As the University of Montana announces new policies on the reporting of sexual assault, the primary advocate for victims at Carroll College says her peers across the state should make the most of the widely available tools for an effective prevention and response program.

UM this week announced that five students had left the school following investigations into as many as nine sexual assaults. The school unveiled a series of new steps to prevent and respond to the crime.

Kelly Parsley, health science instructor at Carroll and creator of its victim advocacy program, said she is prohibited from saying how many sexual assault reports she receives, and she contacts police only with the consent of the victim (although many other campus staffers are, in contrast, required to report suspected sexual assaults to police.)

Whatever the number, there were no sex offenses reported to police from Carroll since 2006 and seven since 1998 (including off-campus incidents), according to data in the current Carroll student handbook and the college website.

“I would say, you have all the resources at your fingertips to do it right,” she said of other college’s looking to tackle the issue. “There are so many excellent prevention programs and there are so many excellent campus policies out there and so many alcohol-abuse prevention programs out there. … It’s as simple as doing a little research and putting some campus resources behind it, rather than letting the student activity fee try to cover some of the costs. Actually build into your budget a formal way to support this.”

Very often, Parsley doesn’t find out about the assault until well after it occurred. Some students have waited until the school year to report assaults that happened in the summer.

Montana, she said, has a couple of laws to encourage reporting. First, victims and witnesses are immune from prosecution for most alcohol-related violations that might arise. Second, the state has a fund to pay for the rape investigation kits used by hospitals that can cost $600 to $1,200. And, that evidence must be preserved for a time if the victim does not choose to pursue criminal charges right away.

Parsley, who serves on state and national panels on sexual assault prevention and has spoken on the subject around the country, said she can count on one hand the number of sexual assaults she’s addressed in the past 16 years that did not involve alcohol.

She said most “partying” among students happens off-campus, but the college has undertaken several steps in the past five years to reduce binge drinking.

All incoming freshmen must complete online training on behavioral issues and the junior-senior banquet is now alcohol-free, as are all college-sponsored events on campus.

Parsley said she tries to get her name out to the students when they first arrive. She talks with athletic teams, both men and women, about avoiding becoming a victim, protecting friends and stopping assaultive behavior by others.

Tailgating at football games has been scaled down, for example, and a couple of busts of parties early in school years may have impacted student drinking.

The statistics in the student handbook show a significant reduction in alcohol violations, from 162 in 2008 to just 31 in 2010, although some of the alcohol discipline is handled internally, with students required to pay the same fines and perform community service just as they would if the issue were handled in city court.

Reporter Sanjay Talwani: 447-4086 or sanjay.talwani@helenair.com

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