By Hannah Gill, Contributor
The Red Zone may sound like a section at the Maverick hockey games, but it refers to the period from the first week of school to Thanksgiving break, during which college students are at a heightened risk for sexual assault.
The University of Nebraska Counseling Center has updated their after-hours answering machine to include a third option for students experiencing a “sexual assault situation,” which will connect them “immediately with a confidential advisor.”
This advisor is a trained member of the counseling staff, who fall under Health Information Portability and Accountibility Act (HIPAA) privacy laws for patients.
“This is part of our job, our experience and our expertise,” said Interim Director Nate Bock. “It was just a good fit.”
The line was tagged into the existing system, and the policy of the center means counselors are not “mandatory reporters” for the university; these individuals would be required to report incidents under Title IX, which ensures “students cannot be prohibited from enjoying their education experience,” according to Title IX Coordinator Charlotte Russell.
Russell’s position is part of the expansive law, that regulates campuses which receive federal funding, including UNO. According to Russell, any incident the university “knows about or should know about” must be investigated. However, the extent to this investigation is based on the student’s need and cooperation.
“We would love to get as much information as we can to remedy the issue,” Russell said.
Once the university is aware of an incident, they begin interim protection measures, including issuing a no contact order, academic considerations and housing. Depending on student need, this could allow dropping a class without penalty, transferring class sections or moving.
“We are very interested in making sure the student has support,” Russell said.
The investigation is carried out by Title IX trained officers, who can call a disciplinary hearing with a similarly trained community board.
This allows for “administrative action,” including suspension or expulsion for convicted students. The weight of evidence is more likely than not less than criminal court. UNO also has a memorandum of
understanding with the Omaha Police Department to share pertinent information in investigations.
However, students may want to discuss their options without triggering the investigation process. Knowing anonymity cannot be guaranteed in the process can have a chilling effect.
“Our hope is it won’t affect how students get support,” Russell said.
Jeff Knapp, licensed clinical social worker and licensed mental health practitioner for the Counseling Center, also focuses on student needs.
“It’s all about meeting the student’s concerns and making sure they are supported,” Knapp said.
The calls to confidential advisors deal with immediate concerns and address a crisis.
“Depending on what they are wanting we will help guide them to those resources,” Bock said.
This provides for an anonymous reporting of sexual assault situations, which are defined in UNO’s Sexual Misconduct Policy as dating and domestic violence, rape, sexual and domestic assault, sexual harassment and stalking.
According to Russell, the university has been working to implement a new software, called Maxient, which would allow for an anonymous online system and better coordination between offices. While UNO began updating the system before sexual misconduct became a national issue, Russell has noticed more resources at the local and federal level.
“They’re providing more leadership and clarification, because Title IX is old, and there has been a renewed focus,” Russell said.
Safety training was included in orientation for all UNO students this semester, and an annual symposium on sexual violence has been set in motion.
Besides the new prompt, the Counseling Center continues work on the satellite office opened on South Campus last semester. The Counseling Center is a short term model, offering students between eight and ten sessions, and connecting them with outside resources as needed.