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How Severe Are Gender-Based Crimes on College Campuses?

How Chicago’s five largest colleges are keeping their students safe and managing crime on their campuses

By Ewa Lapczynska and Grace Lysell |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Monday, Dec. 14, 2020

Ada Cheng has first-hand knowledge when she says college students are in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to gender-based violence. 

As the Outreach Specialist of the Campus Advocacy Network at UIC, Cheng’s goal is to provide the campus and surrounding community with the resources necessary to prevent gender-based violence, which is defined as stalking, sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence. 

Cheng said that the physical effects of gender-based violence are often not as lasting as the emotional and psychological trauma. 

“Harm can come in many different forms,” Cheng said.That's why we need to pay attention to not just the physical, but more importantly, physical, emotional, psychological harm, and damage.”

A study conducted in 2013 for the Journal of Effective Disorders found that co-occurring depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are pervasive among sexual assault survivors. Depression and PTSD can cause symptoms such as re-experiencing, avoidance, a numb feeling and hyperarousal. 

The five largest college campuses based on enrollment in Chicago -- UIC, Devry, DePaul, Loyola and the University of Chicago -- are spread across the city and all of them, except for DeVry, a graduate school, are housing and enrolling a majority of students fresh out of high school. 

Jesse Gonzalez, a detective with the Chicago Police Department, said he empathizes with young adults as many are alone without guidance or supervision for the first time. 

“Generally I heard of cases at the University of Chicago when I was around there,” Gonzalez said. “And that's just a thing that they may know that these kids come from all different parts of

the city, of the country and they’re well to do or kind of naive to the old ways of crime.”

As colleges receive federal funding, they are also required to abide by Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination, including but not limited to sexual harassment, gender-based harassment and other sexual misconduct. 

In addition to Title IX, colleges are mandated to publish an annual safety report that provides statistics of campus crime, in addition to the institutional efforts being made to reduce criminal activity.  

It is mandated that college campuses provide these statistics to the public, but many acts of violence go unreported in any official capacity. 

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, also known as RAINN, reports that four out of every five sexual violence survivors on college campuses do not report the crime to law enforcement. 

Gonzalez said that acts of sexual violence affect him and his colleagues on a personal level. 

“It affects everyone, and it should,’ Gonzalez said. “It's really terrible that this isn't the only case like that, that I've seen. Other females have gotten sexually abused in exactly the same way.”

Part of the college’s obligation is to inform all students of acceptable behavior and the warning signs, to help prevent gender-based violence. For example, UIC holds yearly online seminars and courses for all students in which they educate students on how to acknowledge, handle, and report these situations.

Each college is encouraged to follow the guidelines put down by Title IX using whatever methods best suit its campus and student body. Even with these measures, violent crimes on campus prevail. 

“It should be the education that should be mandated for incoming students, and it should include histories of crimes which have occurred,” Gonzalez said. “So that these incoming young kids on the campus would realize exactly what might happen.” 

In 2018, the five previously mentioned universities reported 58 cases of sexual violence. 

Gender-based violence is not always an obvious phenomenon that occurs and not everyone experiences it in their lifetime. 

Venessa Choate, a former UIC student and current 911 dispatcher for the Hickory Hills Police Department, commuted to campus, stayed in the dorms and frequented bars in the area.

Choate said, “They [campus police] can't be everywhere but yeah, that [murder of Ruth George] was pretty shocking because you think like you have the campus police and a well-lit area or something like that, you know, not really that problem because it's not that bad of an area.”

Victims of sexual violence can go unnoticed and unheard as most crimes occur in the most unsuspecting moments. The back of the bar, walking home, or in a hallway. A conversation or unwanted touch. The severity of these moments can go unacknowledged for days or months.

“People don't necessarily look at is that going to the police or going through the criminal justice system can be traumatizing, as well,” said Cheng, reinforcing the idea that data regarding sexual violence is likely very inaccurate. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos finalized her own changes to Title IX policy in May 2020, in which those accused of gender-based crimes receive more rights. Under these amendments, victims gain an additional hurdle to manage when filing their case which makes the process of coming forward more difficult. 

President-elect Joe Biden’s appointment for the position of education secretary holds the power over Chicago college campus proceedings of gender-based crimes and the voices of the victims in their design. Students here in the city will experience any federal changes that are made in their name.

“Regardless of what the mandates or practices are, is your way that even if there are things that we need to do, we can still have better practice that takes into consideration the survivor's well-being,” Cheng said.

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