For Safe Harbors and Victim Resource Center, dealing with college sexual assaults is ongoing battle

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2014 10:36 am | Updated: 3:07 pm, Mon Jul 21, 2014.


Every April, Robin Canne visits Finger Lakes Community College’s Newark campus to talk about sexual assault.

Canne, program development director for the Victim Resource Center of the Finger Lakes, presents a program on bystander intervention. She urges students to act if they see behavior that alarms them — someone taking an intoxicated student to another room alone, for example, or the start of an assault.

She sees that as one of the keys to curbing a severe problem on college campuses.

“It’s probably also the most underreported crime,” she said. “Women, men, whoever — it can be either — that are sexually assaulted on campuses are very reluctant to report it. They feel like they’re not going to be believed. They feel like they’re ashamed. They feel like they’re guilty, like maybe they did something to provoke it.”

Canne’s message? They are not and they did not, and they should report assaults and get help even if they later decide not to press charges.

Rachel Gregory, prevention education and volunteer coordinator at Safe Harbors of the Finger Lakes, also sees campus sexual assault as a major issue.

“We need more prevention, and we need more education,” she said.

Canne and Gregory spoke about the issue in general and not specifically about the alleged sexual assault at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva that became the subject of a recent New York Times investigation.

Safe Harbors, which serves Ontario, Seneca and Yates counties, said privacy regulations prevent it from disclosing whether it had any role in that case.

The Victim Resource Center serves Wayne County. It deals mainly with child abuse cases. However, both agencies see students, even if Safe Harbors has the lion’s share.

Its service area includes HWS, Keuka College, New York Chiropractic College and FLCC’s main campus.

“Each student is different, each case is different,” Gregory said. “We certainly try to offer uniform services to everyone, and offer advocacy. There’s different procedures for students who are on campus as far as some options for reporting and what steps come next.”

The key difference between on-campus and off-campus is the in-house adjudication panels colleges use to handle sexual assault cases. The practice in general, and the HWS panel in particular, came under criticism in the New York Times story.

“We try to explain to the best of our ability those options as well, but there’s always law enforcement ... or not reporting at all,” Gregory said. “We always make sure we leave it up to them.”

The on-campus process can sometimes be more private. However, it has disadvantages, too.

“The main difference we see is that advocates in the past have not been able to sit in with the judicial process with the student on campus, so that would be one thing we would like to see change in the future,” Gregory said.

Safe Harbors offers a 24-hour crisis hotline. Sexual assault victims usually are put in contact with a rape crisis advocate, who can then help them through the rape kit process, explain their options and offer supportive counseling during the crisis period, Gregory said.

The Victims Resource Center offers similar services. Canne said the agency is called whenever someone goes to Newark-Wayne Community Hospital. Staff offer to help the victim, stay with the victim during an exam if permission is given and encourage the victim to seek additional help.

Like the Victims Resource Center, Safe Harbors reaches out to college students and administrators.

Gregory said Safe Harbors staff have been working for months with HWS students to establish a campus hotline.

“Certainly we want to reiterate the fact that there are students on campus who are working for change,” she said.

Safe Harbors also has participated in awareness campaigns at HWS and was invited to help train RAs at Keuka College.

In Wayne County, Canne extends her efforts to local middle and high schools. She hopes to reach students early so the message carries through when they go to college.

When they do, she hopes they will find their colleges equally committed to preventing sexual assault.

“The colleges really need to step up to the plate — they need to step up to the plate and say this is zero tolerance,” Canne said.

She paused.

“And mean it,” she added.


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