Thursday, September 30, 2004

UK plan's focus: Safety for women

By Murray Evans
The Associated Press

LEXINGTON - University of Kentucky student Rachel Watts said she felt safer on campus as a freshman than she does now as a senior.

"There have been more frequent attacks, especially on women," said Watts, who is president of the student body. "I look back, and I think as a freshman, I had a lot of false security. I thought, 'I'm on UK's campus. It's a safe place.' I really wasn't educated."

University officials announced new safety measures Wednesday that they hope will increase the safety of women on UK's campus.

The initiatives included the creation of a "UK Women's Place" as a central point for coordinating victim services, a cell-phone lending program, a more focused training program for campus police, an alcohol-education class, a self-defense program and a presentation addressing sexual-assault crimes to a freshman orientation class.

Verizon Wireless donated 100 cell phones, and service for those phones, to distribute to women to use when needed.

"We will never make gains toward becoming a top-20 public research institution if our students are unsafe or if they lack a sense of physical security," UK president Lee Todd said. "It is part of our fundamental mission, then, to create a campus that provides a safe place to live, to work and to learn."

The new programs were developed in response to findings from a survey taken earlier this year of 1,010 female UK students. The survey asked, among other things, whether students felt safe on campus.

Carol Jordan, director of the Center for Research on Violence Against Women, said that while 84.4 percent of women felt "very safe" or "somewhat safe" on campus, 36.5 percent of the women surveyed said they had experienced at least one "incident of victimization" - including rape, sexual abuse, physical assault or stalking. Jordan said the rate mirrored that found at other universities.

"We think it's extremely important to know that we're not different from other universities in this regard," Jordan said. "This is not a crime-free campus, and not talking about that won't change that fact."

She said the study showed that more than 82 percent of women who had been attacked had known their attacker and that alcohol played a role in almost half of sexual assaults. The study showed that only 1.5 percent of sexual offenses involving UK women are reported to police, Jordan said.

From 2001 to 2003, UK police statistics show that 22 rapes, 10 instances of sexual abuse and seven cases of stalking were reported. There were 107 assaults reported to UK police during those three years.

"These figures tell us that we clearly are not reaching all the women who need our help," Jordan said.

Patsy Todd, the wife of Lee Todd, said it was important for students and parents to know that "we already are a safe university, but that we will work harder than any other educational institution to make certain women don't feel afraid and certainly to reduce the chance that any woman will experience harm."

Students seemed to appreciate the efforts.

"A lot of female students feel like that before, they weren't really addressing it. They just kind of pushed it aside and they didn't really care," Lexington sophomore Jennifer Flinchum said. "I think (this) will be a big help."

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