Beshear: Colleges need to change culture on campuses to better address sexual violence

11/28/2017 06:25 PM

LEXINGTON — Attorney General Andy Beshear said Tuesday that more can be done to protect students from sexual violence on college campuses, where one in five women and one in sixteen men are victimized statistically.

Beshear talked with a group of 25 on the subject at Transylvania University, where he said institutions of higher learning need to change the atmospheres on their campuses. He cited recent revelations against high-profile members of entertainment and political circles as evidence of a culture shift across the country in terms of sexual assault and harassment.

The attorney general criticized recent mandates from the U.S. Department of Education that require higher standards of proof in sexual harassment and assault cases brought under Title IX, saying those “will make students less safe.”

But he said colleges and universities across Kentucky have an opportunity to “do more.”

“What it does is it means this university has a choice,” Beshear said. “It has a choice in how they want to go about their Title IX investigations and process. It has a choice in what type of culture it wants to push, and if there’s a bright spot to being in the situation where you have to make the choice, it allows a community to embrace cultural change.”

Beshear also highlighted his office’s efforts to improve sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.

He noted that the attorney general’s office received $4.5 million to test some 3,000 untested rape kits and directed $1 million to improve investigatory techniques utilized by local law enforcement, all from legal settlements.

That starts with adopting a victim-centered approach when looking into claims of rape and sexual assault, he said.

“Ninety-eight percent of these reports are accurate, yet people still get asked questions like, ‘Why were you out that late at night?’ or ‘What were you wearing?’” Beshear said. “Listen, no choice, no choice any student or anybody else ever makes justifies a violent crime being committed against them. There is no place for those types of questions when that call is made or as the process continues.”

Beshear also mentioned a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for a cold-case unit in his office that will focus on cases involving the previously untested rape kits.

He said those dollars will also ensure that about a thousand so-called “boomerang” rape kits will be tested as well.

Those kits weren’t tested for a number of reasons, such as some pieces of evidence that were initially rejected, he said.

The backlogged rape cases represent those “who have been denied justice for 10 or 15 or 20 or even 30 years,” he said.

“Their kit wasn’t even tested in the first place, and now they’re going to have a dedicated prosecutor, a dedicated investigator, a dedicated victim’s advocate whose sole job, whose sole job is to work to secure their justice,” Beshear said.

The grant will allow his office to provide supplemental support to law enforcement and commonwealth’s attorneys who bring charges against those implicated of crimes through the tested rape kits, he said after his remarks.

If the $3 million isn’t enough, Beshear says he wants to receive additional funding to ensure that every incident that required a rape kit is fully investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted.

Beshear said he hopes “that we get through every single backlogged case and that at some point there’s not a need for a cold-case unit based on those backlogs, that we change culture so well that every single one of these cases is taken so seriously from the beginning that every single kit that’s ever created is tested and that we see more prosecutions on sexual assault than we have in the past.”


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