Sexual assault on campus
As a college student the possibility of encountering acts of inappropriate sexual behavior is a reality, and a recent statistic released on Sept. 21, 2015 by the Association of American Universities (AAU) found that at some surveyed universities one in five females have experienced sexual misconduct.
The Clery Act was initiated by Connie and Howard Clery, whose daughter Jeanne was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm, and was approved by Congress in 1991. The act was created to inform students and prospective students about crimes and criminal activity going on and around their campuses.
Seton Hall prohibits all forms of sexual misconduct. According to the Clery Act, which legally mandates the University to publish crime statistics that occurred on campus and in adjacent areas, sexual misconduct includes, but is not limited to, acts of sexual harassment, sexual violence, sexual coercion, sexual threats or intimidation, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking and cyber stalking.
The Clery Act revealed that in 2014, three rapes were reported on campus, two of them in resident halls. It also revealed that four cases of unwanted fondling were reported on campus, two of them in resident halls.
Seton Hall conducted a Campus Climate Survey in 2015, which is not limited by geography like the Clery Act. The University sent the survey to all enrolled students and received a 30 percent response rate, two-thirds of those respondents being women.
Five percent of the respondents claimed to be victims of rape or attempted rape last year, 18 percent claimed to be victims of all forms of unwanted sexual contact and 37 percent of respondents claimed that they were not aware of campus services.
Seton Hall had a population of 9,627 students when the survey was conducted, which means that out of the 30 percent of people who responded, about 145 reported being raped or almost raped, about 520 reported being victims of unwanted sexual contact and about 1,070 reported not knowing about campus services.
Seton Hall’s policy complies with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender and maintains equal opportunity for education irrespective of gender by prohibiting discrimination.
Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination and is therefore prohibited under all regulations of Title IX.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) went into effect on Jul. 1, 2015. The act amends the Clery Act and was mandated in all U.S. colleges. VAWA states that universities must adopt certain student discipline procedures, such as notifying victims of their rights. Universities must now also adopt certain institutional policies to address and prevent campus sexual violence.
Dean Karen Van Norman, associate vice president and dean of students, is the deputy coordinator for Title IX.
She said, “I can say that for Seton Hall, in terms of our policy and procedures, we were already pretty much in line with what the new requirements that came out of the federal government were, so it was not as much as a culture change for us as it might have been for some other institutions.”
According to Gary Christie, assistant director of Public Safety and the employee who handles sexual assault investigations at Seton Hall, the victim controls how the complaint is to be addressed. The complainant has the choice to contact law enforcement or not. They also have the choice to have the assault be handled as part of the campus judicial process, as long as the respondent is a Seton Hall community member as well.
Dean Van Norman said that the most severe punishment that a student can receive from the University is suspension or expulsion.
Seton Hall offers educational programs that promote awareness about sexual misconduct like CampusClarity’s “think about it” an online program that freshmen must complete before their first semester. In addition, Seton Hall’s new branding campaign, KNOW MORE, focuses on alcohol, other drug and sexual violence prevention and has been responsible for most of the posters and multimedia campaigns seen around campus.
The Sexual Assault and Violence Education (SAVE) team at Seton Hall is dedicated to educate others about intimate partner violence and has implemented the programs Welcome to the Party, Healthy Dating, How do we communicate? How does the Media interfere?, Can I Kiss You?, To Write Love On Her Arms, SCREAM, the Clothesline Project, Take Back the Night, Denim Day and A Call To Men.
The Bystander Intervention course, a workshop that was recently implemented in freshmen University Life classes, teaches students how to be proactive in responding to and stopping possible sexual assaults.
“It’s rather unique,” Dean Van Norman said on the course. “All colleges and universities right now are trying to figure out what’s important and what works and we’re really benefiting from excellent cooperation from Freshmen Studies, athletics, Greek life, to really make this (course) an institution-wide effort, not just one office.”
For some students, though, the dialogue on campus about sexual misconduct is just not enough.
The Campus Climate survey revealed that 59 percent of students believed that they would experience retaliation from the University if they were to report a sexual assault.
“I think that we were disappointed that not enough students knew where to report an assault and even though we had done a lot of educational programming… Students were saying that they didn’t get any educational programing so I’m not sure that they realized what we were saying.” Dean Van Norman said.
