McCaskill visits MU to discuss sexual violence on campus

The crowd expressed concerns that students are not aware of resources and procedures for dealing with sexual violence.

Sen. Claire McCaskill speaks as a part of her "Claire on Campus" tour Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the Reynolds Alumni Center. McCaskill asked students and faculty from nearby colleges for feedback about sexual violence.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) visited the MU campus Tuesday morning to speak to a crowd concerned with sexual violence on campus.

Students and officials from nearby schools — Central Methodist University, Columbia College, Lincoln University, Moberly Area Community College, Stephens College, Westminster College and William Woods University — joined members of the MU community in the Reynolds Alumni Center to voice their concerns to the senator.

McCaskill’s visit to MU is a part of her “Claire on Campus” tour across Missouri colleges and universities. She said the main goal of the tour is to open up dialogue about better supporting victims of sexual violence and gather feedback on the Campus Safety Accountability Act.

The legislation was introduced by McCaskill and a group of U.S. senators from both sides of the aisle in July with the hopes of better protecting students, increasing standards for reporting incidents and transparency in higher education institutions.

The bill includes hefty penalties for schools that do not meet standards and could cost an institution up to 1 percent of its operating budget, which is $14 million for MU.

McCaskill led a discussion, questioning the crowd’s confidence in their institutions’ abilities to respond to instances of sexual assault through Title IX procedures, and the involvement of local police departments in criminal proceedings.

The crowd expressed concern that students weren’t aware of available resources, or how they can identify, report and handle cases of sexual assault.

Mitchell Baxley, a sex crimes detective for the Columbia Police Department, discussed how proper questioning in sexual assault cases was essential.

“One of the things we try to teach our officers is we don’t want to get too detailed with that first patrol officer who would initially respond,” he said. “I’ve had more training and more experience handling survivors from these cases, and when I’m going to ask a question they may feel as judgemental, I’m going to clarify why I’m going to ask the question. What we’re trying to do is build trust with that survivor.”

MUPD Chief Jack Watring agreed that training was very important when handling sexual assault cases.

“We have training at least a couple times a year with all of our officers with … the RSVP Center, Women’s Center (and) Mizzou North,” he said. “We have all those folks come in and talk with our officers.”

McCaskill also emphasized the importance of ensuring that programs are in place to assist and inform victims.

“This is about making sure systems are in place that nurture and support young women and allow them the choices that will help them make their decisions in an informed way,” she said. “Because right now, on this campus and thousands of others, there is a young woman who is not coming forward because she doesn’t have the right information. She doesn’t know the right information.”

McCaskill said MU is currently undergoing this process, with Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and the Missouri Students Association are both trying to publicize the university’s support systems and strengthen them.

“The president of this university is determined that under his watch the University of Missouri will become a model,” she said. “They are really working at this university to change a whole lot about the process and procedures that surround this issue.”

McCaskill said the issue of sexual violence is important to her because of her time as a sex crime prosecutor.

“This is a passion of mine,” she said. “It is colored by my years of experience, and many, many tears with many victims, surrounding horrific facts and elusive justice. But it’s also borne out by the fact that I see my daughters in a number of places in this room.”

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