OUR OPINION: More needs to be done about campus assaults

Posted: Sunday, August 3, 2014 5:00 am

The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses has so many tentacles, perhaps more than many people in our region even realized - or wanted to realize - until Hobart and William Smith Colleges found themselves under the microscope when a student known only as Anna revealed her story from last September.

Asserting she was raped in public by Hobart football players, though they weren’t charged with crimes, Anna’s story brings the following problems into focus:

  • Shaky internal adjudication policies, especially at small, liberal arts colleges that have a lot to lose by negative publicity.
  • Athletes gaining seemingly preferential treatment, especially those on the so-called glamour teams.
  • A segment of society in America that, sadly, is increasingly accepting of male sexual aggression and violence against women.
  • The revictimization in the public eye of those who suffer these attacks and then attempt to seek justice.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse on college campuses, especially underage drinking.
  • The roles played by local authorities - police agencies, district attorneys offices, medical personnel ... even campus security - in sorting out these tragedies.
  • Educating the campus community on ways to reduce the situations that can lead to possible sexual violence, including the incredible importance of bystander intervention.

There are others, but those are some of the principal ones.

Anna has stated that she is returning to William Smith this fall, against her parents’ wishes, because she wants to be an advocate for other victims. One of her first duties in that role came Wednesday, when she stood with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and other lawmakers in Washington as they unveiled a new bill designed to better protect students from sexual assault.

We applaud her for her enormous courage.

One case on a small upstate New York campus bravely brought to light may not effect much change, but a large number of cases on an increasing number of college campuses can add up to untold reforms and positives changes, such as the currently proposed bill.

The new law, among other things, seeks to increase local law enforcement’s presence in sexual assault cases and would require campuses to designate advocates who would confidentially discuss available options with victims, two things that Anna did not have at her disposal - at least not in great measure.

As we have stated, we expect HWS to be leaders in finding solutions to some of the problems, and in revising their own policies, so that victims are better served. A large part of that is making sure their own athletic code of conduct has enough teeth to it. Whether a crime is judged to have been committed does not need to be the benchmark for disciplining athletes, who are representatives of the school; acting recklessly and irresponsibly and putting themselves in public situations where they should not be are, to us, enough to warrant suspension from a team.

However, the largest problem is this: How do we change our very culture? How do we reach out to a populace that is desensitized to violence and sex by video games and the Internet and even television, where it is all readily available 24/7?

As Anna said in D.C. the other day: “It should not matter what you drink or what you wear. That does not give anyone the right to sexually assault you.”

It certainly does not. No one has the right to sexually assault anyone for any reason. Penalties need to be tougher and enforced more vigorously. Education on campus needs to be more serious and more clear. Prevention needs to be more earnestly pursued.

And more of us need to be appalled when a case like Anna’s occurs. For a number of reasons.


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