Local colleges brace for possible changes to sexual assault investigation procedures

ROCKFORD (WREX) — A new school year could mean some changes down the road for colleges and universities.

A proposal from the federal government could revamp how those schools look into sexual assaults.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says she’s heard from several colleges and universities that there isn’t enough due process to investigate those cases.

According to a report from the New York Times, she wants to revamp how colleges and universities look into those incidents.

The first change would be that she wants colleges to only investigate sexual assaults that happen on campus. The second change narrows the definition of sexual harassment to only include a severe act, like inappropriate touching. The last, would heighten the standard of evidence making it more difficult to find the person guilty.

Experts say a sexual assault can leave emotional scars years after it happens.

“Trauma can affect a person by making difficulties at work, being able to concentrate or focus or those same difficulties at school,” Erica Engler, the clinical director of Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling says.

If you’re a student at Rockford University, school administrators say they take specific steps for sexual assault allegations.

“In those instances, provide resources, we help them with counseling, with access to local community organizations,” Randy Worden, the Dean of Students at Rockford University says. “We just want to help the student through with what is obviously a difficult and traumatic experience.”

Worden says he is responsible for sorting through those incidents.

Worden says this biggest change his campus would see is how the federal government wants to narrow the definition of sexual harassment, as well as require more proof of an assault.

“You’re going from all the sudden to 51 percent of more than likely or not that someone is telling the truth to the standard of being like 75 percent sure,” he says.

These proposed changes also come at a time when Worden says he is seeing more people come forward with reports of sexual assault and harassment.

He says there’s some fear these changes could discourage those survivors from speaking up.

“I think that’s the fear that people have, that you’re taking two steps back after going three steps forward,” Worden says. “That which all the ways that victims were being supported some of those ways are being taken away from them.”

But no matter what the federal government decides to do, leaders at Rockford University say they always have an open ear to any student who needs help coping with that situation.

Rockford University says it expects to learn more from the federal government next month.

Andi TenBarge

Andi TenBarge

Reporter

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