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Online sexual harassement training now mandatory for all students and faculty

Posted on November 24, 2014 in News
By Brian Gordon

Abigail Johnson-Ruscansky & Ellen Spahn | Design Assistants

Last Monday the board of trustees voted to make a federally mandated sexual harassment training mandatory for all students and faculty to complete.

According to Sarah Holmes, assistant director of student life and diversity, there has been an increase in public attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus over the last 18 months.

The White House has made it a federal mandate that any higher education institution receiving federal funds needs to provide sexual harassment training.

“Between 50-60 colleges across the country are currently being investigated by the department of education because they are not fully complying with Title IX,” Holmes said.

Title IX is the federal law that ensures equal access to education. Holmes said people usually think of it as the federal policy that dictates that both men and women can participate in the same sports activities. However the law also facilitates equal access to education and to ensure sexual violence,] or harassment does not interfere with a persons ability to learn.

In the Gorham residence halls there were 15 reported instances of forcible sexual assault in 2012. Last year there were only four. There was also one case of stalking and two cases of domestic violence.

Joy Pufhal, dean of students, said that the lower numbers last year can be attributed to the fact that students had someone to talk to in the form of a full time coordinator. According to Pufhal, victims of sexual harassment were able to build relationships with her and there was more disclosure.

“We can always do more. But this online training gives us the foundation to start,” said Holmes. “If you take the training, you will pay more attention to domestic violence, or other forms of harassment.”

The other schools in the UMaine system echoed the numbers found at USM, according to the Clery Act, which says that colleges and universities must release an annual report of their crime data.In Orono last year, there were 24 forcible sex assaults on campus and in the near vicinity. Farmington had only one violent dating offense and one instance of stalking. One instance of stalking was also reported on the Bangor campus. There were two reports at Fort Kent of a hate crime by category of protected class, which may or may not have been due to a person’s sexual orientation. Both Presque Isle and Augusta reported no cases of sexual assault.

No crime reports could be found for LAC or Machias campuses.

Holmes is also part of the campus safety project, a grant funded initiative by the Violence Against Women Act to help stem sexual assault, abuse and stalking. VAWA is the law that people are most familiar with, that makes it mandatory for the police to arrest someone if they get a domestic abuse call.

Pufhal is also leading the Campus Safety Project and she said while numbers are low at USM they can be deceiving. People may not want to talk about abuse and simply just don’t report it. According to Pufhal, with thousands of commuter students a lot of abuse may happen off campus that don’t get reported to the school.

“There are no numbers for sexual harassment on campus, only crimes that may stem from harassment,” said Pufhal. “Sexual assault is the most extreme version of sexual harassment.”

Pufhal said that she hopes that this mandatory training helps curb sexual harassment and abuse.

“When institutions pay attention to the issue, people come forward for help,” Pufhal said.

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