Nine sexual assaults were reported on campus and one in on-campus student housing to the UW Police Department in 2014. However, a significant number of sexual assaults are not reported to UW administration and even fewer to law enforcement, but other groups can help.
“About five out of 20 students that come to us file some sort of report,” said Megan Selheim, coordinator of the STOP Violence Program. “Most of those are to administration — law enforcement reports are even lower.”
About 40-60 people visit the Stop Violence office in Knight Hall per school year, Selheim said, for reports of sexual assault, domestic abuse or stalking, to name a few. About one-third of those are sexual assaults, although it differs year to year.
The SAFE Project is a similar program for the entire Laramie community, offering help and direction for victims of sexual violence, partner violence and stalking, Executive Director Becca Fisher said.
“A majority are students at UW or another institution from town, like WyoTech or (Laramie County Community College),” she said. “In some cases, they’re seeking services from us.”
In 2015, 20 people went to SAFE Project with a primary complaint of sexual assault, Fisher said. Eight filed a report with law enforcement.
UW Police are required to disclose crime statistics on campus as part of the Clery Act.
Information includes thefts, assaults and sexual violence.
Sexual assaults are one of the most under-reported crimes, Selheim said, she is not surprised most victims do not make a report.
“Some just aren’t ready — they’re worried about social repercussions or just intimidated by the process,” she said. “Some are even concerned their family might find out.”
If a victim does decide to report a crime, they normally speak with UW administration about the sexual misconduct policies and procedures, Selheim said.
“Administration doesn’t have any record public, while the police do,” she said. “It can be a private vs. public decision.”
However, UW doesn’t have the authority to subpoena someone or issue warrants. The entire UW process is much more reliant on student cooperation from both the student who put in the report and the respondent.
In some cases, the student doesn’t have to make a direct report to UW administrators, explained Brian Schueler, president of the Associated Students for the University of Wyoming.
“A lot of students don’t know that almost any employee of the university is required to report a sexual crime,” he said. “They believe they could confide in their teacher. It’s important students understand that, although having those close relationships with teachers is great, there are circumstances when faculty need to be an employee of the university first.”
ASUW recently passed a resolution to require all syllabi on campus to explain faculty members are required to report such crimes.
“Ultimately, we’re not necessarily interested in attaching anything to a syllabus, but the desire we have is this information gets to the students in one way or another,” Schueler said.
In such a case, someone normally from the Dean of Students Office makes contact with the student who spoke with the staff member to begin a process, Selheim said, which starts with a meeting. However, the student is in control of the process.
“It’s up to the student if they want to go to an initial meeting,” Selheim said. “But I think it’s important they at least go to that initial meeting. One thing they do is go down a list of options they have. It’s an important conversation to have.”
The university does have several powers it can use, such as moving an alleged victim if the respondent lives in the same residence hall, Selheim said.
A report could lead to a hearing where UW officials would hear both sides and examine any evidence provided by a student or found by a UW investigation. The hearing would ultimately determine responsibility and an appropriate action, although both people have an appeal, Selheim said.
Many possible victims are referred to the STOP Violence program, as they can lay out any options available and help people through the reporting process, Selheim said.
“If they find their way to our office, we just let them know their choices,” she said. “Some might need more time and attention than we can provide, so we refer them for counseling.”
Professor of psychology Matt Gray supervises a free counseling program for victims of sexual or domestic violence in a private setting.
“We have mental health confidentiality provisions that allow us to keep an individual’s experiences private,” he said.
Staff at the Stop Violence program also provide confidentiality, allowing students to speak freely and explore options without getting involved in UW administrative reports before they are ready.
SAFE Project is not affiliated with the university or the community colleges.
“When something like this happens to anyone, it can make a person feel like they’re not in control of their body,” Fisher said. “Most survivors feel comfortable given back some of that control here, so confidentiality is central to the services we provide. It can be really nerve-racking to figure out who to talk to (at UW) without initiating a process they might not be 100 percent ready to do. They can remain anonymous — they’re in complete control of what happens with their advocacy experience.”
The SAFE Project is focused on providing information and options to people who visit the program, although they take on other responsibilities.
“If someone presents to the emergency department saying they’ve been sexually assaulted and request biological evidence be collected by a sexual assault nurse examiner, we are automatically called because we have a 24-hour hotline and the Stop Violence program doesn’t,” Fisher said.
Call 745-3556 to reach the SAFE Project 24-hour hotline.
Fisher said any victim of sexual or domestic violence should reach out and at least start a conversation.
“I’d encourage them to get help from someone, whether or not they decide to make a formal report to law enforcement or the university,” she said. “That’s a very personal decision, but staying silent can be difficult too, and there are people that can help.”