By Joe Duggan / World-Herald Bureau
LINCOLN — The problem of sexual assault on college campuses appears much different when it’s looking you in the eye.
Corrin Bemis, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said Friday that she has two friends who have experienced sexual violence. That’s part of the reason she said she’s involved with PREVENT, a campus organization that fights sexual assault and relationship violence through education.
Bemis testified in support of a bill before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee that would provide $250,000 annually for grants to combat sexual assault on Nebraska’s college campuses.
Officials from NU’s three campuses testified for Legislative Bill 1027. In part, they described the work they’re already doing to address the problem. But all three agreed that more funding is needed.
That’s because competition for federal grants has become more intense in recent years, said Charlotte Russell, who leads the Office of Equity, Access and Diversity at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. State grant money could be used to provide a full-time victims’ advocate or to offer special training in sexual assault investigations at UNO, she explained.
The grant program would be open to all public and private colleges and universities in the state, said Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, who introduced the bill. He modeled his proposal after a similar grant program in Michigan, where colleges submitted $1.5 million in proposals for $500,000 in available funding.
“Sexual assault is a real problem, and it’s a problem that’s not talked about,” he said.
Studies show that 5 percent to 15 percent of the population perpetrates sexual assaults while up to 20 percent of college women report being subjected to unwanted sexual contact, said Jan Deeds, associate director of the Women’s Center at UNL.
Prevention efforts increasingly focus on getting students to talk about sexual violence so they know how to recognize it, how to intervene and how to speak out, Deeds said.
UNL student Brendan Gallo, also a member of PREVENT, told committee members that one of the most successful ways to change student behavior is not through social media, but through old-fashioned meetings and presentations where people gather and have a conversation. The grant program could help campuses do more of that kind of outreach.
No individuals or groups testified against the bill.
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