ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — In a stinging rebuke, the Ottawa County prosecutor told The Grand Rapids Press that reporting of sexual assaults by Grand Valley State University is hampering the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cases.
It’s a charge vehemently denied by campus officials, who are somewhat bewildered by the prosecutor’s accusations.
Ottawa County prosecutor Ronald Frantz would not go on camera with 24 Hour News 8 Thursday but said in an email that he stands by his comments. Frantz said one of the problems is that the university is providing information so late that it becomes difficult to gather physical evidence, which hinders the ability to fully investigate cases.
Jesse Bernal, GVSU’s vice president for inclusion and equity, says that students can report assaults to the campus police department and other campus authorities, including the GVSU Women’s Center. University police are sanctioned to investigate and then forward evidence on to the prosecutor’s office.
Frantz indicated his problem was not with the police department, but with the other agencies on campus. At GVSU’s Women’s Center and Title IX office operate under a victim advocacy model, meaning they don’t act strictly as law enforcement but also as a counseling center, which may include some confidentiality.
“There needs to be more of a sense urgency about encouraging reporting by those at the GVSU Women’s Center and other campus advocates,” Frantz told the Press, adding that campus policies are “undermining good investigations and prosecutions.”
In these types of investigations, time can be of the essence and the ability to identify victims, witnesses and suspects and gather evidence can be stymied if there is not prompt reporting.
Ottawa County Sheriff Gary Rosema told 24 Hour News 8 he does not agree with Frantz’s assessment and doesn’t believe there is a problem with how GVSU agencies conduct themselves.
For campus officials, the prosecutor’s statements are confounding.
“It’s our belief that we have a good relationship, a working relationship, with the prosecutor’s office and we’ll continue to do so,” Bernal said.
He went on to say the university would have no motive for delaying the prosecution of sexual predators on campus. It wants to make sure that everyone on campus is safe and is abiding by state laws and university policy.
“Our policies and procedures encourage victims of sexual violence to pursue law enforcement investigations,” Bernal said
However, because its agencies focus on student well-being and offer counseling rather than acting on law enforcement, not all reports make it to police.
“The number of cases that the victim advocate has worked with could be situations like a student who was molested at the age of five,” Bernal said. “The Title IX office will always share all information with the police. It’s the victim advocate role that is separate from the Title IX office that can refrain from identifying a student if they choose not to identify.”
When a sexual assault is reported, the university launches a simultaneous investigations with the police to see if any university policies are violated.
“We defer to the police when safety or health are imminent,” Bernal said.
The university has to report sexual assaults to the federal government, which compiles statistics. Last year, the federal report shows 14 reports on campus but none resulted in prosecution.
“What we know about sexual assaults on college campuses is that it is under-reported,” Bernal added.
Currently, police are investigating four off-campus sexual assaults that may be related.