AWARE program expands to combat sexual assault at UAS

University of Alaska Southeast (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO - Juneau)
University of Alaska Southeast (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau)

One out of every eight UAS students said they experienced some form of sexual misconduct or sexual assault between 2015 and 2016. That’s according to the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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Lori Klein tracks reports of sexual discrimination for the University of Alaska Southeast as its Title IX coordinator.

“Dating violence, domestic violence, gender-based discrimination, sexual assault, sexual harassment, the whole gamut. This year so far, and with five months into the academic year, we’re at 17 reports,” Klein said.

Klein said there were 10 reports from students and employees last academic year. The reports are for all three campuses in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka.

It’s Klein’s job to respond to those reports and to otherwise make sure the university complies with the federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination in any federally funded program or activity.

The University of Alaska Southeast wants to give its students and employees more options and information when they experience sexual discrimination. UAS is expanding two community partnerships in Juneau to better protect students and employees. To improve the university’s options for students and employees, Klein said they’re leaning on pre-existing partnerships with the Juneau Police Department and the advocacy group AWARE: Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies.

“They serve us just like they serve anyone in the community and we engage with them on any number of issues,” Klein said. “But what we’ve done is we’ve formalized some of these partnerships.”

Mandy Cole is the deputy director of AWARE. Starting near the end of January, her group plans to give students access to an advocate for at least two hours a week inside the JPD substation on the UAS campus in Juneau.

“Maybe they were sexually assaulted,” Cole said. “Maybe they had an uncomfortable experience they’re not sure how to process and they want to talk to someone about it without triggering the response from the university.”

She said when someone talks to an AWARE advocate, everything is confidential.

“A student can make a choice about what path she wants to start with. She may change her mind either way in either of the paths, but it gives her an opportunity to talk to someone who is just here to listen to what she’s thinking and what she’s feeling and figure out what’s the next best step for her,” Cole said.

Klein said, by law, students and staff can get that same confidentiality from university counselors and health care providers. Klein and Cole said AWARE will just give people one more option other than filing a report with the Title IX office, which may start a formal investigation.

UAS and JPD also have a new agreement to improve their coordination on cases of discrimination. Klein said that’s important because university employees and students who are victims of crime have rights under the law, and they have administrative rights granted through the university.

“Our opportunity with JPD is for me to provide some training to them about what those administrative rights are, for them to help me understand what (the) legal rights are, so that if a student comes and speaks with me, I can better explain what it would mean if they made a call to JPD,” Klein explained.

Klein said she is only required to tell police about crimes students and faculty report to her if it involves sexual assault and a minor. Otherwise, she said she gives the victim the option to call the police.

“In addition, should there be a report that comes to me and to them; we’ve put into this agreement just a higher level of collaboration with the two investigations running in a parallel manner,” Klein said.

A JPD spokesman said the police and the university have had a “robust” relationship for a long time and this new agreement is a logical next step.

Cole said she thinks UAS is thinking outside the box when it comes to sexual assault and forms of sexual discrimination. She hopes by giving the university community a wealth of options, they are giving power back to the people they’re trying to help.