How safe is the state’s largest university when it comes to the risk of sex crimes, and is enough being done to prevent it?
College is supposed to be a place to learn and thrive, but for victims of sexual violence it can derail the dreams of many young women and men.
“You want to drop out, you want to escape, you don’t show up for class, you don’t want to talk to anyone,” explains Adriana Ramelli, executive director of the Sex Abuse Treatment Center in Honolulu. “You’re going to experience sleepless nights, you’re going to be having nightmares. There is a real inability to concentrate at the level that you need to concentrate to do your studies.”
It’s become what some call a nationwide epidemic, affecting as many as 1 in 5 college women. Sweeping changes to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) — covering overhaul in prevention methods and lots more counting and reporting — are just weeks away from going into effect. Universities nationwide are scrambling.
“They’re working around the clock from top to bottom to ensure compliance,” said Cathy Betts of the Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women, “and our sense is that response is not actually happening on the Manoa campus.”
It’s not just the federal Department of Justice that UH has to comply with. UH Manoa has been audited by the federal Department of Education for Title 9 — gender equity — over how UH responds to allegations of sexual harassment and sexual violence
UH says they were picked at random for that audit. We asked UH — what were the feds looking for?
“They wanted to know how employees were trained on allegations,” explained Jennifer Rose, the gender equity specialist for the university. “They wanted to know how many incident reports were made in every single department. I thought that some of the reporting numbers would be higher, and for me in terms of my job I want to make sure people know, what is an allegation?”
What, and how many?
KHON2 asked the Manoa chancellor: Parents, sons and daughters want to know how safe is the University of Hawaii campus?
“We’re trying to make a very safe campus here,” Chancellor Tom Apple said. “But I have not compared our numbers to other campuses.”
We did, and here’s what we found. KHON2 gathered rape statistics from several college campuses, about equal in student enrollment to Manoa, over the period of 1 comparative year . Only Stanford had a higher reported number. Many other campuses had far fewer to no reported incidents compared to Manoa.
“The more education you do the more cases come forward,” Apple said. “So if you compare yourself to another university and you have a higher number of incidents reported it may just be that you’re doing a better job of educating.”
The numbers are bound to go up. That’s because both the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice want a far broader range of crimes and civil offenses reported by universities, things like domestic violence, stalking, even harassment and intimidation by both students and faculty. The clock for that starts in just weeks.
Lawmakers put in a resolution in this legislative session essentially asking if UH is ready for not only the reporting requirements, but all the additional documentation of prevention measures.
“VAWA is a sea change, it’s historic, because it’s asking every single university and college to put this in writing,” Rosa said, “so you can’t just say, oh, we have a protocol somewhere.”
Lawmakers put in a resolution asking if they’re ready.
“We don’t want to be heavy handed,” said Rep. Della Au Belatti, “but we want to turn the focus and the spotlight on this issue and make sure that someone in those upper echelons of UH administration is looking at this.”
The Hawaii Commission on the Status of Women has written to the board of regents and the interim president wanting more done on both the VAWA upcoming changes, and what should already be being done for Title IX.
“They’re supposed to have a single person in charge, at least one,” said commissioner Amy Monk, “but the University of Hawaii has tacked on those responsibilities to different people it’s sort of an add on duty to their principal responsibilities. It is out of compliance.”
UH describes it as more of a best-practice, but still one that they agree is a priority. KHON2 asked the chancellor, when will these changes be put into place in a noticeable way at Manoa?
“We’re going to move on that with all due speed as quickly as we can make that happen,” Apple said. “We need to fortify and create an Office of Gender Equity with a full time Title IX coordinator, a full-time VAWA specialist, a full time investigative team.”
The chancellor says they’ll move money around where they have to go get it done so UH won’t have to put in and wait for legislative or budget approval. A landscape plan already underway also will make visible changes, more L.E.D. lighting, more video cameras, a reconfigured campus center, nighttime student patrols.
“The safest campus is the one that has the most students on it at night, so we’re trying to make the campus more attractive,” Apple said. “I think the Campus Center being here will bring more activity.”
But it goes beyond prevention of physical attacks.
“It’s not just somebody in the bushes,” Rose said. “There are cyberissues and trying to keep up with technology.”
KHON2 asked Rose, do you have the people, the money, the resources you need to make this happen on time?
“Everything should be in place with a prevention program for the incoming students in August,” Rose said. “Some time in the summer we could start having some handouts on what the written protocols are going to look like. I call it my ‘good enough for now’ plan because we are still waiting for the regulations.”
Federal regulations have still not been issued to explain exactly what the deeper reporting and detailed protocols mean.
“That’s why there are other universities who are like, should we wait? We don’t know exactly if we’re going to change gears,” Rose said. “We’re already doing a lot of work in this area now, no matter what the regulations say.”
Meanwhile the feds and now state officials and advocates will maintain a close watch.
KHON2 asked lawmakers, if they find UH is behind pace on compliance, what will they do about it?
“We’ll turn on the heat I guess,” Belatti said.
KHON2 will also keep tabs on what changes, and how soon.