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May 9, 2014

A&M-Commerce coordinates with community to prevent sexual assault

COMMERCE —  The Obama administration has recently been cracking down on the way some universities handle sexual assault reports.

Recently, the administration released the names of 55 colleges and universities under investigation for the way they have handled sexual assaults. The investigation is designed to pressure the institutions to crack down on sexual assault reports.

Much of the investigation falls under what is called Title IX.

The Title IX education amendment of 1972 states ““No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Michele Vieira, Title IX administrator and certified Title IX investigator at Texas A&M University-Commerce, said sexual assault is taken seriously, which is a reason why it was not one of the 55 schools under investigation.

Vieira said the university has initiated several programs designed to both prevent and offer counseling following sexual assaults.

“Compliance with Title IX involves a number of initiatives and programs on the Texas A&M University-Commerce campus,” she said. “For example, the University Police, Student Health Services, the Counseling Center, Project Respect, Residential Life and Learning, and my office all work toward a safe environment through education for the campus community and investigation of sex discrimination complaints.”

Vieira added they also utilize the Hunt County Advocacy Center to address prevention and education.

According to research from the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five college women will be sexually assaulted during their college career. Also, approximately six percent of college men have been sexually assaulted or subjected to attempted sexual assault.

Considering those statistics, and that many sexual assaults are not reported because in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows, Vieira said a campus initiative will be implemented in the fall of 2014.

“We currently have an active Title IX committee that is addressing new ways of prevention and support programs for our community. A new campus initiative for fall 2014 will show how as a bystander you can help prevent sexual assault,” she said, adding assault cases need to be reported as soon as possible to prevent any further injuries to the victim. “There is an immediate concern of physical injury, which may be extensive enough to require medical treatment or hospitalization.  Becoming pregnant or being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are also concerns. The survivor may experience emotional trauma which can affect the student’s academic achievement.”

Under the Texas A&M University system regulation, all A&M-Commerce employees who are affiliated with sex discrimination in any capacity are required to report it to Vieira.

Although not all of them can guarantee confidentiality, only counselors and medical personnel can, Vieira said any person who comes forward to an employee is treated with respect and the information is limited to a need-to-know basis.

Vieira said A&M-Commerce staff are well-trained in addressing sexual assault.

“All campus employees are required to take nondiscrimination and sexual harassment training,” she said. “Key members of the campus community are taking both investigative and administrative training to enhance their role in preventing and addressing sexual assault.”

Vieira said a high priority in sexual assault cases is providing counseling and support for the survivors.

“We work directly with the campus counseling center to provide support for our survivors,” she said. “We can also make referrals to other support groups in the community.”

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