| 03.21.2018

Rape cases investigated county-wide, campus-wide


Former University of Idaho student Jesse Vierstra awaits his March 18 trial after being charged with one count of felony rape at a Sigma Chi party Oct. 6.
Vierstra’s case is one of eight rape cases filed with Latah County court in 2012, totalling 36 rape and 3 attempted rape cases filed in the past 10 years.
Since the victim in Vierstra’s case is a UI student, the incident is investigated by the university as well as law enforcement. Dean of Students Bruce Pitman said there are three responses the university makes in allegations of sexual assault.
“One is to provide prevention programming and resources, education programming and another response that we have is providing support to the victim and making sure that their emotional and medical needs are taken care of,” Pitman said. “We have a third area of response and that is investigating situations that are brought to us, at least for the purpose of seeing if there is a student disciplinary matter that can or should be resolved.”
He said as an institution, UI is required under Title IX to investigate all sexual assault allegations.
“Even if there isn’t a possibility of disciplinary action because we need to understand if there are broader risk issues that need to be dealt with,” he said. “If there is a situation that comes to our attention and we feel there are some systemic issues that we need to address, we may go for trying to address those issues even if a victim is not comfortable with a prosecution or disciplinary matter. There may still be things related to student safety that we need to deal with. We need to pay attention to the needs of the victim, but also need to deal with larger campus safety issues if we are able.”
Craig Chatriand, associate dean of students, said another factor in university investigations is the environment.
“We identify if it happened in an environment where sexual assault is likely to occur. Did this happen at a party where students are trying to get students drunk to the point they pass out and can have sex with them?” Chatriand said.
Chatriand said UI tries to provide education for these environments.
But he said students sometimes don’t want to pursue the investigation because they don’t want their parents or peers to find out and they feel it is their fault
“It can be extremely intimidating and scary for victim or survivor to repeat (the incident),” Chatriand said. “Number one, we need to have students feel they can talk to us. Our culture nationally is not always set up to where people feel conformable to where they can do that.”
Erin Agidius, coordinator of student conduct and community standards, said the process for these investigations is outlined in the Student Code of Conduct.
Following an investigation, the University Judicial Council hears the case. The party filing charges and the accused student have an opportunity for opening statements summarizing their evidence. After all evidence is heard, the UJC makes their decision in a closed session. If the accuser if found to have violated the code of conduct, a sanction is determined based on the severity of the violation — ranging from a warning, to suspension to expulsion.
Agidius said normally the Student Code of Conduct only allows the UJC to adjudicate conduct on campus, but with issues of sexual assault university jurisdiction is extended to include off campus.
Pitman said although he cannot comment on the upcoming trial, he said he admires the student who filed charges against Vierstra for taking the matter forward into the criminal justice process.
“I hope the matter will be dealt with quickly, and this has taken quite a while for her and for her family for it to get to this point,” he said. “For their sakes I hope it is resolved quickly.”
Chatriand said the university’s focus as a whole in handling sexual assault is on prevention.
“With the just-hired coordinator of violence prevention (Virginia Solan) she is ramping up to put some additional programming in place,” Chatriand said.
He said Solan is working to bring the Green Dot bystander intervention program to campus.
Ten to 15 faculty and staff will be trained in April in the program, bringing the information back to UI to train student leaders and anyone else interested.
ASUI President Hannah Davis said she hopes student leaders are trained in the program because it will help not only with sexual assault but with intervention in all matters — including substance abuse and eating disorders.
Chatriand said he is also looking to implement an online education program for new students.
“The module is two and a half hours and deals with a wide range of topics from healthy relationships, sexual assault, substance abuse and bystander intervention,” he said. “I feel it’s pretty modern and much more engaging. It’s not PowerPoint slides to flip through, it’s interactive.”
He said he hopes to launch the program this summer and next fall for incoming freshman.
Solan said with her focus on prevention, she is working to develop outreach and education opportunities for UI students.
“The goal of myself and the students I am working with in The Power Project is to replace that culture with one of active bystanders and other messages that make it clear to would-be perpetrators that we do not tolerate or condone interpersonal violence through language or action,” she said. “We want victims and survivors to know that the University of Idaho is a community that embraces safety, freedom and justice for all individuals, no matter what gender they identify as.”
She said she is also creating a Speaker’s Bureau — where those interested will be trained to speak in classes, on panels and at events about the nature of violence through their personal experiences.
Solan’s office is also starting to utilize multi-media platforms including a blog and a bi-monthly radio show featuring personal stories and voices of survivors.
“We know that cultural change is possible,” Solan said.
Pitman said to be effective, all of UI’s programming needs to be connected.
“The prevention program needs to be connected. The risk factors in the investigatory work that we need to do needs to be connected to what we’re able to do in our campus disciplinary process,” he said. “Our education program needs to be connected to the care process because we need to be able to give students accurate information in our education programming in what they can and need to expect if they are a victim. The parts of this work need to be well coordinated, and it’s our responsibility.”
Chatriand said sexual assault is one of the more challenging things he deals with.
“Personally it’s very impactful to hear students sit in my office recount traumatic experiences,” he said. “But I believe firmly to my core that we need to stop inner violence and work on these issues on campus.”
Davis said she thinks UI is at a point where rape culture is about to change on campus.
She said women are not afraid of someone jumping out of the bushes anymore or afraid to wear tight clothes because they understand if they are attacked, it will probably be by someone they know.
“It’s an issue on every campus, especially as campuses get larger,” she said. “This might sound bad, but because we are finally standing up for ourselves and reporting (rape, the) numbers increase. If a friend says they were sexually assaulted, we know how to approach it better.”
She said education is important, and hopes the Green Dot program will continue once implemented at UI as well as the new ASUI position, Director of Safety and Violence Prevention recently filled by Nick Dimico.
“This is something that isn’t going away,” Davis said. “We need to keep talking about it and know campus is a safe place and if a person has malicious thoughts or intentions toward students, they are not accepted by the student body.”
Katy Sword can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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