Connecticut is a state in need of a fix.
In the awful event of a rape or sexual assault at a university or college there is no guarantee that the victim will be treated as she should be (“she” because the vast majority of campus rapes are committed by men, against women).
The crime of rape is horrible. The reaction of schools is too often equally so.
Earlier this month, the same day Hartford’s Harriet Beecher Stowe Center held a public conversation on campus violence, a state legislative committee approved a bill that would improve schools’ responses to rape and intimate partner violence on campuses.
The bill expands an earlier law, and requires, among other things, that colleges and universities train response teams, and in the sad case when a rape or sexual assault is committed, that written resource material be available for victims. The bill also requires colleges to teach strategies for “bystander intervention” to challenge a culture that is allows, condones, or is complicit in intimate violence.
At the Stowe Salon, University of Hartford student advocate Claire Capozzi told the overwhelmingly female audience that the average rapist commits rape six times.
“No matter which Connecticut college or university a student enrolls in, they should expect to enter a campus community with a zero tolerance policy for offending behavior and victim blaming, clearly defined options and assistance for reporting and accessible on and off campus victim supports and service,” said Laura Cordes, executive director of Connecticut Sexual Assault and Crisis Services, or CONNSACS.
CONNSACS’ latest campus report card – for 2012 — gives a range of grades for categories such as defining what is sexual assault, and consent, but mostly gives Connecticut campuses low grades on training, particularly in mandatory sexual assault education for student members of fraternities and sororities.
It’s hard to forget University of Connecticut’s Susan Herbst giving a tin-eared reaction after students brought a federal action against the school. The students alleged that the school did not take their sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints seriously, which Herbst called in remarks “astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.” (Herbst later said her comments were “misunderstood.”)
In the same vein, Wesleyan University was featured recently in a national magazine article for blaming the victim of a 2010 sexual assault – a victim with whom they later settled out of court. Wesleyan rejected The Atlantic article’s account.
There’s misunderstanding all around, and the bill would set the standard for proper response after a sexual trauma.
“The bill will help bridge what is often a significant and re-traumatizing difference between the campus policy and what many survivors actually experience when they disclose or report to someone they perceive to be in a position to help them,” said Cordes. “In this bill, prevention and awareness trainings will now be required for all employees as well as students — current law allows for campuses to opt out if they cannot provide it “within available funds” — and each institution will be required to give students and anyone who discloses an assault, concise written information about their rights, reporting options and services.”
But even with all this effort and public awareness women are still being sexually assaulted. Earlier this month, a Wesleyan University student filed a suit, alleging she was raped at a frat party. In February, two female Yale University students reported that they’d been sexually assaulted at an off-campus frat party.
The White House Council on Women and Girls says one in five female college students suffer sexual assault during their time in school. Yet the reporting rate for on-campus sexual assault and rape hovers at an abysmal 12 percent.
We cannot rely solely on educational institutions to teach the importance of “no,” or to teach young men to act respectfully toward young women, but let’s consider this bill is a good start.