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On campus sexual assault resources in need of reevaluation

By Michael Abrams
On September 11, 2012

Over the summer, the administration addressed the sorely lacking sexual assault policy available in the student Rights and Responsibilities handbook. Some of the changes that were made include the creation of a new special examiner position, which will handle the investigation of sexual assault cases. Instead of having the Student Conduct Board handle sexual assault cases, as in years past, one individual will now be focused on investigating them and submitting his or her findings to the dean of student life to reach a final decision about the case.

This position has a lot of promise. By appointing a well-qualified and independent special examiner, the University can cement its commitment to punishing sexual offenders. To do so, we would need to find someone who is experienced in dealing with sexual assault cases and has not been affiliated with the University previously in order to ensure that they are completely impartial. This would also show how serious the administration is about resolving these grave offenses and how determined it is to ensure that justice is served.

These changes are great and will hopefully do much to prevent and resolve sexual assault cases, but more can be done. Perhaps the reasons for the aforementioned improvements to the handbook are the University's past problems with sexual assault and how to respond to it. Two of the most significant problems are potentially inaccurate reporting and lack of resources for sexual assault victims.

The University has reported less than three "forcible sexual offenses," such as rape, in the past three years, which is highly statistically improbable. In 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 20 to 25 percent of college women have experienced an attempted or completed rape. This excludes victims of other genders and gender identities, further illustrating the unlikeliness that the University's statistic is accurate.

It should also be noted, with all due caution, that like at any other school, anecdotal evidence contradicts the University's numbers. In fact, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance held a silent protest last spring in the library, called the ">3 Campaign," symbolizing the inaccuracy of the official rape statistic.

The low reported numbers of sexual assault could be because of the University's smaller size in comparison to many other schools around the country. But considering how much smaller our numbers are compared to the national averages, it is also likely there are many instances of non-reporting.

But how do we fix the inaccuracies of the reports? It is a major issue both on campus and all over the country and one that requires more awareness. More information sessions could be organized by Community Advisors and clubs like Student Sexuality Information Service, Students Talking About Relationships and Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance to raise awareness about rape on college campuses and what to do if you are sexually assaulted. Furthermore, the administration could work with these clubs to show that the University is presenting a united front to combat sexual assault on campus.
Another effective tactic that has already been implemented at other universities is to have stickers on bathroom-stall doors explaining what to do if you have been raped. This way, if someone does not want to immediately talk to someone at the Golding Health Center, Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps or the Brandeis Counseling and Rape Crisis Hotline, they can still get information that will help them through their trauma. I also think this represents a very simple-yet very effective-way to both encourage reporting and ensure that when students do report what happened, the evidence collected and information provided is as accurate as possible.

The University also has a lot of ground to cover in terms of resources available to victims. Currently, the Rape Crisis Hotline is only available from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. If a 24-hour hotline was established and a rape crisis center was created, students would always have a safe place on-campus they could call and visit to help them deal with their trauma. Part of the Health Center could be utilized as a rape crisis center. The staff there are already well-trained in how to handle sexual assault cases. This means the only added expense for the University would be to keep the hotline and the health center running for 24 hours. Although this will most likely be a significant cost, the benefits of 24-hour resources would be well worth it. Such resources are integral to the mental and physical safety of rape victims.

It is clear the University is taking positive steps in reforming our sexual assault policy. I am proud of this fact. I think the new policies the administration has put in place can produce tangible results. But it is also clear that even more can, and must, be done to ensure that Brandeis is a place where sexual assault is handled in a compassionate, fair and effective way.

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