Saturday October 27, 2012

Student safety and risks of sexual assault have resurfaced as discussion issues among college campus communities in wake of the arraignment of four Pittsfield teenagers this week for the alleged rape of a University of Massachusetts student in her dorm room earlier this month.

Authorities investigating the University of Massachusetts at Amherst case are questioning, among other things, how one of the suspects was able to enter the residence hall without being signed in, a UMass safety protocol. Three others were apparently signed into the dorm by another UMass student.

All four colleges in Berk shire County have been paying atten tion to this case, re minding students, faculty and staff of their safety policies and protocols.

Following the four teenagers' arraignments in Eastern Hamp shire District Court in Bel chertown on Monday, Sarah Bolton, dean of Williams Col lege and a professor of physics, emailed a message to the Williams Community on Tuesday.

"There has been a lot of national discussion recently about sexual assault, and particularly about the very difficult experiences of students who report assaults," Bolton stated.

The message subsequently highlighted the work Williams College has been doing over the past several years to strengthen its sexual assault prevention and awareness programs, as well as to improve support for survivors.


Advertisement

"A crucial part of this work is ensuring that our reporting and investigation processes are as good as they can possibly be, so that students who experience assaults are not then faced with additional trauma in reporting," the Williams dean said.

According to college data, reporting has increased each year since 2009. The institution has had 14 forcible sex offenses reported between 2009 and 2011, with most allegedly occurring in residence halls.

In terms of prevention, Williams has begun new initiatives such as the "Men for Consent" group, which works alongside the college's Rape and Sexual Assault Network toward preventing sexual assault and raising awareness of the impact of sexual violence on campus.

Statistics published in the 2012 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Resource Guide find that only 15 percent of victims of forcible sexual assaults and 8 percent of victims incapacitated by drugs and/or alcohol sought help from a crisis, health or victims' center in 2006. Even fewer -- 13 percent of victims of forcible sexual assault and 2 percent of sexually assaulted incapacitated victims -- reported their assault to a law enforcement agency, like campus security or a municipal police department.

An estimated 92 percent of all victims of rape or sexual assault age 12 or older in the U.S. are women. According to 2010 data, of all female rape or sexual assault victims, more than half were assaulted by friends, acquaintances or intimate partners.

According to the National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics, common responses as to why sexual assaults aren't reported include:

n Self-blame or guilt.

n Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter.

n Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individuals' perceptions.

n Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime.

n Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.

Earlier this month, The MCLA Beacon, the student newspaper of the Massa chusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, reported that students are continuing to appeal to the college to reform the MCLA sexual assault policy.

One student, senior Cath erine Chaput, told The Beacon that as much as the school should include a policy on prevention, she said she would also like to see the MCLA adopt an amnesty policy for victims of assault, such as the one suggested by an organization called SAFER, or Students Active for Ending Rape.

Essentially, for a student who was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol at the time of being victimized by assault, the victim could be pardoned for any violations related to the substance use.

College administration says that an amnesty policy would conflict with the Drug-Free Schools Act, but is open to further examination of its policies.

At Bard College of Simon's Rock in Great Barrington -- whose early-college model serves students beginning around the age of 15 -- all staff in Student Affairs, Counseling, Health Services and Security departments are trained to respond to sexual assault and misconduct and encourage students to seek help from any staff member with whom they are comfortable.

Dean of College M. Leslie Davidson said the college's new students orientation program includes information sessions that explain consent and "emphasize good decision-making regarding sex and relationships."

Michael Bullock, vice president for student affairs and enrollment services at Berk shire Community College, said even though its main campus in Pittsfield and satellite campus in Great Barrington are commuter institutions, they still have policies on security, safety and sexual assault.

This week also marked BCC's annual domestic violence awareness and sexual assault prevention campaign.

"It's built into the culture of this place. Students might be facing things at home but there here on campus trying to im prove their lives," Bullock said.

Bullock also noted that all colleges and universities are responsible to The Clery Act, which requires higher education institutions receiving federal financial assistance to disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses and have security and emergency plans in place.

The law is named after Jeanne Ann Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was brutally raped and murdered in her dorm room by a fellow student, Josoph M. Henry, in 1986. Though the residence hall had automatic locks, investigators found lapses in security and a history of violent offenses occurring on campus, including rape, robbery and assault. The legislation was pushed by Clery's parents, Connie and Howard, and was passed into law in 1990.

Reported criminal sex offenses on Berkshire college campuses

Bard College at Simon's Rock

2009

Sex offenses, forcible: 1, on campus

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

2010

Sex offenses, forcible: 1, on campus, in residence hall

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

2011

Sex offenses, forcible: 0

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

Three-year total: 2

Berkshire Community College

No reported sex offenses between 2009 and 2011

Three-year total: 0

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

2009

Sex offenses, forcible: 1, on-campus

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

No sex offenses reported in 2010 and 2011

Three-year total: 1

Williams College

2009

Sex offenses, forcible: 2, one in residence hall and both on campus.

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

2010

Sex offenses, forcible: 5, in residence halls on campus.

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

2011

Sex offenses, forcible: 7, four in residence halls and all on campus.

Sex offenses, non-forcible: 0

Three-year total: 14

All data reported and available online by institutions in compliance with The Clery Act.