President Obama has signed the updated version of the Violence Against Women Act. This is expected to pose challenges for many college campuses in how they handle dating violence. Illinois State University officials say they are ahead of the curve thanks to criticism from the federal government that went out to universities two years ago. Suzette Walden, ISU's Coordinator for Community Rights and Responsibilities says ISU started doing more faculty, staff, and student education about what consent means and how and when to report violations. This prevents some incidents from falling through the cracks.
"The reality is that for most students they are not making a distinction on whether I am the University, their faculty member is the University, you know their Resident Assistant is the University. In their mind they have told someone at the University about this so the University knows about this."
"You know part of that may be fear of retaliation so one of the things that we articulate very clearly is that we take retaliation very seriously. We want to create a safe space."
Walden says there have been big changes as a result at ISU and other campuses that have been proactive.
"These sorts of incidents were happening and were grossly under-reported."
Two years ago there were only seven reports of sexual assault and dating violence on ISU's campus. That went to 35 last year and Walden says to 31 so far this school year. Walden says ISU has also used the new required standard for guilt, of the "preponderance of the information" for some years. Some other campuses use "beyond a reasonable doubt," or "clear and convincing information" in their student judicial processes. And they are devoting more resources to handling such cases.
"The University hired an investigator which is housed in the University office of Ethics and Access."
That is on top of police investigators. Walden says ISU's rules also meet the new law's requirements to give the aggrieved party the same appeal rights as the accused if they believe a decision is wrong, procedures were not followed, or a penalty does not match the offense. A new student code of conduct also passed last May.
Support Your Public Radio Station