The Sexual Violence Task Force recently issued its annual report for the 2012-2013 academic year. The report announced changes to the program that went into effect at the beginning of this school year. It was made public this June and was posted on the Campus Climate Log website on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
Sexual Assault Resource Coordinator Alysha Warren, Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley, and Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) intern Rachel Verner ’15 coordinated the new policies and organized the official report. This is the second such report that the task force has issued since its inception in 2010.
The report opened with a statistical representation of the number of reported incidents of sexual violence and the number of incidents that resulted in a campus hearing in past years. Though the 2012-2013 data is not yet available, data from recent years shows an increase in reported incidents, but a slower increase in hearings.
Whaley explained that it is difficult to view these statistics as clearly positive or clearly negative.
“On one hand, you say, ‘That’s not good,’ because it’s not good that the numbers of things like this are going up in our community,” Whaley said. “On the other hand, we also know from national statistics that [sexual violence] is very underreported, and we have no reason to believe that the prevalence of it at Wesleyan is different from elsewhere. We see the fact that more survivors are choosing to come forward and report to the University and hold their assailants accountable as a positive thing.”
President Michael Roth also noted that the task force has allowed the University to better handle these situations when they arise.
“Our policy now is the product of extensive conversations with students and staff,” Roth said. “We had a Sexual Violence Task Force that produced what we have now. Has it cured the epidemic? It has not. Has it given us better tools to deal with perpetrators? I think it has, actually, especially with survivors, in that we have been able to offer better support services and I think a better process for dealing with the survivor’s role if that person chooses to press charges.”
Warren pointed out that it is important to ensure that the conversation about sexual violence is reaching the entirety of campus, not just those who are already active in its prevention.
“We remained challenged to ensure that our trainings are reaching a broad cross section of campus and that we are not just ‘preaching to the choir,’” Warren wrote in an email to The Argus.
The report also focused on new elements introduced to Residential Life training over the summer. Residential Advisors were trained to be active bystanders and teach their residents to be aware of the potential for sexual violence around them. Orientation leaders also focused on building constructive conversations after the “We Speak, We Stand” event during New Student Orientation.
“I think that this year, the restructuring of the training has put a lot more emphasis on…inclusivity and connecting the various communities, but doing so in a way that’s not going to be hurtful for anybody,” Verner said.
The University will also be implementing changes based on recommendations made by a series of consultants in the spring with regards to the Title IX policy. The recommendations aim to better define some forms of sexual violence and consent, as well as to better align the sexual misconduct and assault policy with the discrimination and harassment policies already in effect.
According to Whaley, improving these policies is important in giving people confidence in the systems that are in place to deal with incidences of sexual assault.
“I hope that, through time, confidence in the system will continue to grow, acknowledging that not everyone who goes through the system, on both sides, will be completely satisfied with the outcome,” Whaley said.
Verner also hopes that the changes will make the processes clearer.
“Narrowing down those definitions—the definition of sexual violence, and consent, and that kind of thing—is going to make it a lot clearer when it comes to moving forward with defining our judicial system and hopefully encouraging people to pass through it if they choose to or if they want to because there will be a more concrete definition for them to look at,” Verner said.
Roth emphasized that the consequences for perpetrators of sexual violence should already be evident.
“I do think it’s very clear—I hope it’s clear—that when someone violates the policy in a significant way, they will be kicked out of school,” Roth said.
SART also hopes to grow its faculty team over the course of the year. Verner hopes that the expansion will change the public perception of the SART program.
“We are hoping to bring in…more faculty this year so that it’s recognized that this isn’t just an issue for the people that are here to speak out for groups of individuals like class deans and members of Spiritual and Religious Life, but that this is a campus-wide issue, and this is something we all need to address,” Verner said. “Wesleyan is an insanely activist campus and everybody wants to get involved with something. We need that drive to be behind sexual assault prevention before we’re really going to notice any significant difference in terms of policy implementation.”
Warren noted that those involved in sexual violence prevention still have work to do.
“We still need to complete a campus-wide assessment to get more information about students’ experience of the climate related to sexual violence and perspectives from survivors so that we know what works about our response system and the areas that we still need to improve,” Warren wrote.
The report also emphasized building a relationship with the Middletown Police Department and continually working to make all students aware of the resources and programs available on campus for survivors.
“This is a really critical issue,” Whaley said. “It impacts people in dramatic ways. To me, it’s kind of a diversity and inclusion issue. It’s an issue of speaking out and taking a stand against violence. We just need to keep working on this. Nobody has discovered the panacea that’s going to resolve this issue, but there are a lot of things related to sex roles and sexism that are at play here. It’s something we are going to have to continue to work on.”
Roth agreed that improving the University’s policies on addressing sexual violence is a work in progress.
“Am I satisfied with where we are?” he asked. “No. I still get appeals…and I still hear of cases of women, almost always women, who are assaulted, and usually when they are intoxicated, but not always. Every time it happens, it’s too many times.”
Warren emphasized that addressing issues of sexual violence is a movement that requires total commitment.
“Rape culture relies on our silence,” she wrote. “It wants us to let the rape jokes slide, it tricks us into thinking that we’re overreacting when we protest to the objectification of women and it asks us to overlook racist, homophobic, transphobic or sexist language. We have to actively resist being silenced by rape culture on a daily basis.”