The statistics on sexual violence rates in Alaska are alarming; our state's rape rate alone is nearly three times the national average. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are serious issues for all Alaskans. Though it's difficult to talk about, it's absolutely critical we continue to bring the issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment to the forefront of our daily lives, particularly on a university campus.
In May, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) placed the entire University of Alaska (UA) system on the list of colleges and universities that would undergo a Title IX compliance review. This review includes on-site visits by representatives from the OCR on Oct. 8 and 9 at UAA. During this site visit, the OCR will conduct interviews and hold focus groups to learn more about how UAA handles allegations and complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence involving students.
UAA welcomes this review by the OCR. By the end of July, UA provided some 11,500 pages of information to the OCR as part of an information request. During the years 2011-14, UAA had 139 sexual harassment and/or sexual assault complaints, including those made at our community campuses. Complaints under Title IX do not have to meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard as in the criminal justice system. The standard used is known as "preponderance of evidence," which means we treat incidents as having more likely occurred than not. Remedies are made available to the victim prior to an investigation's conclusion.
We take these issues very seriously. In addition to the proactive efforts we've taken on our campuses to train and educate our faculty, staff and students, UAA's Justice Center conducts the Alaska Victimization Survey in partnership with the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault through the governor's Choose Respect initiative and the Alaska State Legislature. The UA system is working with the Alaska State Troopers and the State of Alaska magistrates on additional partnerships and trainings in the areas of victim response and services.
When the OCR visits UAA's Anchorage campus, we want them to understand what our students and the greater community have experienced in regard to sexual assault and sexual harassment. I'd personally like to encourage students, parents, family members, witnesses, activists and others to attend one of the focus groups or one of the open office hours to discuss issues of sexual assault and/or sexual harassment. A complete schedule can be found at http://bit.ly/1Cu3kWp.
All of the UA universities will also conduct a voluntary and confidential climate survey on sexual harassment and sexual assault. The goal of the survey is to improve prevention, safety and education on our campuses regarding sexual assault/harassment and gender discrimination.
It's always our goal to promote a culture of respect, safety and care on our campus. The in-depth review conducted by the OCR will help us better understand our campus environment, provide areas for growth and improvement and make us an even better institution in how we respond to and provide support for victims of sexual violence and harassment. Awareness and prevention programs, as well as proper reporting, protocol and procedures in providing care to victims of sexual violence, will always be a top priority at UAA.
Tom Case is chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.
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