Campus lacks resources for sexual assault survivors
Recently, the members of the Feminist Network (Fem-Net), a campus group focused on organizing women's rights activism, completed their analysis of the results of a sexual assault survey distributed in October 2007. The Fem-Net survey, designed to assess perceptions of sexual assault on campus and the effectiveness of the University's response to sexual assault, received 241 responses from undergraduates, graduates, and alumni.
The survey, which used a free-response format to allow those surveyed to express any opinions they felt necessary, revealed that the majority of respondents were unaware of the procedure the University uses in cases of reported sexual assault. Additionally, many students who had experienced sexual assault felt that the support provided by the University was inadequate.
“There are absolutely no resources on campus [for survivors of sexual assault],” said Erin Clark ’09, head of Fem-Net. “You can go to the Office of Behavioral Health Services and get a therapist appointment, but the therapist does not have any experience with sexual assault. There is no depth to the resources available and unfortunately, there isn't anyone who is in charge of trying to change that right now.”
Last year, after a Wespeak written by alumna Jacqueline Cruz ’07 complained about the lack of resources on campus available to survivors of sexual assault, the Sexual Violence Working Group was initiated. The group consisted of Dean Mike Whaley, Director of Health Education Lisa Currie, Director of Student Activities Tim Shiner, and multiple students, including Clark and Ari Tolman ’10, a Peer Health Advocate Team Leader.
The working group focused on revising sexual misconduct policy to make it clearer and changing the process of reporting sexual assault. The reporting change would allow students the option of speaking with an administrative panel or a student panel in the event that a survivor of sexual assault might feel uncomfortable presenting his or her case in front of the Student Judicial Board.
“Right now, it's all students that are hearing a person's case,” Tolman said. “Because this is a very small campus, that's been a very big turnoff for survivors.”
Many of the revisions to the Sexual Misconduct Policy that the Working Group discussed, which mostly involve clarifying and streamlining the policy's wording, should be in effect by spring, according to Currie.
Other short-term goals include developing sexual assault training for faculty, staff and students in order to foster a more supportive campus environment, in addition to creating a website to consolidate access to the resources for survivors available on campus.
“The truth is that Wesleyan is providing so many different services for students that oftentimes people simply aren't aware that they're out there,” said Currie. “That's why creating a website is a good starting point.”
According to Clark, Tolman, and Currie, the ideal long-term situation would involve hiring a new staff member who is trained specifically in coordinating sexual assault response efforts and treating survivors of sexual assault. This new staff member could also oversee a group of trained students.
Tolman pointed out that unlike some peer institutions, the Wesleyan counseling faculty has no trained, licensed sexual assault advocates.
“The people who were previously listed as the first people students should go to were not trained in sexual assault response at all,” Tolman said. “If you look at our peer institutions like Williams and Amherst, schools with half our student body size that are generally considered slightly less progressive than Wesleyan, they have faculty, department administrators, [and] big response teams that are trained [to provide] 24/7 peer advocate resources.”
The main hurdle for the implementation of a program involving trained staff and students is funding. According to Currie, the University is currently in the midst of a five-year budget review in an attempt to reduce spending, so hiring a new staff member in the near future seems unlikely.
“I wish that [our goals] were in more than a wish-list stage right now, but sometimes an institution moves at a glacial pace compared to what student energy demands,” said Currie. “It's important to recognize that progress is happening, even if it is slow.”
Although the Sexual Violence Working Group has not yet convened this year, Tolman, Clark and Currie are still working together to improve sexual assault prevention and response on campus. They hope that raising awareness about sexual assault will lead to a more organized, supported effort to improve the resources available to survivors.
“I think Wesleyan sees itself as beyond this stuff because we're so progressive, ” Clark said. “We're like, ’Oh, [sexual assault] doesn't happen here, that happens where people don't understand sex and consent.' But it happens everywhere; it isn't isolated to conservative colleges in Ohio. The issue is more the denial of it than any huge statistical discrepancy between [Wesleyan and] other colleges.”