The community reality of assault charges

Assault of any kind, including sexual offenses, is a reality that all communities must deal with eventually.

In a city of about 30,000, of which approximately 17,000 are college students, sexual assault is bound to happen, said Pullman Police Cmdr. Chris Tennant.

“Pullman is a target-rich environment for assault and sexual assault,” Tennant said. “Assault by itself is pretty common.”

He said assault can be defined in just three words: “any unwanted touching.”

Washington state defines four degrees of assault charges. Assaults in the first, second, and third degrees are felonies, while fourth is a gross misdemeanor.

Tennant explained that first-degree assault entails a person’s intent to cause great bodily harm to another person, while a fourth-degree charge might result from a fist fight in which both sides are belligerent.

An annual crime report indicates the Pullman Police Department responded to 94 assaults in 2013. The report also indicated 27 sex offenses and seven instances of rape.

WSU Police Assistant Chief Steve Hansen said sexual assault tends to be underreported.

Sexual assault is a broad topic that encompasses many forms of unwanted sexual contact, including variants of rape, fondling, suggestive comments and voyeurism. WSU and Pullman police work together to respond to calls on and off campus.

Hansen said those who are potentially in danger are the highest priority.

“For us, our main goal is to get all the facts and make sure they are safe,” he said.

While law enforcement is never more than a phone call away, Hansen advised Pullman’s college demographic to take precautions on sexual assault.

“Someone needs to step up and say ‘no, you can’t do this,’” he said. “There’s responsibility on everybody’s part to help victims.”

Tamara Jell serves as an advocate for Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse (ATVP), a non-profit organization comprised of members of the Pullman community. ATVP provides educational and counseling services to victims of domestic violence.

Jell said instances of domestic and dating violence can hinder victims from discussing their situations.

“People don’t feel comfortable talking about these things,” she said.

Jell said ATVP is an around-the-clock resource for victims who seek help for their emotional distress.

“We can be with people every step of the way,” she said.