New team reviewing sexual assault allegations at GVSU

ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — After a rocky relationship with the prosecutor’s office amid a series of reported sex assaults near campus, Grand Valley State University has formed a team to keep the lines of communication open.

“Ultimately (our goal is) to encourage more reporting of these incidents by our students, more students wanting to pursue police investigations and more prosecutions of these cases,” said Jesse Bernal, GVSU’s vice president for inclusion and equity.

GVSU’s Women’s Center often handles sexual assaults, working with the victims to report the attacks to police. But that doesn’t mean that every report makes its way to authorities or leads to a conviction.

“There’s a lot of anxiety when you’re going through this traumatic experience,” said Jesse Bernal, GVSU’s vice president for inclusion and equity.

According to data GVSU is required to report, there were 15 rapes on campus in 2015. The suspects were all known by the victims, the university said.

Of the 15, the college forwarded four cases to the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s for possible prosecution, but no criminal charges were filed.

Last year, sex assaults were reported on Aug. 27, Aug. 28, Sept. 22 and Sept. 27. While all of the alleged attacks happened off campus, they were in areas where thousands of students live and travel to and from school. The victims were all female GVSU students.

Deputies and campus police increased patrols in the area. Consumers Energy also sped up its plans to add more lighting to the campus.

In October, Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz complained that a lack of timely information from the university hampered their investigations.

That led to the formation of a criminal case review team, which includes the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department, prosecutor’s office, GVSU police and a Women’s Center victim advocate.

“What’s really new in that configuration is the actual review of cases that are likely to result in criminality involving sexual assault,” Bernal said.

The group hopes the monthly meetings will get case information to authorities faster while better equipping the victim advocate in helping victims.

“We’re all on the same page when we think about how we have a trauma-informed, victim-centered approach, which is what we really stress on our campus,” Bernal said.

The criminal case review team held its first meeting last month. It plans to meet every month or more often as cases present themselves.