Monica Sharobeem, a sophomore biology major and member of Alpha Sigma Tau sorority, knows of resources on campus for victims of sexual assault to go to because of a program that her sorority’s president attended. She feels, however, that the anti-sexual assault media at Seton Hall has fallen flat.
“I personally don’t think that the university has done a good job with campaigning and stuff around campus because they put posters up, but no one really pays attention to a poster. I only see it when I go to the water fountain in Serra and even then I don’t really look at it,” Sharobeem said.
Victoria Macula, a sophomore nursing major, agrees with Sharobeem and said that the posters are “redundant.”
Both female students said that they have experienced some form of inappropriate sexual behavior before.
A part of the reason many older students may feel that information regarding sexual assault on campus is lacking is because a majority of the educational programs at Seton Hall are aimed at freshmen.
Dana Tesoriero, a senior double major in elementary and special education and Spanish, was a Resident Assistant (RA) for freshmen last year in Boland Hall.
“I think there’s just a lot of emphasis on everything for the first year area because these are young adults who are out on their own for the first time. They’ve never lived out in this environment necessarily before,” Tesoriero said. “A lot of those people have never had sex or have had alcohol or anything like that, so there’s a lot of ‘these are the situations you might find yourself in or how to protect yourself and these are things not to do’.”
Tesoriero pointed out that in the upperclassmen halls the main sexual assault advertisements are posters.
“One of the reasons that freshmen are so heavily stressed, again if you look at the national studies,
the first six weeks of a freshman’s time at college is called the ‘Red Zone’ and that is when they are most at risk for being victims of sexual violence,” Dean Van Norman said. “So we would never neglect our upperclassmen, but I think this is a special responsibility that we have, knowing that this is such a high risk time for a freshmen, to hit them at the very beginning.”
Peer Advisors (PAs) serve as the freshmen’s student mentors. Yvonne Pruitt, a sophomore theater major, and Leanna Agresta, a sophomore broadcast and visual media major, are both PAs and agree that freshmen need to be aware of risks when coming to college. Both students received training on sexual assault for their PA positions.
Although Christie and other Title IX officials cannot formally report an incident without student consent, PAs have to report to their supervisors.
“Basically the three things they always tell us are ‘report, report, report’. If something happens regarding sexual assault we are supposed to notify our supervisor immediately,” Pruitt said. “We tell our students that we have to tell someone and that we can’t keep it between us. A lot of students may be like, ‘I don’t want to do anything about it, I don’t want to tell anyone.’We have to tell them that we can’t keep things completely private. We can’t keep things confidential and not tell anyone.
When the incident is reported and in the hands of school officials, then the student has the choice to decide whether they want to go forth and press charges.
Agresta said the training also taught them how to spot a possible sexual assault.
“It has to be a sober yes,” Agresta said. “People usually say ‘oh it was fine, it wasn’t bad, and those weren’t my intentions’, but it’s still illegal and I don’t think people realize that, so this (Bystander Intervention course) is a good way for people to learn.”
Tesoriero, Pruitt and Agresta all said that it is important for their students to see them as trustworthy mentors because their students are supposed to come to them for help. Tesoriero added that it is very “brave and responsible to report such a serious crime.”
According to Dean Van Norman, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, and some students feel that the main reason is because of victim-shaming.
According to Dean Van Norman, a surprising result from the Climate Survey was that students felt that there would be retaliation if an incident was reported and acknowledges that the University has to do a better job at making students aware of the strict non-retaliation policy.
“People don’t report it because they don’t want to be told it’s their fault. Especially for girls because of what they were wearing or if they were drinking or anything; they don’t want to be told that they brought it upon themselves, when really they didn’t,” said Christina Pepe, a sophomore criminal justice major.
Resident Macula had similar feelings on the matter. “I think girls are afraid to go to school because they feel they’ll get in trouble. A lot of girls blame themselves for what has happened to them. If they were drinking or something, they won’t want to admit to the school that they were,” she said.
Tesoriero acknowledged that sexual assault is a difficult topic for females to face, but also wanted to make it known that it is an issue that anyone can face, including men.
“Statistics show that women are more affected by (sexual assault), but there are absolutely men who fall victim to sexual assault and I think it is really important that their voices are heard too.” Tesoriero said. “Both men and women are held to a lot of expectations and women aren’t often taken seriously when it comes to sexual assault, but when it comes to men it’s even harder to address that.”
Ashley Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.