National issue of sexual assault examined locally

Over the past year, the issue of sexual assault has gained increasing attention on campuses across the country. Seton Hall is no exception.

An incident last year in which the Star Ledger obtained a videotape of an alleged sexual assault off campus brought home in a very public way the issue of assault and abuse. The problem is well documented.

The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault reports that one in four college women will experience a sexual assault before they graduate. First year students are at an even higher risk, especially during the first few weeks they attend classes on their campuses. With the first month of classes just ending, and the newest report on campus crime, including sexual assaults, expected to be released on October 1, University officials are requiring faculty and employees who have “significant responsibility for student and campus activities” to complete specialized training, including an on-line tutorial, to make them aware of their responsibilities and obligations under federal law.

Seton Hall and all other universities are required by federal law to publish statistics every year for specific crimes that occur on campus. In the last crime statistics report, covering 2012, there were three on-campus forcible sex-offenses in residential facilities.

However, officials said that number does not tell the whole story.

“The number three is misleading,” said Gary Christie, assistant director of Public Safety. “That’s not all we get. We’ve prosecuted sexual assault (SHU student cases) in China. If there’s a robbery one block away, it doesn’t get reported.”

Christie said the federal law only covers incidents that occur on the campus itself, meaning buildings that Seton Hall controls, and the immediate area off-campus, such as the sidewalks surrounding the gates. It does not include students living in houses off-campus. In addition, many incidents are not included in the statistics because they are never reported.

According to the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, more than 95 percent of incidents of sexual assault go unreported. The crime statistics on college campuses nationwide are collected and disclosed under provisions of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (the Student Right to Know and Campus Security Act). The entire report is available on line at http://www. shu.edu/offices/public-safety/students-right-to-know.cfm.

Karen Van Norman, associate vice president and dean of students, said that when a victim comes forward to report sexual assault, Seton Hall works first to give the student the information and support needed to move to the next stage of dealing with such a situation. Although victims are encouraged to press charges, Van Norman said no one is ever forced to pursue that option.

“We want them to report it,” Van Norman said. “We would never force anyone to press charges. We respect her choice. The first and most important thing is that the survivor feels safe.”

Van Norman said that the first thing the University does for a victim is to help him or her obtain all the information available about support outlets. The local helpline for sexual assault victims to reach is the Essex County Rape Care Center (SAVE of Essex County) at 973-746-0800. The Rape Care Hotline is available any time for victims of sexual assault or abuse at (877)-733-2273. If the victim chooses to press

charges, Van Norman said she notifies Public Safety first, then together they put the victim in touch with the police department.

Title IX, the law under which the Clery Act operates, also states, “If a school knows (or reasonably should know) about possible sexual violence, it must quickly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation. A criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve a school of its duty under Title IX to resolve reports promptly and effectively. A school must ensure that the person who experienced the sexual violence is safe, even while an investigation is ongoing,” according to notalone.gov, a comprehensive website launched in connection with President Obama’s initiative on campus sexual assault.

Van Norman and Christie said they would not merely hand a victim over to the police. Seton Hall provides constant support for victims in addition to the University’s own independent disciplinary procedures.

The campus Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, provides year-round support for anyone, while also offering referral services in case victims of sexual assault want to get involved in some sort of support group for people with similar experiences.

Seton Hall also offers prevention initiatives such as the Rape Aggression Defense courses. RAD is a free training class that is held four to six times every year for women to be educated on risk awareness, risk recognition, risk avoidance and risk reduction, according to the Seton Hall website. The Sexual Assault and Violence Education (SAVE) team, including students, staff and faculty, was also created to organize programs on issues related to sexual assault and violence prevention and to provide an additional support system.

Christie said the university works hard to produce informational campaigns to keep everyone educated on the preventions of sexual assault. Van Norman stressed that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol can alter a person’s ability to say “no.” However, the absence of a “no” does not mean it is a “yes.”

“If consent is not given, it is sexual assault,” she said. The university encourages victims to speak up and know they are not alone.

Lindsay Rittenhouse can be reached at lindsay.rittenhouse@student.shu.edu.

Author: Staff Writer

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