scroggins says secrecy, shame and ignorance around sexual assault need to end, and that's not going to happen unless people and schools start to talk about it.

She says schools have only recently started providing any information online about sexual assault. So it's still unclear if there's a connection between the number of assaults at a given school and the kind of information they provide.

Scroggins has looked into about 200 schools so far. She says those in Montana rank about in the middle in terms of providing useful information on sexual assault.

“Being in the middle meant you may have had some information, but it was very difficult to access or it was a limited amount of information, so people who wanted to be informed couldn't be even if they wanted to. So being in the middle wasn’t great. But that’s where we were.”

The undergraduate student who helped Scroggins with this research, Carissa Sorenson, will be speaking at the Not In Our State summit on sexual assault at the University of Montana, Monday November 9, at 1:00 p.m. Her talk will focus on Montana schools.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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