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DPS adapts to UNC sexual assault reforms

When it comes to reforming sexual assault policies, UNC’s department of public safety is linked to every party involved.

From working with national efforts to UNC-system and University level reforms, the department has had to adapt to the changing conversation just as every other department has.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced a national task force to examine the issues surrounding sexual assault on college campuses.

“We’re all constantly changing. The environment, the approaches are evolving,” said Randy Young, spokesman for UNC-CH’s Department of Public Safety. “It’s part of what this task force charged by the President and work groups charged by the system are looking into.”

From Nov. 1, 2009 to Nov. 13, 2013, 31 sex offenses were reported to DPS. University leaders are trying to inform students about their options when reporting sexual assaults.

“I hope that people don’t feel at all nervous or concerned about how DPS operates,” said Ew Quimbaya-Winship, UNC’s deputy Title IX coordinator. “They’re a great partner, one more door for students to walk through.”

Christi Hurt, director of the Carolina Women’s Center and chairwoman of UNC-CH’s Sexual Assault Task Force, said there is a connection between DPS and campus offices, and each needs to communicate available services, such as counseling, to students.

“We’re also making sure no matter where they report, whether DPS or the University, there is a full menu of services available,” she said.

A systemwide campus security initiative was announced last June by UNC-system President Tom Ross that focuses on, among other topics, sexual assault policy and reporting.

This UNC-system initiative includes three work groups: Responding to Offenses Against Persons, which deals with policies surrounding on-campus crimes with a special focus on Title IX offenses; Campus Public Safety, which focuses on the function of campus police departments; and Security Reporting and Awareness, which seeks to ensure quick and accurate reporting of campus crime.

The groups are composed of representatives from all UNC-system schools, including faculty, administrators and students.

Recommendations from the initiative are not mandatory, but they could have implications for UNC campus offices and DPS when they are presented to Ross this spring.

DPS is also working with a changing University environment, including the expanding Title IX office in the Equal Opportunity/Americans with Disabilities Act Office and a sexual assault task force working to rewrite University policy.

“The relationship that we have, the Title IX office to DPS, is very collaborative,” Quimbaya-Winship said.

He said the offices work together because students who suffer sexual assault can pursue options in both University and law enforcement channels.

“Things can happen concurrently,” Quimbaya-Winship said.

“Just because students come to the Title IX office and are going to pursue through the academic side, they always have the criminal court option available to them as well.”

Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said student victims are sometimes fearful of a long and public criminal justice process.

“Right now, a lot of students lean towards the internal options for reporting because they’ve heard horror stories of how the criminal justice system will deal with it,” he said.

Young said the first priority at DPS is ensuring the health and well-being of the victim.

“That’s first and foremost. Making sure they’re receiving medical attention and counseling, making sure they’re aware of all resources,” he said.

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