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State universities will encourage more reporting of sexual assaults

PIERRE — Training in sexual assault response drew 134 people from South Dakota's public universities in July, as campuses ramp up personnel and programs for assisting victims and discouraging attacks, the state Board of Regents learned Wednesday.

Nationally one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while they are college students, according to Barbara Basel, director of human resources for the regents system.

The regents weren't given specific numbers regarding incidents at state universities in South Dakota, but Basel offered to speak privately with university presidents about their campuses.

Each university campus will have a Title IX coordinator prominently identified to work with victims.

The coordinator will trigger investigations and also will handle assault reports passed along from students, other university personnel and citizens.

The federal Office of Civil Rights identified 60 days as reasonable time for investigation and adjudication by a campus, according to a briefing paper provided to the regents.

"It's not any one person's issue. It's a university campus issue," Basel said.

Calling it "a Catch-22," she said training is federally required but there's not a federal certification program in place yet.

"There's not a clear guidance of who's training," she said.

Regents executive director Jack Warner said the proper handling of a complaint of sexual assault depends on the skills and sensitivity of the first listener.

"There's lots of pieces of this that are important," he said.

The universities are identifying the best practices and providing training. "We're very much interested in getting ahead of this," Warner said.

In addition to two trainers at the July session, a representative of the federal Office of Civil Rights participated, Basel said.

Next year there will be more structured guidelines for training set from the federal level, she said.

The first round of training for 38 people happened in August 2013.

Molly Weisgram said students must be trained annually and campuses are working on approaches using a combination of Internet and in-person methods. Weisgram is director of student affairs for the regents system.

Prevention programming also is required, Weisgram said, including training on how to be "by-standers" who protect one another.

She said campuses will be given broad guidelines and personnel at each campus can design programs to fit the culture of their campus.

Regent Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen seemed uncomfortable about putting responsibility on students when confidentiality isn't clear.

"You going to call or not going to call?" Jewett said. He added, "We have to do this right."

Weisgram responded that students who learn of an allegation or incident would be expected to tell the Title IX coordinator even if the student wants it to be confidential.

Regent Bob Sutton of Pierre said it's important the universities are part of this.

"The ones reporting are by far the minority," Sutton said. "It's widespread. There are multiple levels to this... It's a systemic issue. I'm glad we're addressing it."

He said there have been 13 federal life sentences for sexual assault in the history of the nation and three have been in South Dakota the past two years.

Her experiences with the U.S. Army led Heather Wilson to caution that some of the legal requirements will drive reports "underground" in some instances. She is president of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

"It could have a real consequence on our system," Wilson said.