CSB/SJU had the most sexual assaults reported on campus of any private Minnesota college in 2015, with 21 reports— placing CSB/SJU with the second most reports in the state behind only the University of Minnesota. The report was released last year, and soon the Minnesota Office of Higher Education will release the data for 2016, although the administration does not expect the data to change much. This data is released in the midst of national focus on sexual assault reports, with the most recent concerning the firing of Garrison Keillor from MPR due to sexual misconduct charges. Back at CSB/SJU, the number of sexual assault cases has risen in recent years, but faculty members said that the numbers may not tell the whole story.
The CSB/SJU community prioritizes educating the students about detecting and avoiding sexual misconduct, and because of these efforts the statistics reported by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education may not tell the whole story.
In the 2015 calendar year, 21 cases of sexual assault were reported at CSB/SJU. While this is a high number, CSB Dean of Students Jody Terhaar said that there is more to the statistic than people assume initially. Terhaar believes that due to the school’s intensive efforts to educate people on sexual misconduct
issues, students are simply reporting incidents more.
“I would like to think that the numbers are an indication that there are not so many more cases of sexual assault or misconduct happening on our campus, but that people are coming forward perhaps in ways that aren’t happening on other campuses for whatever reason,” Terhaar said.
According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, the University of St. Thomas and Carleton College had 20 sexual misconduct cases, Gustavus Adolphus had 19 and Macalaster had 16 in 2015.
The majority of the list, 45 of the 84 schools, reported having no sexual misconduct cases that year. Yet, the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey for 2015 found the instances of sexual assault or rape to be 1.6 per 1000 people. This is why Terhaar and Vice President for Student Development at SJU Fr. Doug Mullin believes that numbers of cases reported at CSB/SJU is a sign that education and awareness of sexual misconduct is high on campus-because the cases are in fact being dealt with.
The Office of Higher Education defines sexual assault as “any sexual act directed against another person, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent.” CSB/SJU defines sexual assault as “actual, attempted or threatened sexual contact with another person without the person’s consent.”
Definitions vary, which can lead students to question if an encounter would qualify as sexual assault. A campus survey in 2017 found that 59 percent of respondents didn’t think what happened to them was serious enough to be reported even though it falls under the school’s definition of sexual misconduct.
Joel Klein, the St. Joseph Police Chief said that over the past three years there have been 15 total cases of sexual assault in the St. Joseph community, including but not limited to students from CSB/SJU. He believes that sexual assaults go unreported for a variety of reasons.
“I speculate that there are a ton of these cases that do not get reported,” Klein said. “Sometimes people feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it and so they go unreported and the problem keeps occurring.”
Mullin said that because most cases involve a friend, they can be hesitant to report them and disrupt their social circles. This is why he thinks it’s important we know about our sexual misconduct process.
“Some report, but don’t name them, or ask us not to investigate,” Mullin said.
The legitimacy of the process was recently questioned in federal court when an ex-SJU student alleged the system was biased against him. The court ruled in favor of the school, but the case raised questions about the reporting process.
Terhaar, along with many other faculty and staff, said they have worked hard to promote educational seminars and training for students so that they may be prepared to intervene and prevent and sexual assault from occurring, as well as making sure students know how to report cases that do occur.
According to a campus-wide survey sent out last year, about 30 percent of the student body attended bystander training. Terhaar said that having discussions such as these will increase awareness of sexual assault issues. She also believes learning how to talk about consent specifically will be a key discussion that may lead to a decline in sexual assault incidents on campus.
“According to the survey sent out last year around 80-90 percent of students say that having consent is very important, but when we asked if people seek consent the numbers dropped to about half of that,” Terhaar said. “It’s not that people don’t know how to ask for consent, roommates ask before they borrow clothes or if someone borrows your car, but it gets odd for people when that consent involves sexual intimacy and consent. We need to know how to have those conversations.”
Mullin believes that other factors may also play a role in this lack of consent among students.
“A lot of people don’t take the necessary precautions,” Mullin said. “Most of the time, it’s not their intention to assault someone, but we’re not at our best when alcohol is involved, which is a feature in most of the reports.”
Klein said that the St. Joseph Police Department has worked with the school in the past, and will continue to work with the school to implement programs to help prevent these cases from occurring in the future.