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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Campus Sexual Assault: BARCC’s Response

Today we have a guest post from Gina Scaramella (our Executive Director) and Peggy Barrett (Director of Community Awareness and Prevention Services)! This post is a response to the Boston Globe’s recent article “No Crackdown on Assaults at Colleges”, which is itself a response to the Center for Public Integrity‘s ongoing research and articles regarding sexual assault on college campuses. Gina and Peggy had an excellent letter to the editor in today’s Globe, and they’ve written the following specifically for the BARCC blog.


The article that appeared in Thursday’s Globe No crackdown on Assaults at Colleges was misleading in three important ways:

1. The article was structured in a way that may have unintentionally caused harm to campuses who are, in fact, among the leaders in addressing what both schools and communities have found to be an almost intractable problem in the justice system: that of acquaintance rape. Colleges and universities who are awarded these grants have made a substantial commitment to addressing sexual assault.  The grants provide a small amount of financial support as well as technical assistance to improve campus systems.  The schools are required to address the topic of sexual assault in their orientation programs for new students; to train campus police and security personnel; to develop a coordinated response to provide good services to victims; as well as improve their disciplinary system. In the Globe article, there was no comparison between campuses that did and did not have grants from the US Department of Justice (USDOJ).  Without that comparison, the article may have left the impression that these campuses were not doing as well as other campuses.  Without this comparison, we are concerned that schools or the Justice Department itself will decline making or continuing their investment in supporting sexual assault victims and holding perpetrators accountable. 

2.  The authors did not adequately explain the difference between the number of assaults reported and the number of disciplinary sanctions.  It is a victory that so many of these campuses have created a safe enough environment that victims are coming forward for help.  The “number of reports” is not the same as the requests made for disciplinary action; just as receiving medical help in the community is not the same as initiating a police report.  A less dramatic but fair comparison for judging the success of the justice boards on campuses would be between the number of complaints filed and number of disciplinary actions taken.

3.  The authors did not frame the larger societal context that we are all part of, leaving the reader with the impression that campuses are missing what is being done well elsewhere.  The problem of sanctioning perpetrators of acquaintance rape is not unique to campuses and solving it requires much more than one grant on a campus.  We have not yet truly grappled with what the evidence keeps repeating: most cases of sexual violence (about 77%) will not be properly investigated and prosecuted in our judicial boards on campuses OR by county district attorneys. Research shows that perpetrators of sexual assault often know in advance that they will assault someone - sometimes they have pre-selected a victim and have tried to gain their trust and sometimes they are looking for ways to increase the vulnerability of the targeted victim in a short period of time (for example, with alcohol).  They use the environment such as a noisy bar or party to try to camouflage their aggression.  We need to develop policy based on the evidence of how offenders commit these crimes and thoroughly investigate an alleged assailant’s behaviors instead of the current, almost exclusive focus on the victim’s. 

We are concerned and outraged that perpetrators are not being held accountable for these crimes.  However, this article tried to create a simple linear “get grant, get report, get rid of perpetrator” look at the issue that we feel was inaccurate and misleading.  It is our societal adherence to old myths and antiquated systems on campus and off that lead to tragic complicity in the prevalence of sexual violence on campus and everywhere.  We can and should do better; but a misleading article provides no help in getting us there.

Gina Scaramella, Executive Director
Peggy Barrett, Director of Community Awareness and Prevention Services
Boston Area Rape Crisis Center

Posted by Shira on 03/03 at 09:12 AM


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