Panhellenic Association to create sexual assault task force amid ‘spike’ in reports

Media Credit: Mikayla Brody | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Dani Harton, the president of the Panhellenic Association, said the council will create a sexual assault task force within the next two weeks to study sexual assault on campus.

Updated: May 4, 2017 at 11:28 a.m.

The Panhellenic Association is launching its own task force to study sexual assault, after Panhellenic leaders said there has been a spike in sexual assault and drugging reports on campus.

Greek council leaders said the task force, made up of students from the Panhellenic Association, the Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, Students Against Sexual Assault and other students, will meet this summer to develop a list of recommendations to prevent sexual assault. Greek leaders said the task force will create a culture of accountability in social Greek chapters and increase support for sexual assault survivors.

The Panhellenic Association executive board announced the task force in a statement posted to Facebook last week outlining a “call to action” to protect students against sexual assault. The statement cites a spike in reported sexual assaults and “numerous” druggings at social events hosted by members of the Interfraternity Council in the past academic year.

Christina Witkowicki, the director of student involvement and Greek life in the Center for Student Engagement, declined to comment on the reported increase in sexual assault reports, saying sexual assault and drugging reports are tracked through the University crime log and annual security report. She directed questions about the task force to the Panhellenic Association.

“The Center for Student Engagement will continue to support and advise the Greek Life community,” she said.

There were 50 reported sexual assault and abuses reported to the University Police Department last year, a 32 percent increase from 2015. Within the first four months of 2017, 16 sexual assaults and abuses have been recorded – the most reports through April in the last six years.

It is not known how many of these reports involved members of the Greek life community.

Dani Harton, the president of the Panhellenic Association, said the council will create the sexual assault task force within the next two weeks.

She did not return a request to comment on the details of the sexual assaults and druggings that have allegedly occurred at IFC events.

She said the plan was developed after months of discussion among Greek leaders to determine the best steps to take when combating sexual assault.

“The reality is that sexual assault is not new to our campus and it is clear that we need to do a lot more before our campus is truly safe for all students,” she said in an email. “We decided the call to action would be a way to engage other passionate students while showing that we, Panhellenic Association, won’t let sexual assault on campus be overlooked any longer.”

The task force will meet two times in June to establish initial goals and begin forming tangible recommendations for the Greek community to increase awareness, prevention and support for sexual assault survivors, according to the statement. After two more meetings in July, the task force plans to submit finalized recommendations to officials by July 28 and implement new policies beginning on the first day of the next academic year.

Harton said this date was designed to ensure students became more aware of the problem before what is known as the “red zone” for sexual assault at the beginning the year. More than half of all sexual assaults on college campuses occur either in August, September, October or November, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

The spike at the beginning of the academic year is caused by an influx of new students and the vulnerability of freshmen as they transition to college, according to a report in The Guardian.

The council’s statement said that the Panhellenic Association challenged the IFC in January to work to protect individuals attending IFC social events.

Both Harton and IFC President Harley Pease declined to specify what this challenge entailed.

Pease said, in response to this challenge, the IFC mandated that beginning in spring 2018, 80 percent of a chapter’s membership must be educated on healthy relationships and bystander intervention.

He said that during his time as president, the IFC has not seen an increase in reported sexual assaults and that there is no chapter currently under investigation for reported sexual assault.

The IFC plans to have members from several chapters represented on the task force, Pease said.

“It is paramount for the IFC to have a voice on the task force, as the only way to combat sexual assault is together, as a community,” Pease said in an email. “This topic is not just an IFC issue, but unfortunately a reality experienced by members of our sororities and fraternities within all three councils.”

University officials organized a similar task force in February 2015 that planned to discuss all aspects of Greek life, specifically prioritizing sexual assault.

Bailey Bystry, the self-care chair and incoming vice president of SASA, said the executive board of the Panhellenic Association approached SASA to create a plan to address the increase of sexual assaults on campus.

Bystry said SASA noticed an increase in the amount of survivors attending office hours and approaching SASA executive board members this year. She credits the increase in reports to SASA’s greater visibility on campus this academic year.

She said senior and sexual assault survivor Aniqa Raihan’s petition to remove her attacker from campus also sparked an increase in reports to SASA.

Panhel’s statement also mentioned an increase in reported druggings, and Bystry said SASA has noticed a proportional increase in druggings in reported sexual assaults.

“We’ve seen a proportional increase in the assaults reported to us in which the instances included drugging,” Bystry said.

At the beginning of the academic year, SASA reached out to every fraternity in the IFC, offering to host peer education training sessions for each chapter. Of the 15 fraternities, three hosted the training with SASA, Bystry said.

She said most of the recommendations developed by the task force will focus on working with Panhellenic chapters and increasing support for survivors in the Greek community.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that IFC President Harley Pease said the IFC had seen an increase in sexual assault reports during his tenure as president. Pease said the council had not seen an increase in these reports. We regret this error.

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