Southeast Missouri State University reacts to sexual assault concerns

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - After an October assault reported at one of the dorms, a concerned parent turned to us for answers.

Since the beginning of this term, Southeast has seen five incidents of sexual assault.

School officials say they are doing all they can to keep students safe.

"Every sexual assault is one too many, and so every time we receive the report that's heartbreaking for us as, of course, it is for the student involved and their family," said Dean of Students, Dr. Deborah Below.

She said she understands this mother's concern with assaults on campus.

"We're going to continue to have these reports. Unfortunately, with every report we learn, and we know that the student body is learning, but it's still an individual's right to choose to report or not to report, but we encourage them to report," Below said.

Two years ago, Southeast saw a spike in sexual assaults.

According to Cleary reporting data, in 2013 they had seven assaults, in 2014 that number dropped to four, and in 2015 it jumped up to 12.

This year, there were four sexual assaults and one indecent exposure reported on December 1.

Sonia Rucker, the school's title nine coordinator, said the reports lead to education.

"We know that the more we educate the more likely we are to have cases come to our attention," Rucker said.

One of the reported assaults took place at the Towers North Dormitory, where male and female students, in some cases, live on the same floor.

However, school leaders do not believe the living situation should cause an issue.

"Generationally that is a shift, but the living environments have been very successful," Below said.

Suite dormitories allow boys and girls on the same floor, but have separate living spaces.

In community living, boys and girls are separated by floors.

Both women say the school is committed to protecting, educating and empowering their students, even if that makes their numbers go up.

"By seeing those reports that means that we are now understanding who those victims are and we're helping them. In the past without this they're voice was often silent," Below said.

One program they want students to know about is a 24-hour texting service, so if a student doesn't feel comfortable reporting in person, they can start that process electronically.

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