The new face of sexual assault on campus

Posted on Oct 27 2016 - 8:01am by Slade Rand

img_5417Ole Miss students have reported more stalking crimes this semester than ever before. New technologies and social media have increased awareness of these crimes but have also made it easier for stalkers to do what they do.

Lindsey Bartlett Mosvick is the assistant director for violence prevention at the counseling center on campus and is an advocate for victims of stalking. In May, she was the only staff member to be given the Frist Student Service Award.

“I’m a lawyer by background, so I help people who come to me understand what their options are,” she said.

The guidance Bartlett Mosvick gives to stalking victims is under a privacy agreement, which she said her office adopted two years ago. She said she is able to keep most conversations with victims quiet at their request. Many students never end up reporting their cases to University Police but get support from Bartlett Mosvick herself.

The department has handled nine cases of stalking and 56 cases of other harassment since August 2015. A third of those stalking reports came in October 2016.

“I expect us to have the highest number of reports we’ve had in my time here this year, but I’d attribute that to more awareness and national attention to these issues,” Bartlett Mosvick said.

She said stalking is a difficult issue because people who experience it often minimize what’s happening to them.

Tracy Murry, director of the university’s Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, said that some victims would rather have their harassers learn from the process than be punished. He said students from different backgrounds might define stalking differently, and some offenders may not even realize they’re engaging in illegal behavior.

“If there’s a chance for education and having a conversation, and that’s appropriate for the incident, I think most times most people on board are open to that,” Murry said.

Social media has also complicated the issue. Murry said that social media is involved in almost 95 percent of stalking incidents on campus.

Because sites don’t prompt people to inspect their own security settings, Bartlett Mosvick said she thinks a lot of people don’t realize how they can control their information.

“Social media is a wonderful thing, but it makes it easier sometimes for people to find out where you are or what you’re doing,” she said. “That can be very terrifying.”

The majority of reported stalking incidents on campus involve some form of cyber-stalking, according to Bartlett Mosvick. Cyber-stalkers use text messages, phone calls and social media to harass their targets. With the anonymity offered by apps like Snapchat, Bartlett Mosvick said advocates for stalking victims can have a hard time addressing the situation.

When victims come to Bartlett Mosvick, she said her first step is to make sure they understand confidentiality. She then asks the victims when they noticed the stalking and how their own habits have changed since then. She said victims often walk a different route to class or even park in far-away lots to avoid harassment.

“We can then talk about how we can get back to a place they feel safe,” Bartlett Mosvick said. “We’ll work with their professors, employers or parking situations to get them where they want to be and able to do what they want to do.”

Bartlett Mosvick said she believes there is never a “too late” in these cases; she never closes a stalking case. She leaves that determination up to the police with reported cases.

“I’m happy to work with students until they feel safe,” she said.

Bartlett Mosvick does not act as an investigator, however. She said as an advocate, she helps students prepare their statements and strategies if they choose to report their case. When this happens, Bartlett Mosvick said she connects the victim with campus’ Title IX office.

Title IX has historically been used to protect women in schools, but that does not mean stalking is strictly a women’s issue. Bartlett Mosvick said she sees an equal number of men and women with stalking concerns in her office.

“Stalking is definitely an issue for men,” she said. “We really see it affecting all facets of our campus community.”

With severe cases of stalking, the counseling center utilizes what Bartlett Mosvick called “safe rooms.” Her office maintains private dorm rooms in different residence halls all across campus where threatened students can stay up to five days if needed. Endangered students can contact Bartlett Mosvick’s office 24 hours a day to request access to these rooms.

“We use the safe rooms pretty regularly throughout the year,” Bartlett Mosvick said. “I’m the only person who will know the identity of the person using it.”

Stalking is a complicated issue on college campuses because many students come from small towns where they might know everyone around them. Some people take advantage of that comfort, Bartlett Mosvick said.

She said people have a misconception about what modern-day stalking is.

“People have this image of the stalker hiding in the bushes, from what we see on TV, and that’s not at all what we see students experiencing on our campus,” Bartlett Mosvick said.

Stalkers today operate outside of the shadows. They’re able to harass invisibly from anywhere, thanks to the hyperactive social network on college campuses. Advocates like Bartlett Mosvick and Murry hope to use this same network to raise awareness of the issue and protect Ole Miss students.